If your child misses school because of sick days, learn about the steps that will help him make up homework past and present in no time.

Child doing homework
Credit: Aimee Herring

If your child has been out for a few days or for an extended absence, she may be stressed about falling behind in schoolwork. Before the stack of make-up worksheets and assignments overwhelm her, take a step back, assess the situation, and come up with a plan to help her with missed homework and projects. Rest assured that dedication and a good schedule can help kids catch up to their peers while staying up-to-date with current homework. According to an education researcher at Johns Hopkins University, it is estimated that up to 7.5 million students miss more than 18 days of school each year. So keep in mind that your family is not alone in catching up on homework, and follow these simple steps to help your child get back on track.

Know School Policy

Encouraging regular attendance, while permitting short absences due to illness, is the goal of most school rules, which exist to deter truancy. Find out the absentee policy of your child's school; understanding when rules have been broken and bringing immediate attention to them will allow teachers and school officials to help your child after a prolonged absence. If this is not possible, explain how the absence was outside of the family's control and administrators will often work on a plan to aid the student's efforts to catch up.

Talk to the Teacher

Sue Atkins, a parenting coach and author of Parenting Made Easy, suggests that parents take the first step in asking teachers for help. "Children are often shy, embarrassed, or just plain [too] overwhelmed to seek help," Atkins says. So if your child is uncomfortable around authority figures, letting the teacher know, by e-mail or phone, that you're still engaged in your child's education is helpful. "Get realistic new deadlines for homework, or assignments, and make sure your child feels encouraged and supported," Atkins says. Once teachers know a child is interested in staying on schedule, they will work with families to create specific, reachable goals.

Chart It Out

Carving large projects into a smaller series of step-by-step assignments can help your child feel more in control. A chart or checklist can help him get a handle on what needs to be done. Find a homework chart online to print out and customize, or create a checklist, designating columns for assignments, due dates, and completions. Post the list somewhere visible -- on the refrigerator or a bulletin board, for instance. "The ability to prioritize which tasks are most important, and to create a structure and schedule for completing a reasonable amount of the work on a daily basis, can be ... beyond a child's skills, even for adolescents. It is important for the parent to help the child do both of those things," says Julie Schrock, associate professor of education at Meredith College in Raleigh, North Carolina. "As the child completes the work, he can check off that task. This creates a visual representation of the progress he is making in completing the tasks and may help the child sustain his effort."

Set a Time

There are a few different approaches to finding the extra time needed to complete work. Add more to your child's normal study routine if she is overwhelmed by certain concepts. An early riser can complete a workbook page during breakfast. Or, if your child usually does homework before dinner, add an extra study hour before bed. If there is a project that could benefit from a full day of concentration, clear the family calendar for an upcoming Saturday -- skip the socializing after a soccer game, limit the hours at a birthday party, or forgo the latest matinee. Each hour will add up, and being liberated from other commitments can clear a child's mind, allowing the freedom to focus and concentrate.

Decrease Missed Days

If your child is working to catch up, schedule appointments for doctors and dentists after (and not during) school hours. If you already have something scheduled, but it's not essential, move the date. If an annual dental cleaning is usually in February, start a new family tradition and visit the dentist over spring break. If an appointment or obligation simply can't be moved, contact the school to pick up work in advance or ask about online educational activities -- some elementary schools use academic software such as Study Island or SuccessMaker -- that may ensure your child is up to date when he returns to the classroom.

Reward Kids With Unstructured Time

When the daily amount of work is completed, be sure to praise your child's efforts. Reward her with extra playtime or an activity that doesn't focus on academics. Opt for a reward system in which a point or star is given for each complete assignment; when all the assignments are finished at the end of the week, allow your child to choose alternative rewards, such as going on a picnic or for a bike ride, or deciding the dinner menu for a family meal. Whatever you choose, steer the conversation clear of bribes. If a child is having a tantrum about homework, introducing the possibility of a reward is wrong. Compensation for completed homework should be a way to celebrate good behavior and to create lasting study habits.

Copyright © 2013 Meredith Corporation.