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Schoolwork Responsibility: How to Instill It

Taking responsibility for schoolwork helps children grow up to be responsible adults who keep their promises, meet deadlines, and succeed at their jobs. Responsible children finish schoolwork, homework, and long-term projects on time. They remember their assignments and turn in papers. They occasionally ask for help (for example, with a spelling list) but usually like to think through their work by themselves.

How do I encourage schoolwork responsibility?

The following suggestions should help you cultivate the trait of responsibility in your child and avoid problems with schoolwork that may be difficult to correct later on.

  1. Encourage learning and responsibility in the preschool years.

    Listen attentively to your child's conversation. Encourage him to think for himself. Take your child to the library and read to him regularly. Watch educational programs together and talk about them. Be a role model of someone who reads, finds learning exciting, enjoys problem-solving, and likes to try new things. Ask your preschool child to help you with chores (for example, clearing the table or putting away clean clothes).

  2. Show your child you are interested in his school performance.

    Ask your child about his school day. Look at and comment positively on the graded papers your child brings home. Praise your child's strong points on his report card. Show interest in the books your child is reading. Help your child attend school regularly; don't keep him home for minor illnesses. Go to regular parent-teacher conferences and tell your child about them. If you feel discouraged, rather than conveying this to your child, schedule an extra conference with his teacher.

  3. Support the school staff's recommendations.

    Show respect for both the school system and the teacher, at least in your child's presence. Verbal attacks on the school may pit your child against the school and give him an excuse for not working. Even when you disagree with a school's policy, you should encourage your child to conform to school rules, just as they will need to conform to the broader rules of society.

  4. Make it clear that schoolwork is between your child and the teacher.

    When your child begins school she should understand that homework, schoolwork, and grades are strictly between her and her teacher. The teacher should set the goals for better school performance, not the parents. Your child must feel responsible for successes and failures in school. People take more pride in accomplishments if they feel fully responsible for them. Parents who feel responsible for their child's school performance open the door for the child to turn his responsibilities over to them.

    Occasionally, elementary-school teachers may ask you to review basic facts with your child or see that your child completes work that was put off at school. When your child's teacher makes such requests, it's fine for you to help, but only as a temporary measure.

  5. Stay out of homework.

    Asking if your child has homework, helping nightly, checking the finished homework, or drilling your child in areas of concern all convey to your child that you don't trust him. If you do your child's homework, your child will have less confidence that he can do it himself. If your child asks for help with homework, help with the particular problem only. Your help should focus on explaining the question, not on giving the answer. A good example of useful help is reading your child's spelling list to him while he writes the words, but then letting him check his own answers. A chief purpose of homework is to teach your child to work on his own.

  6. Avoid dictating a study time.

    Assigning a set time for your child to do homework is unnecessary and looked upon as pressure. The main thing parents can do is provide a quiet setting with a desk, a comfortable chair, and good lighting. If any, the only rule should be "No television until homework is done." Accept your child's word that the work is done without checking. For long-term assignments, help your child organize his work the first few times if he seems overwhelmed. Help him estimate how many hours he thinks the project will take. Then help him write up a list of the days at home he will work on the project.

  7. Provide home tutoring for special circumstances.

    Occasionally, a teacher will ask for help from the parents when a child has lots of make-up work after a long absence or transfer to a new school. If your child's teacher makes such a request, ask the teacher to send home notes about what he or she wants you to help your child with (for instance, multiplication for 2 weeks). By using this approach you are still not taking primary responsibility for your child's schoolwork because the assignments and request for help come from the teacher.

    Provide this home instruction in a positive, helping way. As soon as your child has met the teacher's goal for improvement, remove yourself from the role of tutor. In this way you have provided temporary tutoring to help your child over an obstacle that the school staff does not have time or resources to deal with fully.

  8. Request special help for children with learning problems.

    Some children have learning problems that interfere with acquiring some of the basic skills (for example, reading). In this discussion we have assumed that your child has no learning limitations. If a child with a reading disability slips too far behind in class, the child may lose confidence in his ability to do schoolwork. If you have concerns about your child's ability to learn, set up a conference with your child's teacher. At that time, inquire about an evaluation by your school's special education team. With extra help, children with learning disabilities can preserve their self-esteem and sense of competency.

Written by Barton D. Schmitt, MD, author of “My Child Is Sick,” American Academy of Pediatrics Books.
Pediatric Advisor 2013.2 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2002-01-15
Last reviewed: 2012-05-14
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2013 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
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