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Painless Strategies to Remove the Torture from Homework (for Your Kids and You)

May 15, 2018
Written By: Jenny Wise

Many parents bemoan the start of the school week which raises the spectra of a nightly homework struggle with their kids and teens. These strategies should help defuse that tension and keep homework time from becoming a battle that no one wins.

Empower your kiddo to determine his routine. Would he rather do homework right after school or decompress for 30 minutes first? Parenting Magazine recommends taking breaks that don’t include screen time, which makes it hard for kids to transition into homework mode.

If your weekly schedule varies because of other activities like Scouts, dance, and sports, decide—with your kids—when to designate homework times each weekday. Kids (and adults) thrive on structure. Setting those expectations early reduces battles later. 

Limit media exposure. Background music might not prove a distraction, but if it does, turn it off. Keep the TV off, too. Computers are a no-go, too, unless they’re needed for an assignment. 

In it together. Use your children’s homework time to catch up on your own homework, like sorting mail or paying bills or completing paperwork. If you’ve got other, younger kiddos, give them coloring or other homework-like tasks to do at the same time. 

Get to know your kid’s teacher. Building a good relationship with your child’s teacher pays off during the “easy” and the challenging times. Communication is key. If he’s taking an hour (not 10 minutes) with an assignment, let the teacher know. If it’s clear she doesn’t understand something, it’s fine to tell her to give it a rest—jot a note or email the teacher with a quick explanation.

If your child’s refusing to do homework (even though you’ve tried everything), the instructions aren’t clear, you can’t provide the materials or supplies, neither you or your kiddo understand the assignment’s purpose, or you have other concerns, consider these suggestions from the US Department of Education for connecting with the teacher.

Create a homework/study space. In the elementary years especially, designate a centralized study space, like in the kitchen or dining room, so you can supervise more easily. 

If you’ve got a permanent homework center, great! Stock it with pencils, markers, glue, and other supplies your kids need. If you’re using a space that’s also used for other activities, store everything in a portable homework caddy. Do your kids focus better sprawled on the floor or on the couch? Let them work where they’re comfortable, as long as it’s distraction-free. 

Linger less. It’s tempting to hover over your son when he works, but try to resist the urge. It’s our job to foster independence in our kids, so if we’re a little less accessible during homework time, our kids will work through the problems on their own first before requesting help. 

Allow your child to fail. Homework teaches students accountability. Kids must learn that consequences result from their decisions, and if that means losing recess time or a lower grade because of a missing homework assignment, so be it. 

Keep calm & carry on. When she bursts into tears, give her a hug. When he crumples and tosses his paper into the garbage, let him vent. Feel your BP rising? Walk away. Set a timer for 10 minutes of chill time, and then troubleshoot—together—to figure it out calmly. Still stumped? Call it quits for the night; write, or have your child write, a brief explanation to her teacher.

The payoff

Incentivise stick-to-it-ness! Reward a job well done with something fun, like outdoor activities with the whole family: schedule a camping trip, create a treasure hunt that leads to a coveted new toy or book, go bird-watching, or spend a day hunting for fossils.  Here are nine more fun science-centered learning activities perfect for springtime. 

For more information about the role of homework—for kids and parents—in today’s education, read this article from The Atlantic, which shares insights from a ground-breaking 2014 study of how parents impact their children’s academic achievement. You can also check out this article by Tanith Carey, author of seven parenting books, who shared her insights and a-ha! moment  on the “homework battle.”