Ten Ways to Win the Homework Battle

The school year is just getting started, and hopefully your child has developed a good routine for homework. If they have not, now is the time to make changes and establish good habits. Parents of my patients have shared some of the skirmishes they’ve experienced, and as I tell them, “You are not alone.”

If you battle over homework, or your child struggles to get assignments completed in time, consider taking a look at his or her homework routine to see how it can be improved. By taking an active interest in their homework, the battle can be less severe or even eliminated. You are showing kids that what they do is important, and, furthermore, you’re helping them develop habits and skills that will help them throughout their lives. Here are some tips to guide the way:

  1. Know what the teachers expect and communicate with them. If your child is struggling with assignments, chances are you may have discussed these issues already. But, if not, try to get a better understanding of what the teacher’s expectations are for assignments and keep the lines of communication open.
  2. Take a look at your child’s homework space. Is there a quiet area your child goes to do homework, or is he or she trying to do it at the kitchen table while you’re preparing dinner when younger siblings may be running about? Consider finding a quiet, distraction-free, homework-friendly area that is well-lit and fully stocked with supplies, like paper and pencils, which can help him or her stay productive and focused while working.
  3. Look at the routine. Is there a regularly scheduled time for kids to do their homework?  Does it work for their daily rhythms? Some kids might work best right when they get home, while others may be more productive after they’ve had a chance to relax. For kids with younger siblings, it might even be better to work after the younger brother or sister goes to bed. And for those in athletics, music, or drama, it can be challenging sticking to a regular time with practices, rehearsals, games, and recitals. Help your child find the time that works best for them and one that is not interrupted by distractions.
  4. Make a plan. Just like for adults, having a long to-do list can be overwhelming. If kids have lots of assignments, or there’s a particularly large research project, help them identify a strategy for getting the work done. Maybe it’s breaking the project into more manageable pieces, or helping them figure out what should take priority.
  5. Keep it quiet. Eliminate distractions like TV, loud music, or phone calls. Sometimes this may even require having them put their cell phones away. If it’s necessary to talk to a classmate about an assignment, that’s okay. You just want to help make sure that there are no temptations to distract them from what they need to do.
  6. Make sure they do it themselves. Remember, you’re there to support your child, not actually do the work. Let them make their own mistakes, and figure out the solutions – even if it takes a while. Help them figure out the answer, rather than just tell them what it is.
  7. When you’re engaged with what they’re doing, and help make homework a priority, it helps show kids that it truly is an important thing and not just “busy work.” Ask how tests went. Encourage them. Ask about upcoming assignments and even consider checking completed assignments to see that they’re done. It can seem like a fine line sometimes between encouraging and nagging, but you need to find what works best for all of you.
  8. Lead by example. Do you put things off until the last minute, or get started as soon as you can? Do you share work stories at dinner about big assignments and how you accomplished them? How about just picking up a book and reading for fun? Kids learn by watching our behavior, and if they hear and see us leading by example, they’ll be more likely to follow suit.
  9. Give Praise. Often. Focus on the good things they did. Maybe they got a C on a test, but if you know they tried hard and studied a lot, point that out. And maybe even help figure out if there was something they could have done differently. Some things in life really are tough, but it’s important to do our best and hang in there. There’s always a next time. If they did great on a report or a test, consider a small treat and be sure to share the good news with Grandma and Grandpa.
  10. Get help. If you’ve all tried your best and things are still challenging, talk with your child’s teacher and together try to figure out what might be going on. Maybe your child can’t see the board and needs glasses. Maybe there are some life issues that are making it tough to concentrate. There might even be a learning problem that needs to be addressed. Getting to know your child’s teacher and keeping the lines of communication open can help ensure that school is a positive experience. If you or the teacher suspects an attention or learning problem, speak to your child’s health care provider as soon as possible to discuss an evaluation.

Keep things in perspective. If things seem overwhelming or stressful, take a break and go for a walk. There’s a reason some of the best ideas happen when we’re not actively working on the problem. And above all, help your kids remember that how they do on an assignment isn’t a reflection of who they are. All we can ever do is our best.

Do you have a homework tip for parents? Share it below in the comments.


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