Parents often feel blindsided when their child’s less than stellar report card is a result of missing homework assignments, forgot-to-study-so-I-flunked tests, and essays and projects turned in late for half credit. Some parents shift into overdrive and micromanage their children’s lives for the next few months, while others are at a loss for how their children are going to manage on their own. After all, how will a student whose most important homework assignment is crumpled at the bottom of his backpack ever learn how to file his taxes on time or save for retirement?

All is not lost, however. In my office, I have seen particularly disorganized and distracted students ultimately take complete responsibility for their academic and personal success. Both in school and in life, most kids like to be in control of their destiny. Here are important tips for encouraging your children to take responsibility for their school assignments and tasks. They’ll thank you when adult responsibilities roll around.

Readjust your attitude if necessary.

The other day, I was in a long line at a car rental counter after a tiring travel day. A woman in her mid-40s was yelling at the lady behind the counter because, after waiting in line and leaving the car rental station, she drove less than a mile from the airport only to get a flat tire. Terrible day, right? Well, at that moment, the woman had two choices: She could focus on getting a new rental car and be grateful that she didn’t get hurt, or be angry and get herself more worked up. Similarly, as parents you have the opportunity to take a positive approach, which encourages more long-term success. After all, who among us responds well to a person yelling at us?

Allow for a fresh start.

When students come to my office for the first time, they become motivated by the idea of getting a fresh start. We organize their binders, find their planners (which they may not have been using) and clean out their backpacks. In your home, work with your children to schedule a time, perhaps a Saturday afternoon, when they can go through their backpacks and binders before starting anew.

Provide opportunities for your kids to pursue their passions.

Resist taking away things your children enjoy simply because they are struggling to master responsibility. Everyone has something they enjoy doing, and in pursuing their own interests, children often get the motivation to improve every aspect of their lives.

Have them take care of little details, even if it sometimes takes longer.

When I give talks to parents, I often ask the audience, “How many times have you written an e-mail to your children’s principal or teacher over an issue that your children could have taken care of themselves?” The majority of parents typically raise their hands. Your children are not going to gain autonomy and responsibility in their school lives if they don’t know how to take care of the little details outside of school, including calling the soccer coach when they will be late for practice or making sure they have their bag properly packed for a trip.

Help your child create a system that designates a planner as a catchall.

With the advent of online homework tracking, many students have stopped writing in their planners. Unfortunately, with many different places to look for assignments for many different classes, homework, projects and test dates slip through the cracks. Encourage your children to have a physical planner in which they write down their assignments and upcoming tests, as well as sports practices, music lessons, volunteer activities and family plans. By seeing everything in one place, kids feel more in control of their tasks and can make informed choices about how they are spending their time.

Create a routine study session.

Designate a two-hour block each evening that is free of technology and television in your home. This set time block can vary depending on schedules. The key is that it is consistent and creates the opportunity for kids to do their work in a time frame without distractions. Have kids put their cell phones on silent in the another room and complete assignments involving the computer last.

Have a daily or weekly regroup time.

Even with the best of intentions, each of us falls off track. Create a set time where your children go through their backpacks, put papers where they belong and determine what supplies they need for the upcoming week. For some students, this could be done once or twice a week. For younger children or those who struggle with organization, this could be a set 15 minutes each night.

View incremental changes as successful.

Any real shift takes diligence and practice. While there will be starts and stops, know that over time small shifts make a big difference.

As children slowly learn to take responsibility for their success, they are able to accomplish things far better than they ever imagined.

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  • Ana Homayoun

    Ana Homayoun is the author of That Crumpled Paper Was Due Last Week: Helping Disorganized and Distracted Boys Succeed in School and Life (Perigee Trade) and the founder and director of Green Ivy Educational Consulting. Learn more at