Helping Your Child Manage Difficult or Long-Term Assignments

Ffrustrated student doing difficult homework assignmentChildren struggling to manage difficult or long-term assignments will need to develop self-management skills.

Some children are overwhelmed by multi-step projects or confusing assignments. Their first reaction is to ask for help or put the assignment off for another time. A number of strategies can help your child handle these types of assignments:

  • Underlining. Use magic markers to highlight important parts of directions.
  • Read all of the headings, table of contents, chapter questions and bolded words in reading assignments. Highlight or write them down if that helps. Highlight directions on any worksheet. If it is a math sheet, highlight symbols and signs.
  • Make lists of important words or concepts.
  • Tell yourself brief summaries into a tape recorder. Play them back and listen carefully. Do they make sense?

We suggest you review your child’s assignments to determine if there are any long-term projects waiting to be completed. Help your child set up a schedule to complete the assignment in a step-by-step fashion. Children do not intuitively know how to simplify a larger task into manageable steps. To help them with this process, it is useful to focus their attention on the main feature of the task (e.g., the outline, headings, words in italics or bold, the questions at the end or the beginning of the work). Based on just these general features of complex tasks, ask your child to describe the task or reading material. This strategy will help children reduce large amounts of information to topics, questions or categories.

There are other ways to reduce information or to make directions easier to understand. For example, children can use magic markers to not only highlight directions but key points as well. Once your child can identify the important points, he or she can use a different colored marker to mark the supporting points. This strategy can also be used in listening to teachers’ lectures. If note paper were divided into three columns, students could take notes on the main point in column one, supporting points in column two and questions or thoughts in column three.

Finally, there are ways to reduce the amount of information that must be organized when telling or writing stories. We know that many children will write better stories if they have first drawn small pictures of the story events. One picture can be drawn in each of the squares created by folding a piece of paper into six to twelve parts.

When children perceive a homework assignment as too difficult it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The assignment immediately becomes even more difficult because your child perceives it as such. If your child gives up without reasonable effort or requesting help, he or she will feel increasingly more helpless and hopeless towards school. Teach your child to question him or herself: “What do I know?”, “What can I do?” and “Who can I ask for help?” These questions will help your child develop the academic self-confidence and assertive skills necessary to successfully complete difficult or long-term assignments.

Authors:Dr. Sam Goldstein and Dr. Sydney Zentall

This column is excerpted and condensed from, Seven Steps to Homework Success: A Family Guide for Solving Common Homework Problems by Sydney S. Zentall, Ph.D. and Sam Goldstein, Ph.D. (1999, Specialty Press, Inc.), available for purchase by following this link.