By. Brian Platzer and Abby Freirerich

Students love nothing more than being “done.” The sense of relief we educators see when a test is turned in or recess has arrived is unmistakable. Adults can relate: Who doesn’t enjoy the feeling of completing a project or being freed from a meeting?

But as you know, your student’s eagerness to be done often causes its own set of problems. By day’s end, all that stands in the way of relaxation and sleep is that final homework assignment. So your child rushes through it. Or does the bare minimum. Or doesn’t look it over. Or tells themself those final details aren’t important. They check it off in their planner, click the Upload button, and can finally breathe.

Some version of this scenario plays out in homes across the country every evening, and it’s no wonder that parents like you are upset. One of the most frustrating feelings for a parent is knowing that your child is capable, but nevertheless not following through. Many parents in these moments voice their frustration in the form of monologues directed at their exhausted kid: “You should have started earlier!” or “Didn’t you read the directions!” or “How could you have missed the most important part?” Kids, unsurprisingly, feel defensive and lousy about themselves. There’s no overnight fix here, but yes, you can help. The main thing to do is get them to understand that the feeling of real accomplishment is more satisfying than the short-term rush of handing in an incomplete assignment.

So start your conversation with your student with positive, specific feedback, helping them understand that you see their potential. Maybe their science teacher has noticed the connections they’re able to make between concepts, or their English teacher has referred to their insightful comments in class. Discussing your child’s strengths in a concrete, honest way means they’ll be less likely to dismiss your suggestions outright.

Then focus on adding some structure to your child’s daily routine. Before starting her homework each day, they should create a checklist. Your little one can jot down their assignments and other commitments and how long they thinks they’ll take on a big whiteboard in her room. They should include a 15-minute “work review” window for a final read-through of their projects. Creating this finite, set time each evening means that they will have a built-in guardrail to prevent her from racing through her work.

For essay writing or any other assignment with many components, your child might find it helpful to print out any directions from their teacher and number each step. This way, they can figure out if they are actually done with their assignment by literally checking off the completed steps as they go. They are also far more likely to catch avoidable errors when reading over a hard copy of instructions with a pencil in hand.

Your student might also print out a “finished work?” checklist to be prominently displayed in their work area. This list can be modified according to each subject, depending on what their tendencies are in terms of omissions and rushing, but should rely on a manageable framework, like this one:


  1. Did I answer every part of each question?
  2. Did I proofread my written work by reading it aloud?
  3. Did I submit my work to my teacher?

The hardest part of this process can be the feeling that even if we follow all the above advice to the letter, we can’t force our kids to care once we leave the room. So after you help your child understand how to be thorough in their work, let them take over. It’s a tricky balance, but when parents are overbearing or overinvolved, kids tend to push back and have more difficulty becoming autonomous. If your child is still struggling after putting some of these measures in place, reach out to their teachers. Many kids are more responsive and less resentful when they get pointers from someone other than their parents.

This may be a long process, but fortunately minor accomplishments tend to result in continued success and confidence. So when your child’s thoroughness pays off with positive feedback and better grades, they’ll be more likely to stick with these routines, and build habits that help them avoid calling it quits too soon.


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