Most children, but especially children with learning or attention difficulties, find homework overwhelming and often unpleasant. This is compounded by the fact that they are often mentally tired from a day at school. Consequently, ‘encouraging’ your children to complete their homework can often be fraught with tension both for parents and children. Below are some suggestions for making homework less of a battleground.
Set aside an agreed upon time for homework.
- Keeping to a routine as much as possible makes it easier to start.
- If you’re child is an early riser, mornings are a good time to complete homework while the child is fresh. This is especially true if your child is involved in extra tuition outside the school system.
- Allow some free time after school and before homework for your child to refresh. This should include having a healthy snack and physical exercise. Your child has been sitting all day, so sitting in front of a screen is not the best option.
Complete homework at the same place
- Again, routine and consistency is helpful.
- Keep everything, plus spares, needed to complete homework nearby (preferably altogether in a container), to avoid wasting time looking for equipment. If a pencil breaks or is dropped, it is quicker and easier if you can just hand your child a replacement pencil.
Build in breaks
- If you notice your child getting restless, stop for a few seconds and have your child do something physical – jump up and down the stairs, skip around the bench, run down to the mailbox and back, do some star jumps, ride as fast as possible for 30 seconds on a stationary bike, etc. The activity should be short (30 seconds to a minute) and then immediately bring the child back to the task.
- Providing a short breaks gives your child an opportunity to ‘regroup’, increasing focus for the task, but not too long so that the time to complete the homework is extended or the child become side-tracked.
- If the homework has several tasks, it might be a good option to break the homework into segments – maths straight after the snack, spelling just before dinner, reading in bed.
Provide the required support
- Children having difficulties (even if they are in high school) may require a higher level of supervision and support than their peers.
- It is often useful to have children complete homework at the kitchen table or bench so you can supervise while preparing dinner.
- Explain why the homework has been set and what your child will learn from completing the activities.
Choose your battles
- If your child works slowly or finds it difficult to complete the homework, discuss the homework requirements with the classroom teacher to see if it can be modified.
- Assess the tasks and decide which are critical to your child’s learning in that particular subject area. In most cases, colouring in pictures and drawing borders will not add to or consolidate your child’s knowledge. If your child has poor reading skills and is required to read a chapter from a science book, read the text with your child.
- If your child is not bringing homework home or leaving assignments until the last night, set up a communication system with the teacher to monitor these requirements more closely.
Set up a homework contract
- With your child develop a homework contract that sets out what has to be completed each day, the length of time, the location, the quality, etc., so the expectations are clear to all.
- Include the support you will provide – when you will check homework, what help you will provide, etc.
- Build in motivation (i.e., a television program can be watched, a game played on the iPad or time spent with a parent once homework is completed – be specific and include the name of the television program and/or the length of time), but don’t make it a threat (i.e., if you don’t get your homework done, I’m going to take your iPad away). Let the consequences occur naturally. If your child is slow to complete homework due to being off task and it is dinner or shower time when they finish, then there isn’t sufficient time to play on the iPad or watch television. Your response would be, “Oh what a shame you didn’t get your homework done quickly. Now you don’t have time to watch television.”
- Although in an ideal world it would be great if our children were intrinsically motivated to complete homework, this isn’t a reality for many children. Therefore, extrinsic motivation (i.e., rewards) might be needed to overcome the homework hurdle. The research shows that the most effective rewards are frequent, small and inexpensive. Often the rewards could be something that you would do anyway such as playing a game or going to the park or reading a book to your child.
- Use a timer to keep track of time passing. With your child, calculate the maximum time it should take to complete a particular task (not all the homework), set a timer for that amount of time and then challenge your child to complete the task before the timer rings.
- Having a routine and contract means that if your child starts to argue, you can take a deep breath and just point to the contract. In fact, non-verbal communication is often an effective way of defusing tense situations.
Use a tutor
- If you and your child continually battle over homework, consider finding someone else to help with and supervise homework. This might be a grandparent, an older student or a tutor.
- Some schools provide peer tutoring programs or provide a space and supervision for students to complete homework after school
- Investigate online tutoring options.
Turn off all technology
- Emails, social media and phone calls should all be prohibited during homework time. Turn off all phones and other technology and put them out of sight – including your own. You need to model what you are preaching!
- However, some children do find it useful to have music quietly playing in the background to reduce other distracting noises.
- Some technology may be useful (or necessary) to help in completion of homework tasks, especially for children with learning difficulties. The challenge is to monitor that the device is being used for that task and only for that task.
- Given the addictive nature of electronic devices, it can be useful to have a ‘no screen’ rule for week nights, with the exception of homework requirements.
Identify possible distractions
- Help your child survey the study area to identify things that might be distracting.
- Brainstorm solutions to minimise these distractions. For example, wearing headphones maybe useful if there are noisy younger siblings.
Focus on positives
- Regularly acknowledge your child’s strengths (e.g., perhaps they remember detail well or have neat handwriting or have creative ideas).
- Acknowledge improvements, not overall marks. Not everyone can necessarily get 100% every time, but every child can work to improve. Even if a child hasn’t improved, but has worked hard, this should be acknowledged. It is often useful to show your child earlier work to highlight their improvements.
- Discuss the benefits of doing the homework.
In conclusion, don’t let yourself get drawn into an argument about homework. Make your actions and comments imply that homework is non-negotiable, like brushing your teeth. Instead of fighting, try to be matter-of-fact. For example, say “As soon as you finish eating your afternoon tea, it’s homework time.” If your child gets angry, say, “I can see you’re feeling angry. I’m just going to start cooking dinner, when you’re ready I’m here to help you.” When they finish the homework, say “Great to see that you’ve finished your homework, you’re free to ….. until…..”