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How to Get Your Child to Do His Homework Independently
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  • One of my least favorite things to do is homework — not mine, but my child's. Okay, don't get me wrong. I never once actually did it myself, but when you have a preschooler who sometimes even forgets to write down notes, there's no way you can't be involved. 

    Despite proof that a curriculum without homework makes for a better student, an example excellently demonstrated by schools in Scandinavian countries, homework is here to stay. But the good news is that there are good practices we can follow to slowly let go. 

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    Homework help

    In an article on ParentsCathy Vatterott, Ph. D., a professor of education at the University of Missouri-St. Louis and founder of HomeworkLady.com, says, "The purpose of homework is to help kids become independent learners."

    That said, see how you can incorporate these into your — er, your child's — homework schedule:

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    Let your child come up with a routine

    The first step in making your child accountable for his homework is asking him to decide when, where, and how he wants to do them. Ask him how he thinks the process could be easier. When your child makes these decisions, you are empowering him. One important thing you may want to include as a non-negotiable is "no screen time before the homework is done" lest you be outwitted on the "when".

    Be around for guidance

    Be clear, though, that you are there to guide (and to make sure the homework is actually being done), but not to check. Sure, it can be tempting to aim for a perfect score, but the purpose of homework is for the teachers to determine which areas your child needs help on. "We like to see mistakes," says Matt Vaccaro, a first-grade teacher in Locust Valley, New York. 

    One strategy that works is to stall — when your child says he needs help, tell him you'll come over once you're done with your chore. He'll want to finish as soon as possible, so "the longer you wait, the more likely he is to reread the instructions or rework the problem," says Jessica Lahey, a middle-school English teacher and the author of The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Own Children Can Succeed

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    Establish communication with your child's teacher

    Parents and teachers work hand-in-hand to monitor a child's progress, and if your child knows this, the more likely he'll persevere to work on his homework. And there's no better time to initiate this relationship than at the start of the school year. Introduce yourself to the teacher, and open the possibility of having periodic meetings with her, or as necessary. Teachers welcome feedback, and so would you if it involved your child, so such a set-up is always win-win.

    Let go

    Once you've trained your child to following a routine, let the process work. That means hoping for the best, but also allowing him to commit mistakes so he can learn from it. 

    "When a student doesn't finish the homework or it's excessively sloppy, I have her do it during recess," says Vaccaro. "Once she starts missing playtime, she'll get the message." 

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    Breathe. 

    Of course, teaching a preschooler to be responsible for his homework does not happen overnight. A child who becomes overwhelmed by it might just burst into tears, or not do his homework at all. Let him express his frustration (without being disrespectful, of course), then hear him out. When he's calm, acknowledge his feelings and tell him to try again. In time, he'll get the hang of it. For now, baby steps, mom. 

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