homeworkAre you finding it difficult to get your children to do their homework, or only some of them? Here’s an article from our archives with some great advice from Dr. Jennifer Jo Brout, a school/clinical child psychologist from Westchester, NY, and mother of fraternal triplets.

Dear Dr. Brout:

I have 11-year-old quads.  They are all excellent students and have no long-term effects from their prematurity. My problem is that one of them is constantly my “problem child.”  The other three come home from school, zip through their homework and are off to play.  This child whines and complains about his homework every day.  He does everything he can to procrastinate: getting a snack, drink, pencil needs sharpening, etc… I do allow a snack before homework; he just takes as long as he can to get his snack. If I do not stay on top of him, he will procrastinate his afternoon away, and then he is mad because he is still doing homework and the others are playing.

Academically, he is very bright and makes mostly “A’s” and an occasional “B.” Academics come a little easier to the other three, and they make mostly high “A” grades with little effort.  He excels in classes that interest him, and his teachers all love him and tell me what a wonderful student he is.  Socially, he is my most mature at times, but at home can be my most immature.

My husband fears that we are hurting his self-esteem because we are “on him” all the time about doing his homework, doing his chores, getting ready on time, and getting his shower. These are all things he does not want to do. We’ve tried taking his privileges away.  Most recently he  has  been losing a  small part of  his allowance every time he’s  not ready to leave for school on time, but neither of these consequences have had a big impact on him, except when he’s about to lose privileges for the entire  weekend!  We try to really praise him and give positive reinforcement when he is responsible, and talk to him about how much easier life is if you just do things you are supposed to do without whining and procrastinating.

I would like to know if you think this constant battle with him can truly hurt his self-esteem, and if you have any suggestions to motivate him? – A Concerned Mom


Dear Concerned Mom,

You are asking a very complex question regarding an issue that I think many of us, as mothers of multiples, have faced. I think that your question can be broken down into two parts. The first part addresses the reason why this one particular child procrastinates with his homework. Finding this out can be a very complicated process. Is it because homework comes slightly less easily to him? Is it because he cannot concentrate as well? Does he just have the kind of system that overloads easily and by the time he gets home, he really needs a break before starting homework?

As a mother of multiples, I have noticed that each of my children have very different natural rhythms in regard to how they approach their homework and in regard to their activity levels in general (which of course affects their abilities to attend to work). As they get older, the schools put parents in a position to get all children on a pretty tight schedule that doesn’t allow for much variation, especially if your children are involved in sports or other activities. With the amount of homework increasing as the kids get older, it becomes harder and harder to be flexible with our children and allow any room in their schedules for their natural temperaments. With multiples this is exacerbated greatly because they are holding you (and each other) accountable in terms of who is allowed to do what and when. So, first I think you must try to establish why your one son is homework avoiding.

I wouldn’t suggest taking away privileges. I would instead first ask him why he doesn’t like doing his homework and try to brainstorm what might make it easier. You can include his teachers in on this process if you think they might be helpful. If you can get the school behind you, that can make such a big difference! Then, you have to explain to the four kids that you have different expectations of them in regard to how and where they will work. This will give you a little room to break some “rules” for this one son if you have to. I do think it could negatively impact his self-esteem if he keeps trying to keep up with them and really can’t. However, if you can make some adjustments that he is on board with (while still letting him know he is responsible for his work) and explain that those adjustments are not because he is less capable than anybody else, but that he just has a different way of approaching his work, he may fare better overall. For example, it might work to let him do his work with the other children and when they go out to play he can make a choice as to whether he wants to go play and finish later or finish now. If he chooses to finish later than he has to set a specific time and place and adhere to that decision. Maybe he needs to run around outside for 10-15 before starting his homework? One never knows what will do the trick! Just keep trying without letting it become a conflict. I’ve been working at this with my three for years! It’s just now falling into place at the end of 6th grade.

Don’t get into the homework battle. It’s too destructive to your relationships with your children. See what you can do from a supportive angle for him and see if there is anything the school can do from their end. Sometimes taking the pressure off a little is the best thing you can do for the child and for yourself. Just a thought – one of my daughters just cannot finish her homework at night. She gets too tired. So she does a little in the morning during breakfast. This works for her.

There’s always a solution. Just remember this issue may take some time to resolve. It may not be solved overnight, but that’s okay!