Appropriate Punishment For Not Doing Homework

I think punishing your son for this behavior is heading in the wrong direction! The only thing you're going to teach him through punishment is to hide his behavior better (and believe me, he can). 13 is the perfect age to develop the organizational skills that will get him through college, so try teaching instead of punishing (and if you're worried about it, don't worry - some of these steps will feel like punishment to him, anyway). He may just be lazy, instead of disorganized, but the steps you need to take will be the same.

Both my brother and I had serious problems turning in our homework. Organization was not a skill we had effectively developed, and my brother was eventually diagnosed with ADD, in the middle of high school. Looking back, my mother suspects I may have had ADD as well (it often shows itself differently in girls), but in any case, we both had to learn to be organized to cope with it.

Step one: make sure your son has a docket or assignment calendar to keep track of all his assignments. Have him help to pick it out, because I can only use calendars organized in a certain way or they don't organize the same way my mind does. Buy him two folders (of different colors) - one for assignments he hasn't completed, and one for things ready to turn in. Losing assignments was another problem my brother and I faced frequently.

Then, when he comes home, he gets a half hour to hour break from school, and then it's homework time. This is where that punishment-like feeling kicks in! Homework should be done in a public place without distractions (the kitchen table only works if the TV isn't on, for example) so that you can keep a close eye on him, and so that you are there to answer questions or help him through the tough parts. The first couple of times, you are going to have to be over-involved so that he knows he can come to you if he's really just stuck. Check his docket for him, and watch him work (make sure he's making progress). Ask him to show you his assignments. Let his teachers know you are doing this so that, if assignments still go missing, you'll know he is not using the docket, folders, or lying to you. Once he has the tools to be organized, lying is something you can punish.

If his behavior continues, you may want to meet personally with his teachers to talk to them. They may give you some mumbo-jumbo about either letting him do it on his own (organization) or them not having the time to personally monitor your son. But you need to have this sort of thing under control by high school or your son will become seriously overwhelmed, so engage everyone who will work with you. Yes, eventually, you will have to let him do it on his own, but apparently he's not ready for that yet.

I haven't had to use these techniques with my own children yet, and I'll confess, my parents started a little late with my brother and me. We were already in high school, and though we were both able to pull it together by the end, it would have been better for all involved if we had learned to be organized earlier (it's also a lot harder to keep a 16-year-old in line!) Good luck!

Homework is probably the number one reason I get anxious about the start of school each year.

Homework time in our house has always been a little dicey. There have often been tears, sometimes screaming, and occasionally fists of rage shaken toward the sky. (By the kids … and by me.) So when my sixth-grade son and his third-grade sister started at their new school in Nashville, I was bent on taking advantage of the opportunity for a fresh start on homework habits, for all of us.

My son, when he was younger, attempted to get out of homework by using magical thinking. He would get an assignment and hide the paper away where no one could see it, as if it no longer existed. I’d find out weeks later from teachers that he had blown past deadlines or turned in some half-done, last-minute thing. (I’ll never forget the time his fourth grade teacher called to say that he’d turned in a project on a scrap of paper, written in highlighter. As my husband put it, nothing says, “Who cares?” like doing your homework with a highlighter.) When forced to redo a skipped assignment, he would do great work; the kind he could have — and ought to have — done in the first place. He made it twice as hard on himself by doing things this way. He no longer tries to pull off magic homework-disappearing tricks anymore, but as recently as last spring, he still had a habit of coming home unprepared or making homework take twice as long by complaining and getting mad.

And he’s not the only one fussing. In the evenings, at homework time, I know I need to channel my inner teacher — but I can’t seem to locate her. I’m pretty sure there’s a special type of teacher-DNA that people either have or don’t have. The two strands on this double helix are patience and positivity, with little ladder-rungs of stamina holding them together. I don’t have this DNA. I wish I did. I wish I didn’t turn frustrated and snappish so easily. Yet by the time the homework is complete each night, my child and I are both battle-weary and exhausted.

This year, I told myself, would be different. New city, new school, new attitude! The school provides great tools: Kids get a planner in which to write daily tasks, and there’s a website that lists homework, tests, and projects — meaning I can see every assignment. For my part, I committed to making a sacred homework space: chair, snack, fresh pencils, quiet. Let’s do this.

On the first day of school, my son and I made a deal. In three days, one of his favorite authors — Jon Scieszka, editor of the “Guys Read” short story collections — was coming to Nashville for a reading and signing downtown. If my son showed me that he could keep track of his early school assignments and bring home everything he needed for each of those first few nights of homework, he could go.

Things were looking good. On the afternoon of the event, he sat down, showed me on the website and in his planner what his assignments were, and did some homework. The last assignment of the evening was an easy one: Read over your notes from your summer reading in preparation for English class the next day. “Go upstairs and read over your notes for 15 minutes, then come down and we can go.”

He started up the stairs, made it halfway, and came back down, teary-eyed. “I don’t have my notes,” he said.

“Where are they?” I asked.

“In my locker at school,” he said.

“You know what this means,” I said.

“I can’t go see Jon Scieszka? I can’t go see Jon Scieszka! Noooooo!” There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth. “Oh, why have I done this again? Ground me, mom! Ground me instead!”

I didn’t have to ground him. I just had to carry out our deal. Incomplete homework preparation, no author visit. He was so disappointed, and so was I, but the last thing he needed was to start off at a new school with old habits.

Things have gone well in the week since then. He has been much more prepared, if perhaps still a bit cranky at times. (Same here.) I’m crossing my fingers, although I’m not naïve enough to believe that one bummer of a consequence was enough to do the trick permanently.

So, this goes out to teachers and to fellow parents. As much as I struggle with supervising schoolwork every evening, I don’t know how teachers do it all day. How do you make a smart kid slow down and do the work of which he’s capable? If you have any tips, I’d love to hear them.

Mary Laura Philpott is a writer living (as of just recently) in Nashville. She is the editor of “Musing” for Parnassus Books, and her next book, “Penguins With People Problems”, will be published by Perigee Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House, next year. She will be writing about her family’s transition to new schools and a new life in Nashville in “New In Town” through October, 2014.

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