Dear Dr. Fournier:
My son’s teacher recently informed me that he had several zeros for not turning in his homework. However, he does his homework every night, and even asks for my help when he doesn’t understand a concept! I know he completes his work, but for some reason he is not turning all of it in. How do I solve this problem? It was even suggested I might want to have him tested for ADHD? Help!
Before jumping to extreme conclusions such as a pre-diagnosis of ADHD and considering testing, I advise attempting small strategies for change to see if they address the dilemma. Your son probably does not have a problem, it’s that many times it is easier for educators to make sweeping generalizations and assumptions about children that present puzzling problems. Before this statement is taken as a condemnation of teachers, I will also point out that teachers have a huge list of responsibilities as it is without being expected to catch and develop unique strategies for each student they have. This is where parents’ jurisdiction begins in the educational process.
A problem is a composite of smaller situations called issues. An issue is something that is small and doable, and your son has successfully found solutions for many issues: he knows what his homework is, brings home the right materials, asks questions when he does not understand, and realizes you are present to help in the role of a monitor but not there to do his work for him. This indicates that your son pays attention at school, works diligently and excels at time management. This is a great list of developed skills that many parents out there long to see manifest in their children. You should celebrate all that your son has accomplished!
The issue you are encountering is not unusual. Many children conscientiously do their homework, but once those assignments are completed, they mentally check off the task – not realizing their work must be taken to fruition. This same situation often occurs in the “adult” world. Have you ever gone to the dry cleaners, only to realize that you left your laundry at home? Or have you cooked a dinner, only to remember at the end of the meal that the rolls were left in the oven?
WHAT TO DO:
I recommend teaching your child a strategy I call “Close the Circle.” This method is in developing an understanding that homework begins – and most importantly ends – with the teacher. If the finished assignment doesn’t make it back into the teacher’s hands, then the teacher won’t know it was completed and will grade accordingly.
Have your son place completed assignments into a designated homework folder, and each night, have him place the folder in his backpack. Before he leaves for school in the morning, ask to see and check inside his homework folder. I also encourage the pocket in this folder to be marked as “Due Today.” Inside this folder, keep a homework sheet with a grid for each subject. Have your son check off the subject when he places the homework in the folder, and a full circle when the entire job has been done. Include a space for him to record his grades when he gets his homework back. Check the folder every night to make sure homework was handed in. Then celebrate! You will be teaching him a lesson many adults and executives still do not have down pat.
In the workplace, there are two types of employees. When you ask the first employee if a task is complete, the answer is: “Well I told Suzanne to do it.” Even if the end results are excellent, the workflow was impeded because of the employee’s lack of knowledge of the end result of a task HE was given. The second type of employee always knows a project’s status and can give a full report at any time. This employee fully understands that his work is only worthwhile if he has “Closed the Circle.” Whom do you think will be promoted? By teaching your child to “Close the Circle,” you are instilling habits that will not only ensure success at school, but also provide your child with the foundation to realize his goals and dreams later in life, as he is first in line for each promotion. If he has his own business he will know whom he will give a raise to and whom he will fire. You have been given an incredible opportunity to solve an issue – don’t turn it into a problem or pathology. Your child is not sick. He is still learning how to be a responsible adult. Congratulations on all the good things he has learned so far.
CONTACT DR. FOURNIER