5 Questions to Ask Every Kid Every September

This article was originally published on September 12th, 2016. It was most recently updated on August 20th, 2019.

There’s one thing parents long for far more than straight A report cards.

Parents want kids to do their own homework in a quality manner without the parent needing to prod, nag, oversee, or push.

Want to increase your chances of having academically independent children and teens at your house?

Ask each of your children these 5 questions every September.

High Grades

Before you have this conversation, be sure your teen has a calendar, planner, or special notebook for recording assignments and due dates. Then—keeping this particular student’s personality in mind—provide some individualized teaching on the subject of workflow process management.

5 Questions:

1. “So, Sarah, when the teacher gives you a printed sheet with math problems on it and tells you it’s due Friday, what’s the one place where you always automatically put that sheet?”

2. “Then what’s your plan for remembering to get it done by Friday?”

3. “What method are you going to use to remember to get it out during homework time at home without anyone asking you about it?”

4. “What are you planning to do to be sure it gets back to school and back to this particular teacher on the right day without anyone reminding you?”

5. “Would you like to hear some ideas that other kids have tried for this?”

Help your teen to design a workflow process that is likely to work well for her as an individual. Whatever the plan, though, it should boil down to:

1) Listen carefully to everything the teacher says.

2) Write down all assignments and due dates in an assignment notebook or calendar.

3) Put worksheets and other not-yet-done paper assignments in one safe place where you know right where they are and (whether at home or at school) can always find them in under 10 seconds.

4) Look at your assignment notebook or calendar every day after school and make a plan for how you will get your upcoming assignments done on time.

5) Do the work neatly in a quality manner, always trying to give the teacher more than he or she expects.

6) Immediately put finished assignments back in the one certain safe place where they are sure to make it back to the teacher on the right day without your having to think about it.

Parent, think of yourself as a business consultant.

Help your child think through: “What worked last year, and what processes might be tweaked or changed for this year?”

Clearly emphasize this very important point.

Emphasize that success in school and in life really has little to do with brains or luck, and everything to do with organization, process management, and continuing to try hard every day. Nobody’s stuck forever with a certain finite amount of brainpower. Brains are changeable. They grow exponentially with every hard thing you tackle. What feels hard now will not feel hard a year from now.

During the school year, parent, do this.

Let your teen manage the process of listening in class, recording due dates in a calendar, storing assignments in one certain spot, planning when to do homework, handing assignments in on time, and remembering to study for tests. Do, however, quietly keep a careful eye on your child’s progress by using the online assignment tracking that the school provides and checking in with teachers. You’ll want to intervene (maybe with reduced amounts of TV and video games?) if your child’s effort in school takes a downward turn.

Even when intervening, however, resist the urge to micromanage, helicopter, or control.

Consider this strategy, used by one wise father when his son suddenly stopped putting forth effort in school. The dad kindly and empathetically suggested to the boy that it must be because he didn’t have enough time at home to do homework. “We all know you’re capable of doing well,” the dad said to his son in a thoughtful voice, “so this has got to be a not-enough-time issue.” The dad then told the son that he’d arranged the family schedule so that the boy could simply sit at a table with his schoolwork, books, and pencils for a hour each evening, and either “do homework or think about it.” Completely the boy’s choice. It worked a miracle for this family, and it’s a strategy I highly, highly recommend.

Students must learn to manage their own schoolwork well before they enter high school.

If they don’t, they’re going to be academically ineligible for some of the greatest strategies there are for lowering future college costs during the high school years.

If none of this works for you and you find yourself parenting a perennial underachiever, get this great resource:

I highly recommend this award-winning book by Charles Fay of loveandlogic.com: From Bad Grades to a Great Life! Unlocking the Mystery of Achievement for Your Child. You can order it here. This book will help you put a decisive end to fretting and nagging about homework, and build into your child the character that will lead to a lifetime of achievement—whether he or she ever goes to college or not.

There’s no part of parenting more important than setting your kid up for successful college and career life.

For clear, step-by-step help getting your kids through college debt-free and into careers they love afterward, it takes only 7 hours to read my book:

You can get 10-minute, fast-paced video instruction on how to use this book most efficiently at bit.ly/easylaunchinstructions.

You can see more than 100 reviews of it on Amazon at:


(Tell your friends.)

You can see why financial advising professionals love LAUNCHhere.

You can see the top 9 questions parents are asking me about LAUNCHhere.

Read just one chapter of LAUNCH every 1–3 months while your child’s in middle school and high school, and you’ll know every viable strategy for debt-free college at exactly the right time to implement it.

And if your child’s already well past middle school? That’s OK; you can run to catch up. But the process of getting your kids through college debt-free goes more smoothly the earlier you start it—especially if you’re not planning to save up any money to pay for college.

Do you have specific questions for me about debt-free college and career for your kids?

It’s my members that get most direct access to me. Doors to my membership open each year for just 5 days in March, and 5 days in September. Space is limited. Join the Waiting List here.

Do you have friends who are parenting kids ages 12–22?

SHARE this post on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn right now.

What about you? What strategies have you found for helping kids to the highest levels of academic success?

Comment below or LIKE Jeannie Burlowski Author on Facebook, find this post on that page, and let’s talk about it there.

Who is Jeannie Burlowski?

Jeannie is a full-time academic strategist, podcast host, and sought-after speaker for students ages 12–26 and their parents and grandparents. Her writing, speaking, and podcasting help parents set their kids up to graduate college debt-free and move directly into careers they excel at and love. Her work has been featured in publications such as The Huffington Post, USA Today, NerdWallet, and US News and World Report, and on CBS News.

Jeannie also helps students apply to law, medical, business, and grad school at her website GetIntoMedSchool.com. You can follow her on Twitter @JBurlowski.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

4 thoughts on “5 Questions to Ask Every Kid Every September

  1. My daughter, (legal: stepdaughter), Renee, met with a counselor at Bloomington, MN, Jefferson High School, who stated that she would not qualify for FAFSA, because I declared Renee as a dependent on my taxes.
    I called you last fall after her mother, Cynthia passed away from Appendix Cancer, age 54. Renee has not seen her natural father in 10 years. He was imprisoned in MN twice. MN gave him an offer to leave or if it was a 3rd time he’d be locked up for good in MN for selling drugs. I have been Renee’s dad since she was a baby when her mother married me. Renee still has her old name. I was advised that she should not take on my name as it would hurt her on schlorships. The last time we heard anything was through a mutual acquaintance who said her dad was still transporting drugs from LA, to Paris, to Rio de Janeiro about 4 years ago, he has maintained a residence in Rio since 1998. Two years the same person said he was dead. To go on…I have supported Renee since she was a baby, not sure how claiming her on my taxes would disqualify her for Fafsa help. Renee is a very bright straight ‘A’ student with a 29 0r 31 ACT score, (she took it twice as she was sick 1st time), What is your take on this? Should I call the MN Office of Higher Education? Regards, Noel

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