Ask An Expert / Parenting Challenges

My 5-year-old son, who has a development delay, is very independent but does not want to do his homework. What can I do?

Spending homework time with your child can be very motivating

Kenneth Schuster, PsyD
Ken Schuster, PsyD

Clinical Neuropsychologist, Learning and Development Center; Director of Clinical Training

Child Mind Institute

I have a 5-year-old son who has a development delay. He is very independent, but when it comes to doing homework he does not want to do it. How can I get him to do homework?

I suggest making homework more appealing to your son by presenting it as an activity that you do together. Having mom or dad’s undivided attention during any activity can be very motivating — even for homework. Your level of involvement will likely decrease as he gets older and can manage these tasks more independently. But creating a special “together time” for homework can be a tremendous bonding opportunity when he’s this age.

It will also show your son that you care about his success in school and are available to help him succeed. And it will give you a great opportunity to model for him good study habits that he will eventually internalize and rely on throughout his life. If your son does not have homework one night, you can keep your “together time” routine going by reading a book together. Homework time can be a special part of each evening rather than a burden.

While doing homework together you must remember that you are there primarily for motivation and support. Your son still has to do his homework. You can help to keep him on track, ask questions about what he is doing, and, if he is struggling, offer some guidance.

Sometimes kids have a tough time completing all of their homework in one sitting. A helpful strategy is to break your son’s homework time down into segments. You can say, “We are going to work for 10 minutes, take a 5-minute break, and then work for another 10 minutes.” The time frames are adjustable based on your son’s response and how much homework he has.

Another helpful strategy is to set goals with manageable time limits for discreet tasks. For example, you can say, “Let’s sit here for 10 minutes and try to complete this one-page worksheet.”

Lastly, you can try motivating your son with small rewards. Some kids are very motivated by a sticker on a chart, but different kids are motivated by different things. Some kids respond to a reward of ice cream, or being able to see a toy they are working to earn, getting to watch a television show, or iPad time. Have a discussion with your child that outlines your plan so that he understands.

For example, you could say, “We’re going to sit down and do the homework together and when we finish we’ll have dessert together.” Make this part of the evening routine. You could make the rule that your son does not get to have dessert or a television show automatically after dinner — it will be after he finishes his homework. If he doesn’t have homework, it can follow your reading time together.