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The Informed Parent

Avoid Those Homework Hassles

by Carolyn Warnemuende, M.S.
Published on Oct. 01, 1998

With school well underway, many families find themselves confronted with the problem of the H word--homework. From the time a child enters school, homework is a fact of life. Kindergartners usually find that doing homework is fun. They feel grown up and like their older siblings. By the time a student reaches third or fourth grade, homework may feel like drudgery. Friction between child and parent about homework may be combined with the drudgery making the task double difficult.

Parents rarely feel neutral about homework. Some parents report that they are so busy themselves they don't have the time or energy to pay attention to their child's homework. Other parents say that they nag their children about homework. If they try to assist the child, what starts out positively ends up in angry outbursts on the parts of both child and parent.

Neither of these situations results in parents or students feeling good about themselves. Parents feel guilty and students feel misunderstood or hurt.

A few modifications in how both student and parent approach homework can make the H word less stressful in your family. Choose a time you can sit quietly with your child or adolescent and discuss these ideas. Commit to working together with them for a week. See how it goes. Change takes time and commitment. Some positive results will come quickly. Others will take more time.

  1. Do homework at essentially the same time each day. In many families this is difficult. Parents work and arrive home late. Children go from school to day care or to extracurricular activities. Finding a consistent time for homework, however, serves both the child and adult. As homework time approaches, the internal body clock begins to prepare the student for a time of concentration. The mind sets itself into a work mode. If a consistent time at home is not possible, perhaps homework can be accomplished at day care. Adolescents may need to work in a study hall at the end of the school day.
  2. Do homework in the same place each day. Whether a student works at a desk in his or her bedroom, at the kitchen table or with a pillow on the floor, using a consistent place says to the body and mind, "Oh, yes. This is work space. Now it's time to settle down and work." Teens find it particularly difficult to commit to this type of discipline. When they do, they find that they work more efficiently.
  3. Prepare for homework by having a snack or a drink of water and using the bathroom before starting. These activities serve as distractions once the student has started working.
  4. Gather all necessary materials before beginning homework. All books, paper, sharpened pencils and other supplies need to be at the homework area. Not having them available serves as an excuse for not getting down to business and staying focused.
  5. Ask your child to look over her homework to see if she has any questions before beginning the task. Go over any information she needs. Interrupting homework to ask questions serves as a disruption. If she has questions in the middle of an assignment, she can go on to other work and ask you for assistance during her break.
  6. Use a timer during homework. Timers serve as motivator for many children. They can see how long they have worked and how much time they have left before a break. They can be used for "Beat the Clock" games. Encourage the child to set the timer himself. Unless it serves as a distraction, the child needs to have it in easy sight.
  7. Take homework breaks. If a child is faced with a difficult or unwanted task, the thought of having to sit until it is finished is defeating. Knowing that breaks are built into the homework schedule helps the child to focus more fully during the work time. Kindergartners and first graders can work for 10 minutes, then take a 3-5 minute break. Second through fourth graders need to work for 20 minutes before taking a five-minute break. Older children can work for 45 minutes and adolescents for an hour before taking a five-minute break. Encourage your student to use breaks for taking a drink of water, using the bathroom, stretching and asking any questions that have arisen. This is not a time for playing or watching TV.
  8. If your child has special needs or has an extremely difficult time settling down for homework, set the timer for five-minute intervals. Leave while he works, then return and acknowledge his progress. Another timer technique is to look at the homework with your child and decide how much can be done in a five-minute segment. After five minutes, return. If the work is complete, acknowledge the child and check the work. Negotiate another five minutes of work. If it has not been accomplished, simply reset the timer with a statement such as, "I know you'll have the work done when the timer goes off," then leave.
  9. When the homework is complete, encourage the child to share his or her success with you. Enthusiastically acknowledge the achievement. If the homework has not been completed, find something to acknowledge such as, "I could see that you were working hard the last five minutes. I know you'll do even better tomorrow. " It is best not to preach about what has not been completed.

As you read these suggestions you may think, "We can't do this in our family. It will take far too much time." It is true that positive informed parenting takes time. In the beginning, practicing new skills takes extra time. What you can expect, however, is that by consistently using positive skills in handling the H word with your student, you will ultimately spend less time and energy than you currently do on homework. The positive effects on your relationship will benefit you and your child immeasurably.

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