How to Help Parents with Homework Battles

How to Help Parents with Homework Battles

I received the following email this week which got me thinking about how to help parents who find themselves in homework battles:
“Thank you for sharing techniques to calm down children. I am a mother of an 8 year old extremely bright boy. Mario becomes very nervous when it is time to do homework. Yesterday, for instance, he had to copy two pages of math and it took him 4 hours to complete 1 page. He does not want to do it, gets up or gets distracted or draws or whatever. I try talking to him explaining the importance, etc., but to no avail.  Then he cries and cries and says it makes him nervous. When he finally does it he finishes in a flash.  Is this a common problem? At school he is fine. What can I do?”
When my own three children were in elementary school, I found that this was common. My friends complained frequently of their frustration over homework and the chaos that happened each evening.  Here are some suggestions that might help tame the homework beast:
Homework Tips for Teachers:

  • Teach children how to do homework effectively. Spend time in class “practicing” homework. Skills can include how to get materials out and ready, how to get started, how to take breaks, where to put homework to bring it to school, etc. Parents can reinforce this, of course, be we are the ones who should start the children off on the right track. I’d recommend at least a week of practice in school.
  • Assign interesting homework activities, NOT just busy work. Ask the children to write down how long they spend on their homework and put it in the corner of the paper. This will help you determine if you are assigning too much. The same assignment that an 8 year old can do in 20 minutes at school might take much longer at home when he is tired.
  • Make sure the children are capable of doing the work independently.
  • If you have children whose living circumstances are such that their family cannot provide support for homework, give the child time in school to get the work done. Don’t criticize or get angry. Young children do not choose the parents or family they have! Here are more ideas from the Responsive Classroom.

Homework Tips for Parents
You’ve probably already gotten advice on setting up a quiet area for your child, establishing a schedule, checking the homework, etc. Here are some other important tricks:

  • Give your child breaks. By the end of the day, most children are tired and can only focus for a very short period of time. You can set a timer for five minutes and then offer break rewards (quick snack, drink, free play) if the child has stayed on task. The break should also be short – maybe 5 minutes or so, and then the child should get right back to work.
  • Break the work down. Instead of setting a timer, you can have your child do one problem, one line, one paragraph, etc – whatever is appropriate for his age.
  • Give LOTS of attention to your child when he does a little bit of work. Too often children get attention by NOT working. When they stop working, slow down, or refuse, they get your attention – often in a big way! Turn this around. After, say, five minutes of work, give positive feedback and spend a few minutes talking with your child. Your attention is often the most powerful reward a child can get. DO NOT criticize, cajole, complain, beg, threaten, or preach. Instead, praise, praise, and praise – even little acts like sitting down and getting out the pencil.
  • Give feedback to the teacher. If your child is spending longer than you think he should on the homework, be sure to let the teacher know. Don’t be embarrassed that it will reflect badly on your child – most teachers will be very grateful to get this feedback.
Finally, don’t make homework too important. In the total scope of things, it’s not that big a deal. Research shows that homework does not affect children’s achievement in the early grades. It’s more important that children learn to work independently for a short while then that they do lots of perfect work.
Please share ideas that have worked for you in the comments!
Need more advice? Check out The Positive Classroom book for more ideas, techniques, and strategies!