Homework Coach or Enforcer?

student-at-deskIs homework a battle in your home? If you find that it has become a nightly battle or that your child or teen has lost interest in school; then it may be time to try a different approach. I will admit I sympathize with teens trying to become independent when often the adults around them are inadvertently taking away their sense of control. If you find that you are constantly asking them if their homework is done or suggesting ways for them to get it done then here are five tips to take you from homework enforcer to homework coach. Remember the role of a good coach is to encourage problem solving skills, develop independence and provide support when needed.

  1. The first and most important step is to realize whether or not you are enabling your child/teen to feel helpless. If you are constantly reminding them to do their homework, get ready for school, pack their backpack, or go to bed why would they need to remember? The same thing applies if you are solving their problems for them or designing their notebook your way. All of these things take the pressure off of your teen and puts it on you. You’ll need to work together to figure out how much your teen can do independently and what he or she might need a little support for. I know it is often easier to keep track of it yourself, but teaching your teen to problem solve, keep track of assignments and get their work done independently are all skills they need to develop for a successful life.
  2. Ask questions that begin with the word, “what” rather than “did” or “is”. Questions that require a simple yes or no answer will only get you the one word answer. Ask a question that requires them to answer in a sentence that gives you some real information. For example, “What homework do you have left to do?” This sounds less judgmental and requires more than a one word answer to reply. Good coaches ask higher level questions that need explanations, rather than simple one word replies.
  3. Start with the end in mind, is a term that Stephen Covey used but is helpful for those having trouble with completing homework. Help your child visualize what that assignment or project looks like when it is completed. Then you can guide them to work backwards to include all the steps necessary to get it to that point. You can also help “backwards plan” long term projects with specific dates to work on the pieces of the project. If necessary, create the plan together and then have certain check ins rather than always asking if it is done.
  4. Discuss with your child/teen what kind of an environment is best for them to work in. Do they like it quiet and away from the rest of the family or do they like to be where the action is? Many younger students don’t like to be alone in their rooms, for them it is easier to work in the kitchen or close by. Use a trifold foam board to create a distraction free zone and keep the TV and radio off and let them use their own music with ear buds. I have read that music can “satisfy” the hungry ADHD brain by providing enough stimulation to help it relax. This is done by listening to the same playlist every day during homework time. It is not picking each song but pressing play once and letting the same music play lightly in the background for about 30-45 minutes. That is long enough to get some work done. Have them take a short break and then get back to their homework and play that list of songs again.
  5. Make sure your children have some “down” time. Everyone is entitled to relax after a long day. In fact, research says that having some down time after working, helps the brain to process what was just learned. Many students are not getting the 8-9 hours of sleep they need to do their best. Those with ADHD will benefit from designing a “routine” for sleep. Start with shutting down electronics at least 30 minutes before bed (the blue light stimulates serotonin the wake up hormone), dim the lights (good for increasing melatonin the sleep hormone) and relax. Add in the other bedtime get ready tasks and aim to have them in bed around the same time each night. Aim for at least 8 hours but 9 is ideal.

Parents, you are your child/teen’s life line.They may continue to need your support throughout school but as they enter middle and high school, it is time for them to develop their problem solving skills. That means they don’t need you to solve their problems or challenges for them but to work with them to come up with solutions together. Stay calm. When stressed, cortisol, the stress hormone, is released into the body and it can literally shut down the brain making it nearly impossible to think. Students cannot force their stressed brain to think at that point and it is best to take a break and go do something active. Exercise increases the level of dopamine and other neurotransmitters (good chemicals) in the brain that can help get them back on track. If the situation gets too stressful, it is best to just walk away. Homework is homework….let the teacher deal with it.

This article is from our February newsletter. If you’d like to sign up or pass this along to your friends and family so they can sign up directly just click on the link that goes to my website.

Thanks for reading,


The Past Does Not Equal The Future

I am not sure who said “the past does not equal the future” (maybe Tony Robbins) but I think it is an important reminder as we start the new school year.  Just because “x, y and z” happened last year, does not mean it will happen again this year. Each new school year is a chance to start over…a bit like new years. It does have some of the same problems though….we start off fresh and then fall back into our old habits just like those resolutions that last a day or a week.

This year, why not focus on the positive. Acknowledge your child every day they sit down and get to their homework on their own. Rather than “that’s great!” try something that shows how responsible they are being or mentions the new habits they are developing that can lead to improved grades. This encourages them to put the specifics together with their feelings about what you said. This ignites a little intrinsic motivation fire that hopefully they will want to continue to fuel. When kids feel good about themselves and what they can do…there is no stopping them.

Staying with the theme of the positive this year, ask “what” questions rather than “why” questions. Can you hear the difference between: “What homework will you work on next?” And “Why isn’t your math done yet?” It’s all a matter of how you phrase things. Asking “why” questions has an implied judgment in it, don’t you think?

Parents, the new school year isn’t just a fresh start for your child, it is for you too. What can you do to make “x”, “y” and “z” better for yourself and your family this year?

Wishing all my clients and their families (and students and families everywhere) an organized, calm, and successful school year.

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Learning Styles and Homework Help

We all think, take in and remember information differently based on our preferred learning style. Your learning style is the unique way you use your senses to learn.  When you understand how you learn, you can make learning easier. The most common learning styles are visual, auditory, and kinesthetic.


If you find charts and pictures help you learn you may be a visual learner. If you would rather sit and listen to a lecture – you may be an auditory learner. To find out about your preferences you can google “learning style inventory” or click on one of the links below.


Once you have identified your learning style you may want to think about what learning style your teachers are teaching to. When a teacher’s style and a student’s style differ it can be harder for the student to succeed. Teachers tend to give study tips or require projects to be completed a certain way and it is often based on their own preferences. If a student’s preferences differ then it is more of a challenge for that student to do well. For example learning a new concept strictly through a lecture without any visual support would be very challenging for a visual learner like me. Pictures and visuals help me take in new information and I find I am able to remember those pictures easier than remembering words that were spoken.


How does this help with homework and studying for tests? Use your strength to help yourself study. You can create study aids in your learning style and use them to study from. Here are some examples:


Visual: Use color whenever possible

Mind maps

Flash cards

Color stickies

Use photos or draw diagrams


Auditory: Use a recorder

Read out loud

Use mnemonics

Talk it through

Use poems, mnemonics, acronyms, etc.


Kinesthetic: Act it out

Work standing up

Move around while learning

Make lists

Use desk toys to keep your hands busy


These are just a few ideas to get you thinking. First step, take an inventory and find out how you think and learn best. Good luck.