By Melody M. Ott
LCSW with Wellbeing Collective
I have one child who diligently sits down and does his homework each day after school before I ever even ask. I have another child who will grudgingly do her homework after a few requests. And finally, I have yet another child who makes his 20 minutes worth of homework last for about two hours! This is fun for everyone! It usually involves crying, throwing things around, comments such as, “I can't do this,” “my teacher is terrible,” “I hate school,” etc. Some days I am convinced that homework was invented to make my life miserable!
I don't know what kind of learner or temperament you have in your home, but there are a few things we can do as parents to ease some of the homework hassle regardless of our child’s personality or disposition.
First, be sure your children have a designated homework area. It may be a desk in their room, although, if you have a child who is easily distracted by toys or other objects in their room, this may not be the best choice for you. It may be the dining room or kitchen table, it may be your family room couch. What is important is that homework time is in a consistent location each day and that there is a quiet time set aside throughout your home for your child to do their homework.
Second, have a scheduled time for homework. Discuss this with your children ahead of time. Letting them have some say in the decision is empowering for them and may help them buy into the process. If they would like to have a break for 30 minutes after school before they begin homework that might be worth trying. Have a designated time when homework will begin and stick with it! Some days, sticking with our designated homework time means beginning homework in the car on the way home from school. If your child has a hectic afternoon schedule, this might be part of the discussion and planning that you implement in your family. The point is, have a plan that your child helps to develop and stick with it.
Third, have all of the supplies that your child will need in order to complete their homework in a specific location. We have a basket in our home full of extra pens, pencils, card stock, highlighters, markers, glue sticks, post-it notes, poster board, etc. It is never fun when you realize you needed sharpie markers for the homework assignment and you do not have any and it is 9 PM and you are in your pajamas! There are just some weeks when the cashier at CVS knows my name (it happens, “Hi Melody, back again?”), but try to plan ahead – it is so much easier!
Fourth, be sure you have a plan for those evenings when homework just isn't finished before bedtime. Will your child stay up until it is finished? Will you wake them up early the next morning so that they can finish? What homework will you check? What if they need help with a particular part of their homework? Have a plan in place for all of the things that might come up during homework time. Be sure that your children understand the process. This eliminates arguing and meltdowns later.
Finally, praise a good work ethic and quality effort! Homework may not be done correctly the first time, it may take a little longer than you would like to finish, your child may need more help than you have time to give, but if they stick with it, work hard, and do their best, they deserve a pat on the back! Always be sure your praise is specific, and comes frequently!
I am going to end with a few other thoughts that might be important to keep in mind:
If you have an issue with a teacher, PLEASE do not share this with your child. Talk to the teacher, share your concerns at a conference, or write a note or email. When you speak poorly about your child’s teacher in front of them, it teaches them to disrespect their teacher! As parents, we sometimes inadvertently say things that may undermine the authority of our child’s teacher. This impacts the entire class, so please be mindful! In our house, the teacher is ALWAYS right (even when we don’t think so!). If we have an issue, we take it up with the teacher directly and if our child has an issue we try to help them find solutions that will help them solve their problem (and maybe we call the teacher privately)!
Not every child learns at the same rate or in the same way. If you suspect that your child has a learning disability or they just seem behind, share these concerns with your child’s teacher. The teacher can share their input, offer suggestions for helping with the delay or problem, refer you to your county’s intervention program, or suggest a tutor that may help your child.
Always let your children do their own homework! You have already gone to school, please do not do their homework (I know it is tempting because you can do it so much faster!!!) – your child needs to practice in order to master the skill they are learning. In fact, your child needs to practice a skill approximately 84 times correctly in order to master it! If your child really struggled with an assignment, send a note to the teacher to let them know, others might have had a similar issue and maybe the concept needs additional reinforcement.
Finally, if your child has difficulty sitting still for extended periods of time – look into brain breaks. Just do an internet search on that term and plenty of great brain break ideas will come up. It is fine to take breaks during homework time – just be sure to set the timer so that your child can get back to work in a few minutes (breaks can turn into hours of free play if we aren’t careful!)
As I type this article, I have one child playing happily with his little sister, while the other remains at the table (going on hour two), working on his homework. Yes, there have been tears, and yes, there has been frustrated grumbling (it has been mine, not his!). No, there is really no magic formula for making homework time heavenly for some kids. The days can be long, but we all know the years fly by! Hang in there and happy homeworking to you all!