Fighting The Homework Trap: Getting Teachers on Board

by Kenneth Goldberg, Ph.D

The Homework Trap is a revolutionary new concept regarding homework policy and my personal contribution to the ongoing homework debate. I am not an educator and well aware that educational policy should be up to educators, not psychologists like me.

Yet, I am able to look at homework policy and common approaches in dealing with children who don’t do their homework, and see why those methods often make matters worse. As ahomework result, I’ve offered a three point model to address homework noncompliance:

  1. Time based assignments.
  2. Modified penalties.
  3. Parents in charge.

These recommendations follow an analysis using principles of behavioral, developmental, and organizational psychology to what really happens inside the homework-trapped child. If we ignore those realities, we get stuck engaging in strategies that reinforce noncompliance more than they support homework success.

My recommendations generate strong reactions from different people: feelings of relief from parents of homework trapped children, feelings of confusion from those who don’t have these problems in their homes, and feelings of intrusion from teachers who deserve respect and may resent having a psychologist tell them what to do.

I certainly don’t want to tell teachers what to do, nor do I think psychologists or parents should be overly critical of what happens in the class. But homework blurs the boundaries between home and school and can be destructive when it upends the lines of authority between the parent and the child.

The question for parents, who understand what I have to say, mostly because they have a homework trapped child under their roof, is how do we implement change when it is clear that others do not subscribe to the model? For those parents, here are my recommendations about how to approach your homework-trapped child and what you should say when talking with the school:

  1. Implement time-bound homework periods in your own home. The reality is that endless battles to get an extra worksheet done do not work. Your child will experience immediate relief once he knows that homework time will come to an end. Children are likely to get more work done in that fixed amount of time than they will if required to work until it is done.

  1. Inform the school of your decision. This is a non-negotiable decision that you have made in your home. Let the increased volume of work that trickles in serve as a basis to garner additional teacher support.
  2. Ask for modifications in the penalty structure to make sure that your child does not fail, and can experience acknowledgment for what he has done.

  1. Share the model. Direct teachers or administrators to and educate them about the system and why it is best for your child. 

  1. Refer back to the model in future discussions and inquire whether the teacher has visited the site. Make it clear that you are flexible and willing to negotiate but not without the teacher familiarizing him or herself with the model you want. This should be a reasonable and fair request to make.

  1. Keep the focus on the dynamics more than the solutions. It is tempting to argue with the teachers for what you want, but it is also understandable that teachers will feel that you are stepping on their toes if you make too many demands about what they should do. Give the teachers room to look at the model and consider their own ideas about how to implement these concepts. You want them to understand how and why the current system is harming your child. Teachers are caring people. Give them room to add their own solutions. As long as you are moving in a positive direction, it does not matter if they accept each and every thing you or I say.

About The Author:

Dr. Kenneth Goldberg is a clinical psychologist with 35 years of professional experience in dealing with many different psychological issues. He is the author of The Homework Trap: How to Save the Sanity of Parents, Students and Teachers and currently works in his own private practice. A member of the American Psychological Association, Dr. Goldberg has been a featured expert in top media outlets including The Los Angeles Daily News,, and The Washington Post. For more information, please visit