How to Teach Kids to be Responsible For Their Own Work

Dear Kid Whisperer,

I am a first year teacher teaching fifth grade language arts and social studies and I have a problem. There is no set policy at my school about how to handle late homework. I have been just accepting it and not counting off, but I feel like that isn’t the best thing to do. My students are terrible about turning in their work. I feel like it may be my fault. Help.   -Chelsey, Detroit


Thank you for your question and yes, it is your fault.


If you give kids warnings and chances, they will need warnings and chances. If you don’t give children warnings and chances, they won’t need warnings and chances.

This is my Love and Logic® explanation to my 3rd grade students about my homework policy:

Me: I grade work that is turned in on time. Work that is late can be graded by your parents.

Them: If our parents grade it, how are we supposed to get a grade on it? I mean, how do we get points for our late work?

Me: I don’t know.

See what I did there? No warnings, no lectures, no threats, and I have set up my students to learn about responsibility through logical consequences. The bottom line, Kid Whisperer Nation, is that you just can’t teach responsibility. It can only be taught by the universe and its laws. Kids will learn by suffering consequences, just as long as we don’t save our kids from those consequences.

Think of all the time teachers spend computing and collecting late work.

Think of all of the lecturing, nagging and threatening teachers do regarding kids not turning in their work.

And for what? The teacher gets burned out and the student learns two very hurtful things:

1) When people tell me to do work by a certain time, they don’t really mean it.

2) Work is my teacher’s problem, not mine (because she seems to care about it more than I do).

Kids will learn they can’t have this attitude about work at some point in their lives. Would you prefer that they learn this in fifth grade or in college? Personally, I’d rather they learn it as early as possible when the consequence is having a low grade on a grade report that no one besides their parent will see instead of the consequence being failing out of college.

I don’t know about you all, but any time I can do something that is more effective than what I am currently doing, and it takes a fraction of the energy, I tend to do it.


-The Kid Whisperer