When It Isn't Negotiable and How to Get Their Homework Done!
The Procrastination Problem

When It Isn’t Negotiable and How to Get Their Homework Done!


We offer our kids choices after choices to give them a sense of autonomy and to make the day run a bit smoother.

Do you want to wear a white shirt or the blue shirt?

Do you want to color or play with the blocks?

Do you want carrots or peas with dinner?

Do you want to do Spanish or German lessons after school?

Do you want to practice the guitar for 30 minutes and then do homework or do you want to start your homework first?

Do you want to start with your history reading or your math homework?

But there is one thing that is not negotiable: Homework must get done.

Despite this being “non-negotiable,” homework often does not actually get done.

Instead, our kids procrastinate. They play video games or Snapchat with their friends. When we ask them (or maybe even yell at them) to do homework, we hear “5 more minutes!” in response. By the time kids actually sit down in front of their schoolwork, they do not know where to start, or it is so late that, even though they had enough time to finish their work, they no longer do. This routine, left untreated, can continue for what seems like an eternity and can also escalate into serious arguments between you and your child.

What is a parent to do?

Talk with your child. 

“Jack, I have noticed that recently you have had a difficult time completing your homework. I know that you are capable of doing your homework. I have noticed that you start your homework so late that you do not have enough time to finish. Then when you turn in your homework, it is not your best work, and you do not get the grade you deserve. I imagine that is very frustrating. What do you think?”

Once your child agrees that you have an accurate understanding of the situation, move on to brainstorming.

“So what do you think we can change about our current system to make it easier for you to get your homework started earlier in the evening?”

Wait for his ideas. Try to figure out how at least one of them could work.

Jack says, “I do not have enough free time after school. I’m always working! I need more playtime.”

So perhaps you say, “Okay. Typically you have one hour of free time after school before you start doing your homework. How about we change that to an hour and a half hours of free time? We can try it for one week. However, if homework is not done, then we will try one of my ideas.” (If he actually starts homework after an hour and a half, then he will actually be starting earlier than he has every other day!)

Have some of your own ideas ready to suggest now, but only try them out next week if the homework situation stays the same. 

If the homework situation improves but is not completely perfect, adjust the new routine. Ask for their input. Try to make that work first. Then you can offer up some of your own ideas. Perhaps they need a snack after free time as part of the transition back to school mode. Have them work in the kitchen so that after their snack, they are already in their study space. Let them come up with solutions and give their choices when it comes to the means, but the end is always the same: homework gets done.

Study Tips

How To Survive Exams

Exam time is stressful. There is most likely a lot of cramming going on (just being realistic here). Stuff that your child struggled with during the rest of the year but was able to put off is now starring them right in the face – they can’t ignore it any longer (well they can, it would just hurt their chances of getting a good grade – and let’s not forget, learning). That can really make them panic as they realize they have a limited amount of time to actually learn what they don’t know and what they have had a hard time learning.

To help make this time a bit easier on your child (and you), we have 8 tips to make exam time a little less stressful and a little more productive. (Depending on your child’s age, the following recommendations are either for you to help your child with or for your child. Younger children are more accepting of help than older children. Developing these habits early makes surviving exams easier.)

1. After each exam, treat yourself. Rewards help motivate you – they give you something to look forward to. Exams can be daunting. Knowing that you don’t have to immediately start studying for another one as soon as you finish this one gives you extra energy to keep going.

Rewards are also good because they give you a break. Breaks rejuvenate your brain and make you more productive during study time later.

Some good options include: Frappuccinos (my treat of choice after exams), a trip to the ice cream store, 30 minutes of basketball, a game of fetch with your dog, and talking to friends about non-exam-related stuff. (As a parent, during middle school exams, start this habit by picking your child up from exams and suggesting an immediate trip to a favorite restaurant or snack place).

2. Move on after you have finished one exam. Do not rehash what you may or may have not gotten wrong, though it is quite tempting to do this with friends. Move on. It does not matter anymore until you get your test back. Harping on it takes time away from studying for the next exam. It can also increase your stress level and make studying for the next test harder.

3. Create a plan for how to attack studying at the subject level (How will I study for math?) and at the daily level (What will I study Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday?).

For example, for math, I will take out all old homework, quizzes, and tests and start redoing all the questions I got wrong. Then I will keep redoing each one until I get each one right. Check out Fireborn’s episode on Study Tips for specific tips on how to study.

Then, perhaps you have two exams on Monday. So perhaps you plan your days as follows:

  • Friday after your exam you will take a break and enjoy your day and evening, maybe watch a movie.
  • Saturday in the morning, you will study for History. Then in the afternoon, you will study for Science. Then in the evening, you’ll again take a break and reward yourself with a movie.
  • Sunday, you will do the same study routine as Saturday during the day. Then in the evening, you will study whichever subject needs more work.

4. Take timed breaks. Like I said before, breaks are important. They are little rewards that help motivate you to get through your work. They also energize you and your brain. Timing your breaks is a good idea because then you are less likely to lose track of time and use up all of your study time on your break.

5. Eat a quick dinner with your family. Family dinner is an important reset and time for reflection and connection every day, but during exams it becomes even more important. Family conversation helps get your mind off of work and rejuvenates you. Making it short will stave off any anxiety you may feel that you’re not studying every single moment you have free.

6. Exercise. Sleep. Meditate. All of these things help reduce your anxiety and help you perform at peak levels. Sleep also helps you remember what you’ve been cramming into your brain the last few days during the test. Without sleep, what we’ve been studying doesn’t get encoded and so you’re less likely to remember it on the test the next day.

Exercising, sleeping, and meditating are important for both parents and students. Parents can become quite stressed by exams (or by their stressed students) and need to take care of themselves too!

7. Parents, you can help your child stay awake to study by staying awake with your child. If your child wants you to, sit and read or answer emails in the same room as your learner. Having someone else in the house awake and sitting with you can help you to stay awake as well as focused on your task.

8. Make exciting plans for the end of exams. Have something concrete to look forward to, such as a night out with friends, a movie or game night with your family, or going to Six Flags! Again, rewards are important. Having something to look forward to motivates us to do our best. The anticipation of something fun helps energize us to keep studying and doing well. Without that motivation, it can be hard to sustain that energy level and exams can become a slog.

Exams are hard! It’s easy for students to get overwhelmed and trudge through them. But it’s really hard to do your best and learn and get the grades you deserve when you’re dragging your feet to do your work or when your really anxious. By rewarding yourself, taking breaks, exercising, and planning out your study times, you will have more energy and be more motivated to get the studying done. You’ll be a happier, less anxious student and your quality of life (and hopefully your grades) will be much improved!

Encouraging Persistence Instead of Complacency
Parent-Child Communication

Encouraging Persistence Instead of Complacency

Honors Chemistry my sophomore year of high school was one of the hardest classes I ever took. My teacher, Mr. Spooner, expected so much more of me than had ever been expected before. It took me months to figure out that “good enough” for other teachers was not good enough in his class. Looking back, his feedback on homework clearly outlined his high expectations.

Just because I worked for hours on my homework and could not figure out the answer was no excuse to not have explained my thought process or to not have thought further into the problem, he would say. Whwasn’t I finishing the problem? Where was I getting stuck? What if I pretended as though I got that part right and moved on? Where would that take me? I would explain my thought processes to him in person, but he wanted me to write it on the paper while I was doing the work, not discussing it the next day with him. It was okay to get the wrong answer, but it was not okay to give up and to write nothing (or too little).

By the time I finally figured out what he was asking of me and I was able to do it, I understood why he wanted it: writing out my thoughts usually generated ideas that led to the correct answer. It encouraged increased consideration of the problem and boosted my ability to problem solve. Instead of giving up, writing down why I was confused and how I thought the principals should be applied but were not working, often showed me the flaws in my thinking and made me reconsider.

Giving up too easily was never okay for Mr. Spooner and I am so grateful I had someone to teach me that lesson.

In his most recent book Building a Community of Self-Motivated Learners, veteran teacher and educational writer Larry Ferlazzo explains that “There may be times when students are having difficulties meeting their goals. If and when that occurs, researchers recommend that accountability is still important and it should not be dismissed with a shrug… Find out from the student why they think they are having difficulties, elicit from them ideas on what they can do differently and perhaps provide some of your own suggestions” (2015, 31). Too often teachers (and parents) accept less from their learners than they should and fail to push hard enough.

Based on my own experience teaching and my failure to push hard enough at times, I would wager this stems from a desire to acknowledge how hard the student has already worked, how hard the work is, and a desire to keep the child engaged. But that actually often has the opposite effect. If children are not held accountable and are not held to a higher standard, they will then not push themselves to do better. They will limit themselves to those lower expectations. That is what I had been doing.

Mr. Spooner was not one of those teachers. I remember a classmate, a smart one too, once complained after getting a bad grade, “But Mr. Spooner, what about our effort? Why aren’t you trying to motivate us instead of making us feel bad about our grades? What about our self-esteem?” He responded, “I’m not here to help your self-esteem. I’m here to teach you.” I disagree. In the short-term, he did not help with self-esteem, but in the long-term, his class boosted my self-esteem more than any other. He was there to teach us to push ourselves and in our effort and eventual success we were rewarded with the knowledge that we can accomplish more difficult tasks than we thought. We did not need praise anymore. The work other teachers did to preserve our self-esteem was actually hurting us and keeping us from that knowledge that we were more capable.

Kids need some pain points to overcome challenges. Therefore, like Mr. Spooner, we need to stop saying “It’s okay” so feelings are not hurt and so that ‘self-esteem is maintained’ because that is not how it works. 

Instead, Ferlazzo recommends “a strategy called ‘plussing’ that is used by Pixar animation studios with great success… ‘Using words like ‘and’ or ‘what if,’ rather than ‘but’ is a way to offer suggestions and allow creative juices to flow without fear'” (2015, 7), such as “What if you tried this?” and “And why do you think this is happening?” By asking questions starting with “and” and “what if”, judgment is removed, but students are still required to continue thinking about the problem, instead of being given permission to give up.


Ferlazzo, L. (2015). Building a community of self-motivated learners: Strategies to help students thrive in school and beyond. Routledge: New York.

Your Teacher Doesn't Want to Fail You
Elementary School, High School, Middle School, School Advice, Self-Advocacy

Your Teacher Doesn’t Want to Fail You

Has your child forgotten to turn in a few assignments?

Were they incorrectly graded on a test? 

If so, these are great opportunities for your child to learn to self-advocate, for your child to go to the teacher and talk about making up work or revisiting test questions in an attempt to improve her grade. However, students often feel uncomfortable talking with their teachers about these issues and so avoid these conversations.

Perhaps they feel embarrassed about missing those assignments and by not talking to the teacher about them, they can avoid directly thinking about how they messed up. Perhaps they are worried that those questions they answered correctly were actually incorrect. Perhaps they do not know what to say to their teacher.

To help them, if they are young enough (i.e., not in high school) and unwilling to self-advocate on their own, you can set up a meeting between you, the teacher, and your child. You will be there to support your child and help if he has difficulty saying what he wants to say.

Before the meeting, talk about how you envision the meeting going and what your child will say (with her input). The meeting will probably go something like this: You will sit down in the classroom together and say hello. The teacher will want to know or reiterate the purpose of the meeting. The purpose of the meeting is to acknowledge that you have missed a few assignments and that has been hurting your grades. You would like to make up the work if possible. And it is your child’s responsibility to say that.

Your child will probably feel uncomfortable. So, you can remind them that their teacher is there to help him learn and wants him to succeed. So even if you can’t make up the work, the teacher will probably help you come up with a solution to make sure that in the future homework is turned in on time. Also, no matter what, this conversation will show the teacher that you care and will gain you some goodwill in the teacher’s eyes. A teacher’s goodwill cannot be underestimated. 

Then you both go and talk with the teacher. If your child is still uncomfortable, you can again say, “[Insert teacher’s name here], I’m sure you will agree with me when I say that teachers want their students to succeed, right? Otherwise, we would not even be having this meeting. So, [insert child’s name here], let’s talk about if there is anything that can be done to make up for the missed homework assignments.”

By reiterating this point in the meeting with the teacher, your child will see the teacher’s positive reaction and feel empowered by it. Then, even if your child cannot make up the work, the conversation has been framed in a collaborative tone (instead of the argumentative tone your child was expecting), which will encourage creative problem solving to help your child do well in this class.

Any time we self-advocate, we want to start the conversation (and hopefully end it) collaboratively. Teachers (and future co-workers and bosses) are much more likely to want to help you when you approach them in a friendly way, as opposed to an argumentative way. If you assume that the teacher wants you to succeed, it is much easier to see the conversation as collaborative as opposed to combative. And that is the lesson we want to impart on our children – that to successfully self-advocate, have a collaborative tone and assume goodwill on the other party’s behalf.

Once your child has gone through this process with you, she will feel more confident self-advocating by herself next time.

The Happy Student # 15: It’s Paper Time
School Advice, Study Tips, The Happy Student Podcast

The Happy Student #15: It’s Paper Time

Writing papers can be super intimidating! Catchy openers, good transitions, a strong thesis, supporting evidence… That’s a lot of work. And starting with a blank piece of paper or screen doesn’t help. Fireborn’s got a few tips to help you help your kid write their paper! (One idea: offer to type up what your kid says. To your kid, it feels like you are writing the paper for them, but you are simply putting their ideas on paper, which can be a bit of a block for them otherwise.)

The Happy Student # 15: It’s Paper Time




The school year is really in gear: quizzes, exams, and PAPERS. Writing can be a scary, trying time for kids and parents. Looking at a blank page can make it impossible to actually start writing anything. Organizing thoughts in a cohesive fashion is also really tough for kids. Coming up with a thesis can be intimidating. There are lots of difficult aspects to writing papers. You don’t want to be that parent who writes entire papers for your kid, but you do want to be a supportive parent and some kids need a lot of support when it comes to writing.

  • Make sure that they never look at a blank page and help create an outline that fits their needs as a writer. They can add in all those icebreakers and transitions later.
    • First, you want to help create a “Robot Thesis”. A robot thesis is a simple sentence. It is: This is a paper about __________________.
      • Ask your learner, “How might you fill in the blank space?” You can generate ideas together if it is difficult to answer. Your learner could even write “I don’t know what I would say.” It does not need to be an amazing, dynamic thesis, yet.
        • You may do the typing (but not the thinking) for your learner. Let them dictate their thoughts to you.
      • Secondly, you want to help create an outline.
        • Organize the outline for your learner.
        • Show your learner how to create an outline.

To create an outline:

  1. Have your learner slowly read the assignment aloud to you. While they are reading, start the bare bones of an outline.
  2. Have your learner read through the outline and check with them.
    • Ask them: Does this make sense? If we flesh out these bullet points, will we have answered all of your teacher’s questions? Do you think this is what your teacher was looking for? Adjust accordingly.
  3. Ask your learner for their thoughts on the paper. Do they have any initial thoughts about what they want to say? While they are responding, type up their thoughts in an appropriate place in the outline.
    • Outlines help non-linear thinkers organize their thoughts in a linear fashion. You are taking your child’s non-linear thoughts and showing her how to organize them. These are initial thoughts. As your writer continues to work on the outline and the paper, the ideas will mature and progress.
  4. Ask your student to find quotes that he thinks are relevant. Ask them what they think the quotes mean. Write it all down!
  5. When the research does not obviously fit with the theme of the paper, ask some clarifying questions, such as: That’s very interesting. How does it relate to the thesis? Then figure out where to put it in the outline. Maybe you need to create a new bullet point.
  6. Add in a bullet for the introduction and conclusion (and any other specific section needed) if your student has not yet said something for which you would create a bullet point.
  7. Ask if they want to update her thesis now that they have done so much research. They probably will.
  8. Now, take a break! Then let your learner take some time to write the rest of the paper without your help.
  • This outline is for your learner, so it does not need to be pretty with impeccable language and word choice. Functional is just fine – probably better.
  • Writing is a personal process. What is best for one learner, is not for another. This is one option worth trying.
  • If you want to see the outlines written out, you can view How To Start Writing a Paper.


I would love to hear your thoughts on this episode!


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How to Not Look at your Phone During Homework Time
High School, Middle School, School Advice, Study Tips

How to Not Look at your Phone During Homework Time

We each have a certain amount of willpower – an ability to not watch TV and instead get to work or an ability to not eat that chocolate cake. And we use up our willpower as the day goes on (which is why it’s much harder to avoid that cake or that TV as the day progresses). We can strengthen and increase our willpower, but it will never be infinite.

Every time your child puts his phone down and starts reading his textbook, he’s used up a bit of his willpower. So, as the night progresses, and bedtime approaches, and homework still needs to be done, he has less and less willpower to keep putting down his phone and it gets harder and harder to actually do his work.

Thankfully, there is a way to avoid depleting your willpower and get your homework done: HABITS. “Things that are habitual don’t tax your willpower” (Barker, 2014).

The more good practices that we can turn into habits, the less we use up our willpower, so we have more of it in reserves for other stuff.

So, if you are currently eating chocolate cake every evening at 9 pm, you could try changing that habit to first eating an apple and having a glass of water and seeing if that fills you up and satisfies your sugar craving. Create a new habit.

Or perhaps, when you get home from work, you know you have chores to do, but you have a habit of watching TV instead and the chores don’t get done. Create a new habit. When you get home and want to go sit down on the couch in front of the TV, lie down on your bed instead (and don’t turn on the TV or your smartphone). You’ll either get bored and decide to just get your chores done or you’ll take a nap and wake up refreshed ready to do some chores.

Or perhaps you have a habit of checking your phone every time it vibrates while you are doing your homework. Create a new habit. Turn your phone off when you start your work. Or put your phone in a different room. Or put your phone on silent. If you notice you start to check it even though it hasn’t vibrated, create a new habit. Maybe you’re checking it because you are bored? Instead of checking your phone, try a new habit of taking 3 belly breaths to help refocus your mind and maintain your attention on your homework.

The more we can help our kids develop good habits, the less they have to use their willpower, the more successful they will be at getting their homework and chores done. The younger you start working on developing these habits with your kids, the easier it is for them to develop them an internalize them.

Modeling good habits for your kids is always a good first step, like doing the dishes right after dinner instead of watching TV first or putting your stuff away when you walk in the house instead of throwing your coat over the back of a chair.

When they are young, when they get home from school, you can insist that before they play they put their backpack away and put their coat in the closet.

As they get older, you can have a rule (that becomes a habit) that they sit down at the kitchen table, have a snack, and do homework right after school.

What’s interesting is that when we have these habits, it can actually look like motivation. It looks like self-discipline. And it is those things, but it takes less willpower to be motivated and self-disciplined when we have good habits. So helping your kids develop good habits will help make being motivated and self-discipline easier for them.

The Happy Student Podcast

The Happy Student #32: Back to School Already? Okay, Here Are Some Tips

It’s just about time to be going back to school – can you believe it? We can’t. But we do have some tips to help your child feel prepared for and excited to start the first day of school. In the episode, we review a few general things you can do to help your child get ready for school, as well as a few tips to help your kid if he’s going to a new school, and then a few more tips on how to help your child be organized this school year.




So as we think about sending our kids back to school, there are some rather mundane things we want to remember.

  1. You need to make sure you have all vaccinations and forms filled out for the school.
  2. You can also do some back to school shopping for new clothes so your kids feel their best and freshest on the first day – new clothes can be a nice little confidence boost on an exciting, but also a little nerve-wracking first day back.
  3. Make sure you have some after-school activities already planned. For younger children, have some playdates already scheduled. Sign your kids up for some after-school activities, preferably of their choosing.
  4. Make sure your child has everything ready the night before for the first day of school, such as the first day of school outfit, backpack and school supplies, lunch plans, bus stop information or information about how he is getting to and from school, and any supplies for after-school activities.

If your child is going to a new school, here are some specific tips for making the first day a little less scary:

  • Take her to tour the school. Help her find her locker and her desk and check out her classroom.
    • If you can’t visit the school, go through the photos of the school online. Look at pictures of the principal, vice-principal, teachers, and specials teachers. Read bios of your child’s teachers to help make the teacher seem more like a real person and less like a scary, unknown abstract idea of a teacher.
  • Meet his teacher (optimally without other children present).
  • For younger children, take them to play on the school’s playground a few times.
  • Introduce her to any future classmates.
  • Review first day preparations:
    • Go over how she will get to school. Walk or drive the route a few times.
    • Go over what time he will need to leave the house in the morning. Determine what time that means he needs to wake up as well as if he needs you to wake him up or if he can set an alarm.
    • Have clothes out and all school and after-school materials ready to go.
    • Review how she will know which classes and classrooms to go to.

In order to be successful at organizing, you have to find a style that works for your child. There isn’t a one size fits all rule. To stay organized, you have to figure out what your child’s style is, and plan accordingly. Techniques to help your children learn to organize and plan are trial-and-error processes. Help your child discover his/her organizational style by giving him/her some options to start using. Let your child know that if those options don’t work, you can try something else. This will help him/her learn what works best for him/her much faster (and more happily) than insisting organization be done a certain way.

Tip 1: Discover Your Child’s Organizational Style

  • Marcella Moran, President of The Kid Organizer and co-author of Organizing the Disorganized Child, has identified 3 organizational styles: visual, spatial, and chronological/sequential.
    • Visual organizers need to see everything. If anything is stored in a drawer, it’s forgotten because it can’t be seen. Visual organizers tend to be the ones color-coding everything.
    • Spatial, or “comfy”, organizers like for everything to be within reach. Beds are often a favorite place for this kind of organizer to work because they are comfortable and large enough to fit everything that is needed. Dining room tables or a desk with a rolling chair are also good options.
    • Chronological/sequential organizers “organize in a way that makes sense to them” – but they often just look messy to other people. But if you move something, they will be upset because now you have messed up their system and how will they ever be able to find that again? This is why it’s sometimes okay to be messy – messy rooms for these organizers may actually be organized.
    • You can have more than one organizational style preference.

Tip 2: Embrace Your Organizational Style

  • Once you’ve determined your child’s preference, embrace it to set him/her up for organizational success!
    • For visual organizers: Try one binder and one notebook (make sure they are then same color) per school subject. Also, strive to make sure that your child’s workplace is always decluttered (because clutter is visually distracting). For a child that is visual, use an academic planner with a bold exterior for easy spotting, and get rid of drawers!
    • For spatial organizers: Try 3-subject notebooks, so they can have more subjects in one place. Spatial organizers also tend to like to move while they work – sitting on the bed, lying on the bed, lying on the floor… Moving from room to room between subjects can help keep them focused too.
    • For chronological/sequential organizers: Try accordion folders for organizing handouts. If your child is this kind of organizer, they tend to have a ton of random papers, so mesh trays and labels can be helpful to keep papers in one spot! Stackable containers filled with whatever your chronological/sequential organizer deems necessary are another good option.

Tip 3: Use Page Protectors to Keep Your Child’s Backpack Neat

  • Loose papers are the downfall of every organized backpack. It is so much easier to stuff handouts and returned papers and quizzes into your backpack instead of hole punching them. Even if they come hole punched and you diligently put them in your binder, they rip out easily and end up messing up your backpack anyway. It takes very little time to put your paper into your page protector and then it stays there forever. Have some empty page protectors ready in your child’s binder for organizing returned papers and handouts right away!

Tip 4: Minimize Backpack Pockets

  • Often we look at a backpack with lots of pockets and we think, “Wow – there is a spot for EVERYTHING!” But what it actually means is, “Oh no! There are more spots to lose my things!” So when hunting for a backpack, find one with as few pockets as possible.

Tip 5: Find a Planner Your Child Will Use

  • You can always go with a traditional academic planner, but if those traditional planners aren’t working for your child, try having him/her write down homework on sticky-notes (in a sticky note wallet). You can also encourage your kid to keep a small memo pad in his/her pocket to write down things throughout the day.
  • At home, they can transfer their homework notes to a large weekly calendar. (Try two Elmer’s Weekly Calendars – one is not enough). I love this because you can see your whole week really nicely. Also, it feels awesome throwing away a sticky-note once you’ve completed an assignment.


I would love to hear your thoughts on this episode!


Want to be the first to know when a new episode is released? Click here to subscribe to The Happy Student on iTunes!

Podcast reviews are important to iTunes and the more reviews we can receive, the more likely we will be able to get our podcast and important messages in front of more parents! I would greatly appreciate if you clicked here and left a review letting me know your thoughts on this episode!