Ask the Experts

Q: My Child Gives Up Too Easily on Homework

Before even unzipping his backpack, your child says he doesn’t know how to do his homework or doesn’t know where to start or doesn’t know what’s due. How can you help when your child won’t even try? Here is some advice for frustrated parents of students with ADHD.

Q: “I have tried several different approaches (advice from ADDitude) to get my 12-year-old son to take the reins on homework. When I ask him ‘What is your homework plan for tonight?’ he responds with, ‘I don’t know.’ I ask him to identify one assignment that he could work on, and he responds, ‘I don’t know.’ I hand him a worksheet (that I know is due) and suggest that he start with this one, and he responds, ‘I don’t know how to do this.’ How do I get him to try? He doesn’t even unzip his backpack before he starts with the ‘I don’t knows.’” – HWBlues


Hi HWBlues:

You know the expression “If you’ve meet one child with ADHD, you’ve met one child with ADHD.” It’s the same with homework. Each child comes to the table with their own reasons for avoiding homework. For your son, perhaps the act of getting started is just too difficult and overwhelming. What he needs to accomplish feels too big or vague. Or perhaps he doesn’t understand what is being asked of him or remember what was taught in class.

I always say that homework doesn’t start when your child sits down at home to begin; it starts the minute he walks into his first class at school that day. So many things need to line up perfectly at school for homework to go smoothly at home.

For example, did your son bring home the correct supplies? Does he know what it is he actually needs to do? And if he does know what he needs to do, does he understand how to do it? If he had math class at 8 a.m. and sits down to work on his homework 10 hours later, there is a strong possibility that he might not remember what was taught. All of his executive functions – especially his working memory – need to be on high alert for homework to happen. So my first piece of advice is to talk to his school – specifically his teachers – to see what is happening in the classroom that might be affecting his inability to sit down and do homework.

[Get This Free Download: Homework Strategies That Work]

I’ve developed a few questions over the years that I use again and again whenever my students are experiencing homework push back. I have found that asking the right questions can help change their mindset, stretch their thinking, and uncover the answers they need to get unstuck.

  1. What’s your first step for… starting your science project, studying for your test, writing your essay? Perhaps trying to visualize a whole project or homework assignment leaves your son unable to see the first step. This question can help bring focus to a manageable starting point.
  1. What’s the smallest thing you’re willing to do or can do? Helping your son eliminate all barriers to entry can help him get into gear.
  1. And I saved the best for last. My secret weapon when a child says to me, “I don’t know?” I turn it around and ask, “Tell me what you do know.” This helps you pinpoint the breakdown. And seeing the breakdown often reveals a natural answer or solution.

[Click to Download: Top 5 Homework Frustrations — and Fixes for Each]

For more resources to help get your son unstuck and started, check out our website at orderoochaos.com. We have tons of resources, tips, and tools.

Good Luck.


ADHD Family Coach Leslie Josel, of Order Out of Chaos, will answer questions from ADDitude readers about everything from paper clutter to disaster-zone bedrooms and from mastering to-do lists to arriving on time every time.

Submit your questions to the ADHD Family Coach here!

Updated on February 14, 2020