HAVE YOU DONE YOUR HOMEWORK?
School is in full swing, as is the daily question, “Have you done your homework?” If there are dear ones out there who enjoy homework and get it done without assistance, nagging, stalling, or all-out temper tantrums, they are the minority, and perhaps our best hope for one day accomplishing world peace. I had one of these kids. I did not have two of them. While I barely even knew that my first born had homework, let alone finished it on his own, getting the second one to bring homework home, to admit he had it prior to bedtime, and to have all the necessary items to complete said homework, was an exercise in futility and, I’m sure, the cause for many of the gray hairs on my head.
Kids who fight doing homework do so for a variety of reasons. Homework is usually among the last on a long list of things they’d like to be doing. It generally falls somewhere between household chores and cleaning up after the dog in the backyard! Among the many issues, they may dislike the subject or the teaching method of the person trying to teach it. They may have a learning issue that makes the subject difficult or impossible to master. They may just “know” that homework is “dumb – everybody thinks so!” Whatever the reason, we as parents may find ourselves in need of a new system for getting it done without nagging, prodding, threatening or bribing (unless these work, in which case you will not be reading this article).
Below, you’ll find some ideas culled from several really great parenting experts and some from my collaboration with families interested in finding a better way through another nine months of homework. We’d love to learn any of your ideas on the subject, so please leave a comment on our blog or Facebook link and let’s hear your tricks for making homework less painful for all!
Rethink how you think about homework. Let’s face it, we probably dread homework hour(s) as much as our kids. If we could go back to why kids get homework – to practice a new skill for mastery – we could view it like practice for sports or music or, ok, video games. It is not a punishment, it is just an essential part of learning and growing up. To illustrate this to our kids, why not have some fun – get a whistle to start and stop, take time outs with healthy snacks or relaxing activities, do some stretching before and after, announce the “plays” like on the ever-popular Madden games. Play is good for everyone and is one of the most effective (and fun) bridges over the generation gap.
Create habits. Try to set aside a specific time every day for schoolwork. Some students really need a break after they come home from school to decompress. Some are busy with extra-curricular interests, and this will dictate your schedule to a large degree. However, setting a target time will help avoid the problem of rushing to get everything done with no time to check work, throwing the kids in bed, yelling “lights out” like they’re at army camp. It can be necessary for some kiddos to keep a standing time for homework, regardless of whether they have homework or not. This helps to avoid the times when “no homework” refers to “no homework I care to do”. They can read a book or do something to improve their growing minds during the block of time. Good times!
Make lists. There are very few multi-step tasks that are not helped by having a to-do list. We wouldn’t think of hiring staff without a job description and procedures guide stating our expectations and remediation plans. Kids really need lists just as much as we do, possibly more, because they generally do not have (m)any organization skills. Their brains are in the process of developing the important Exectutive Functions that help them plan, prioritize, strategize, and monitor their own progress on tasks. We can help them develop these very important, life long skills. For example, encourage your kids to actually use a school planner, listing each class and any assignments due. Help them get into the habit of checking websites/emails/backpacks for information about due dates and materials needed. Teach list writing and walk them through picking them most important ‘to-do’ to do first. Help them break down big projects into smaller steps, first, then, & last.
After homework is completed, help them organize schoolwork in their backpack and place it by the door. It can be helpful to make a list of everything kids will need to accomplish before leaving on school days – even for teens. There are many times parents hear “I didn’t know I had to brush my teeth every morning!” Yes. I hear this from my young clients. All the time. A list covers it.
Be available. The homework is not for the parents to complete…(you already did 3rd grade at least once and possibly several more times, depending on how many kids you have). We are there to help and to guide when there are questions. After a certain grade, some of us (or was it just me?) cannot understand the lessons even if we would like to take over and just get it done. Maybe we have bill paying to do at the other end of the table, maybe we have a great book or magazine we want to read. Washing dishes, folding clothes nearby is a great way to be available. If the rest of the family is enjoying TV while the child is slaving away, they may spend their time thinking of how unfair life is or diverting us from our show rather than getting anything done.
Show confidence in them. Have them take breaks when they need, keep them hydrated and offer low glycemic snacks. Expect grumbling, complaining, requests for help when you know they can do it: Ignore the expected rumble, remain calm, remind and observe rather than scold or threaten. “Homework” or “You’re on problem 2 now, 8 more to go then you can play”, for example.
Avoid enabling if you know they can do the work: “I can’t do this, I need help”. If you know this is a stalling technique, you can simply respond, “I know you can do it. You always figure it out with a little work.” “If you really need my help, I’ll be glad to do what I can. However, you have two free helps, so be sure you’ve tried your best on your own…there may be another one that you really do need me for.”
Of course these are easy, common sense ideas, although sometimes forgotten when we find ourselves on the front lines. We hope you find some of these helpful – we’d love to hear your techniques and tips – and we’ll share them with other parents on our blog. Email comments or ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Have you done your homework?” doesn’t have to be a call to man the battle stations if we have done a little homework in advance to manage the process.