Homework and headaches go together like macaroni and cheese, especially now that there seems to be so much to do early on. Cathy McFarland knows the frustration all too well. “When Maddie, my eight-year- old, didn’t understand her math homework, she’d cry and get so upset she’d hyperventilate,” says McFarland. Nightly math meltdowns became the norm. “I finally decided that math wasn’t worth ruining our relationship over. I can be the enforcer with piano practice, nightly reading, baths and bedtime, but I don’t need to be the math czar anymore.” McFarland hired a tutor.
Tutoring is certainly one answer. “A tutor can be helpful if your child needs personalized remedial help because they’re below grade level and the lessons are out of your league,” says Lisa Jacobson, chief executive of Inspirica, a tutoring and test-prep firm. You might also consider hiring a tutor if you don’t have the time or energy to help with homework or it’s a hot button for you and your child or your child needs to improve their grades to get into post-secondary education. Otherwise, it’s worth putting on your thinking cap and trying to tackle your child’s homework issues yourself. “Kids should be able to sit down, do their homework, and get it done without fighting, whining, crying, begging, or negotiating,” says Michael Maloney, author of the bestselling Teach Your Children Well. Sounds impossible? It might not be, especially if you try these smart strategies.
Get the big picture. To minimize resentment, understand why your child has homework. “It’s not just busy work,” says Michelle Albright, Ph.D., a psychologist who specializes in families and schools to promote children’s physical, social, and emotional health and well-being. Research shows that homework is especially beneficial as a review before a unit test. It also helps kids practice concepts they learn in school, develop self- sufficiency, and instil the idea that learning is a process.
Develop a routine. Kids crave consistency so make doing homework automatic for them by creating a routine that fits each personality. Your students may prefer to do their homework right after school. Other kids might need to burn off steam by running around or vegging out in front of the TV for 45 minutes (set a timer on your phone) before getting down to business. Whatever formula you choose, stick to it. You might need two homework routines: one for when the school day is done and another if your kids have other important commitments after school.
Choose a homework hub. Some kids work best in their bedrooms. Others like to do their homework in the kitchen while you’re making dinner. Anywhere is fine as long as there are no distractions. “Some kids do well with classical music in the background, but if you want to watch the evening news and your child likes to do homework at the kitchen counter, keep the TV off,” says Albright. If you have more than one child, see if they’ll do their homework simultaneously. They might motivate and even help each other.
Emphasize effort. Praise your kids when they complete their homework by saying things like, “You worked so hard! Good job!” rather than, “You’re so smart!” Effort-based praise “teaches your child that if they try hard, they will learn things,” says Helen Eckmann, Ed.D., co-author of Simple Principles to Excel at School. “Effort is what pays off - not brain power, self- confidence, or any other innate quality,” says Eckmann.
Strive for neat and complete. Studies show that when parents stay positive while assisting with their child’s homework, kids are more self-motivated and self-directed. That’s the goal: to have your child do their homework because they feel it’s important, not because you’re looking over their shoulder. How to get there? “Think of yourself as your child’s homework manager, not your child’s substitute teacher,” says Albright.
“Your job is to see that homework gets done neatly and provide some support, not to edit your child’s homework or help them do it.” And keep in mind that if you get too involved with homework, kids and teens can become resentful and shut down by not doing their assignments or turning them in, sabotaging their own success.
Let your child teach you. To help kids of all ages study for tests and quizzes, review by asking them to teach you about a subject they’re studying. You might say, for example, “Teach me about D-Day.” “If your child can explain it to you, they really know it,” says Albright. You’ll smarten up, too; kids are learning interesting stuff!
Recognize your child’s motivation sweet spot. Some people work best 24 to 48 hours before a deadline. Others hunker down two to three days before something is due. How do you work best? How does your child? “It’s often very different,” says Albright. Viva la difference. “Observe your kids to get a sense of their motivation sweet spot in terms of timing,” she says. If your child is a last-minute kind of person but you’re not, so be it. Forcing your child to work on an assignment before they’re ready can derail motivation. “Assignments can take longer, too,” says Albright.
Get busy yourself. If your kids have to do 20 minutes of reading daily, grab your own book and sit down next to them. It’s a nice way to model reading.
Keep your child’s teacher posted. Many teachers, especially in the elementary grades, have a policy about how long the homework they assign should take, such as 15 minutes per night. If your child’s homework drags out much longer than it should, let the teacher know. The teacher may be able to tell you where your child can take shortcuts. “Not every aspect of homework deserves 100 percent effort,” advises Albright.
Stay a step ahead. Knowing what’s down the road can help you build activities into a young child’s day that uses the concepts they’ll be learning about. Counting change at the self-checkout, for example, can help teach addition; so can having your child add up the numbers on houses when you’re out for a walk and penciling out the tip on your dinner tab. Playing word games can help teach spelling. If you’re worried about penmanship, have your child practice writing your grocery list or a letter to a grandparent, and so on. The idea? By the time the subject is covered in school, your child will already be familiar with it.
Sandra is an award-winning writer who delivers expert advice and the latest developments in health, nutrition, parenting and consumer issues.
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