School has been in for about 4 weeks now, and the reality of middle school is finally hitting the fan for my 7th grade son. With 6 classes and homework assigned in each, my organization-challenged son has been fumbling a bit with the amount of work he still has to do once the school bell has rang. Last week was especially hard for him since he was sick on Monday, and then tried to play catch-up all week long.

Friday morning he came to me in tears because his homework wasn’t done for his hardest class. Of course, he’d had plenty of time the day before to use up his videogame time and play with his friends in the evening. And when asked if his work was finished, he swore that it was. Obviously that wasn’t true.

Looks like we’re in for a few changes in our household.

I’ve had to come up with a new plan to hopefully encourage success this 7th grade year, and maybe help him take on a few better habits before the year is up. To help out other parents of struggling middle schoolers, here are a few things I’ve incorporated to help him gain control over his school work.

Get them a daily planner.
Most schools now require these. If not, get one for your child anyway. Have them write down their homework DAILY, and then check it every day to make sure their homework is done. If necessary, ask each teacher to partner with you on this to ensure your child knows their homework assignments. After all, your child’s teachers want your child to succeed.

Write down your expectations.
Your child is 12 or older. They’re not little kids anymore. However, some kids this age are going through such information overload, they can’t keep two thoughts straight. Create a checklist of what you expect them to do so they won’t forget. If it’s an unchanging list, you can even laminate it. Trust me, many kids will actually appreciate this.

No electronics until work is done.
That means no TV, no computer, no videogames, no phone…no nothing. If they need to use the internet for their homework, have them do it in a common room (if possible) and stay close enough that you can check to make sure it’s actually homework and not social media they’re working on.

Enforce appropriate restrictions.
If your child isn’t capable of pulling a B in his class because the work is too hard, don’t punish him. However, if your child’s grade is affected by not turning in homework, by all means, start taking privileges away! And be firm – don’t give them back until progress is made. Nothing works like a little incentive.

Limit after-school activities.
I’m sorry to all you sports families out there (we’re one of them, too), but if your child is struggling to get their homework done, then they may need to take a pass on Fall Ball or soccer. It seems ridiculous to be challenging your kid in sports, dance class, or any other extra activities if their school work is suffering.

Be available.
School is hard. Junior high is hard! I look at my kid’s homework, and I am grateful I don’t have to go to school anymore. But they do – and they need your help. You might not know everything they’re learning (which is a humbling realization), but you can at least be there for moral support, and to guide them in how to figure out the answer. Who knows, you might remember a thing or two from your Jr. High Algrebra class…

What are some ways you help your kid be successful in school?

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  1. Christina Panza

    This is all really good advice and I am sure it would totally work for 90% or more of kids who are homework challenged. But let me address the kids who this might not end up working for – or at least, my own son (or kids who might have other reasons for homework struggles besides simple disorganization). I did all these things. My son had a planner, and we set clear expectations with him about what he needed to do. We had a rule – no TV or computer until HW is done. When he proved unreliable about filling out his planner, and when he started lying about having homework to do in order to get his computer early, we had to take the hard line and ask the teacher to sign the planner. But then there would be nights when he would come home with an unsigned planner and would admit to having some homework – yet, we had no idea if this was really ALL the homework he had. Do we trust him and let him have the computer/tv after doing SOME homework, or do we say “sorry, no computer/TV because you didn’t have your planner signed, and we don’t trust that you really only have SOME homework tonight” (thereby completely removing all motivation he had to do that SOME homework). We usually chose to trust him in those situations, but we’d time and time again discover that trusting him was a mistake – he would lie through his teeth to have access to his computer, and would find a way around planner signatures, progress reports, etc. Anything to avoid having to face the fact that he could not stay on top of the homework load AND lose all privileges on top of that. Because of being caught in lies and not holding up his end of the bargain in terms of grades, etc, he also lost other privileges.
    So, what to do? Should a parent deprive your child of every privilege because they either cannot or will not stay on top of the homework load? Should a parent battle with their child to get them to do their homework when the parent has put everything in place to conceivably help their child stay on top of the school workload, yet the child still doesn’t get it done? I would find myself fighting with my child because I was doing everything I thought possible to support him in doing his homework – yet he still wasn’t doing it. For example, we would agree that he should start homework by 4:30pm – but then he wouldn’t. So I would remind him. And he still wouldn’t. And I’d remind him again – and again – reminding him about our agreement, the computer privilege he would get, etc…and sometimes it would work, but more often than not, it just set off his resistance to any form of control on my part. And I had a lot of emotional attachment to him completing his homework and doing well in school – no child of mine was going to be a slacker in school! Especially not a smart kid like my son, a voracious reader, talented writer, proficient in math….how could a kid like him be getting anything lower than C’s? I could not – would not – give him permission to simply fail. I had justifiable fear that failure in school could lead to great difficulty being successful & happy later in life.
    Unfortunately, My child became miserable. He wasn’t getting his computer (unless he lied, so there was big incentive to find ways to lie), he wasn’t doing after-school activities (because he just couldn’t stay on top of the homework), he wasn’t feeling successful in school. Arguments over homework were frequent. In 8th grade, he started not wanting to get up and go to school in the morning. At the school SST, the school asked my son “what can you do to change things, how can you take responsibility for yourself, etc etc?” And my son knew, but he still wasn’t able to pull it together. He became extremely depressed.
    Ultimately we had to look at what was really going on. None of the techniques were working effectively, and my relationship with my son had suffered greatly. Around November of his 8th grade year, I decided to pull him out of school and put him in an independent study program, and we started family counseling. The independent study program was not a long term solution, but it allowed us to take out the variable of lying about homework, because I knew exactly what homework was assigned during each two week period. This helped quite a bit, although it was still a struggle to get him to start and finish his work on time, at least at first. At this point, the planner became key, and he used it to organize not only what he had to do, but when he had to do it. It was easier to enforce the “no computer until homework is done” rule, since we knew what he had to do. He didn’t always stick to his plan, and often couldn’t have his computer at night or even for days on end – but one thing I learned was that I could just accept that and not get all up in a bunch about him not being totally on top of things. Being in independent study gave us the flexibility to do that, because he wouldn’t get too behind just because he didn’t do his homework for a day or two. It gave him the flexibility to see that he could be successful in writing an essay, in doing his math, in doing other assignments – as long as he had the time to do it and wasn’t too overwhelmed with multiple assignments. We learned during this time that my son would get majorly anxious when he had multiple assignments in one evening, which could potentially derail him – and often caused him to throw up his hands and do nothing, because he was unable to prioritize or focus in the face of so many challenges – even when they were easy if broken down into chunks.
    We learned a lot during the 7 months that my son was in independent study, and built significant amount of trust and good will between my son and I. He felt much more confident about going back to the public high school, knowing that he was capable of doing good work – something he had completely lost confidence in during middle school. However, within a month of starting high school, the same problems began resurfacing. The amount of homework they assigned in academic classes was extremely overwhelming – far more than in middle school or in independent study. To have 30-50 math problems, a project or writing assignment to work on for English, textbook reading and maybe a worksheet in Science, some kind of busy work in Spanish, and some other time-consuming assignment for his elective was pretty typical. And the math teacher assigned homework every Friday! He didn’t even have weekends free – ever. I began to wonder what all this homework was really doing for him. 30-50 math problems EVERY night of the week? Was that really necessary? The English work was interesting and often meaningful, but the work assigned in Spanish and Science were often just worksheets – tedious and long, but necessary for his academic progress? I don’t know about that. Yet, if he didn’t complete the majority of assignments, he would be failing. And within a month or two, it was clear that he would fail the quarter – and he reverted back into feeling bad about himself.
    Looking for solutions and support, we met with the school. The team of teachers and administrators again asked my son what he could be doing to improve the situation – which was certainly a reasonable thing to be asking, under the circumstances and given their limitations in being able to accommodate him. During this time, we had our son assessed by a psychiatrist, who diagnosed him with ADD. I knew little about ADD before the diagnosis, but once we had the diagnosis, everything became clear. A lot of my son’s avoidance, procrastination, and overwhelm issues were a result of the ADD – and whatever bad habits he may have developed as a result over the years. He was likely overlooked when he was younger because he is not hyperactive.
    It was after he was diagnosed with ADD that I realized – there is nothing my son could do to improve himself in THAT situation. And although the public high school had great intentions and the teachers and administrators genuinely seemed to care – tried to accommodate my son as best as they could – there was only so much THEY could do. It’s not like my son could keep taking academic classes but not have to do the work within a reasonable amount of time. And taking non-academic classes was out of the question – he would be bored out of his mind.
    At this point, I began looking at other options. Independent study or homeschooling was one option – but I didn’t feel like this was a great option for my son, because to thrive in that environment during high school requires someone with a lot of self-motivation, something my son did not yet have. Also, I really wanted him to have a positive high school experience where he could feel successful both socially and academically – as well as the opportunity to live up to his potential academically. I started asking questions and doing research. What we ultimately decided to do was put him in a Waldorf High School. The Waldorf environment, although academically challenging, focuses on the whole child, and on their emotional, physical, and academic progress. The homework and course load is balanced, and varied. The smaller school environment allows my son to not get lost in the shuffle. Teachers do not seem overloaded, and they are very engaged with the students. I met many wonderful dedicated teachers during my son’s time in public school, and admire public school teachers greatly. But the fact is, many of them juggle multiple courses and over 100 students at the middle and high school levels. It has got to be difficult to provide students who have challenges with the individualized attention they may need.
    My son is now a sophomore at his Waldorf high school, and is doing well academically and socially. He genuinely loves going to school. We still have rules about homework, computer time, etc. But we’re a bit more flexible. He can have his computer for 1 hour a day, regardless of when his homework is done. There is no incentive for him to lie in order to get his computer. But the biggest incentive for him to do his homework is really the fact that he wants to succeed now, because he is in an environment that he enjoys and cares to succeed in. He no longer feels lost and he is no longer depressed. He has made friends and is genuinely thriving. He has done things he would never have done in a traditional high school – chorus, drama, blacksmithing, gardening….while also having some of the most thoughtful, academically challenging assignments I’ve ever seen in his main lesson classes and academic core classes. The work is meaningful, and for a child that loves to learn yet struggles with staying on top of workload, that makes all the difference.
    I don’t know that every parent can have or would even want this option when their child is struggling in middle school. But I do think parents shouldn’t necessarily assume it’s the child’s fault if they can’t keep up with the heavy workload of middle or high school – or that it’s their fault if they’ve done all of the above but it isn’t working. If a parent has tried the techniques mentioned above and they do not work – I would ask the parent to take a serious look at their child and think about the type of environment they might thrive in. Maybe a Waldorf school isn’t the answer, but a smaller middle school, high school, or independent study program may be. The public middle and high schools are great for some students, but not every student fits into that box. If fitting your child into that box feels like it is a HUGE effort – like a square peg in a round hole – I say stop trying and find something else! In my humble opinion and experience at least!

    September 23rd, 2013 5:25 pm

  2. Glaris

    My son is 13, He does not like video games. He loves to read and is capable of doing pretty much anything in school but lately he does not do a good job on his classwork so he is lowering his grades only in social studies, science and writing . Math and Reading have always been A’s out of 4 questions he will always leave 1 wrong even if I tell him to change it he won’t he does not want to have A’s and B in all his classes although he can. He does not struggle studying and does everything but lately it;s been incomplete.

    April 5th, 2016 8:19 am

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