Doing Battle on the Homework Front

“I love homework” said no child ever. Ok maybe there are a couple of exceptions, like that brief period where a younger sibling strives to emulate their older sibling and actually hankers after a homework assignment or when a child has just started school and is all gung ho. But in reality this enthusiasm wanes and what once seemed novel starts to become something resented for a solid 12 years.

There is much debate around the effectiveness of homework, whether it is used appropriately, how much time is spent on it and how much play time and family time is lost through its demands. Whilst there are some educators who have taken the enviable position of scrapping homework, most have not. So for those of us who continue to do battle on the homework front, these tips are for us.

Say It Like it is

We cannot expect our kids to joyfully skip home from school and hungrily dive into their homework with bounding enthusiasm. It can help, to acknowledge the reality that homework sucks. This does not mean that we permissively dismiss homework as in, “You don’t like it then don’t do it.”  Rather show that we get where they are coming from and can fully empathise with their position. But we also need to help them understand that sometimes we have to do things we don’t want to do and so we have to find ways to manage those unwanted things.

Making their problems ours

When my oldest son was in Grade 2 he struggled with one of his subjects. I patiently supported him even after a long day and allowed him the space to learn at his own speed. Blatant lie! I became an 8-year-old child with him. At times I wanted and sometimes did, scream in frustration wanting him to just hurry up and get it already! This carried on predictably yielding absolutely no improvement for him in the subject or our relationship. One day I was driving somewhere and I came clean.  I said something like, “This homework thing is just not working for us with this horrible combo of frustrated tears and shouting.”I asked him what he thought would help to change things. It amazed me but he knew the answer. He said that he needed me to stop always correcting him and giving the right answer before he had asked for help. My following his advice truly shifted the dynamic and I can even report that it eventually shifted his grasp of the subject. It gave him control of what would work going forward. We are there to guide and support our kids but it’s helpful for them to problem solve around their own problems and the truth is homework is THEIR problem.

Bringing our stuff into it

Of course we sometimes need to help out with homework. But we need to tread carefully around two little prepositions “with” and “for” as in “I’m doing homework with my kids and the lesser spotted admission of “I’m doing homework for my kids.” They have to learn the lessons; they have to make the mistakes. That’s how they grow and that’s how they learn. What is key is to try and manage our stuff around homework, learning, expectations, results and success because if we don’t we just dump these on our kids. According to a study entitled Intergenerational Effects of Parents’ Math Anxiety on Children’s Math Achievement and Anxiety, they found that when parents who are anxious about maths frequently help their children with maths homework, their children learn significantly less maths than other children over the year. We have to accept that our experience of school was just that and we have to allow our children the space to have their own experience without projecting our fears and hopes onto them.

Game Plan

It is always helpful to have a game plan around homework. Many parents find themselves naggingly shouting out variations on the theme of “have you done your homework yet?” as the hours drag on into the night. Having a plan helps with managing everyone’s expectations and helps children learn crucial time management skills.

  • Ask them to decide if they will do homework straight away when they get home or want a bit of time to relax.
  • Agree on a time that homework will start.
  • Help them identify what works best for them. “you seemed to take a long time to do your homework when you left it till later, maybe you were too tired.” “You got through your homework so quickly when you did it straight away.”
  • Remind them to start their homework when they agreed to.
  • If they don’t do their homework at the agreed time they need to know that there is a natural consequence to that – it won’t get done and there will be repercussions at school.
  • Do not facilitate that they can just do their homework in a panic late at night because they messed around earlier, this only feeds a negative spiral.

Doing the time

School kids sit and sit at school and are then expected to come home and sit some more while they do their homework. These are a few creative things we can use in trying to ease this pretty rough expectation.

  • When you can see that your child has lost focus and things are going nowhere try get them to do something active like run up and down the passage 5 times/do 10 star jumps/ 3 cartwheels – something fun that gets them moving and allows them to come back and focus again.
  • Food for thought is important. Sometimes having crunchy snacks while doing homework can ease things.
  • Some children need things to be quiet and some like music and noise – try and help your child identify what works best for them

Siblings without homework

Adding a younger sibling into the already bleak mix of homework and child can feed resentment and irritation. These are some things to bear in mind that can help ease this tricky dynamic.

  • Ensure that the younger child knows that this is something important that her brother/sister has to do. They must learn to try and respect this space.
  • Try and give them their own homework – colour in letters/dot-to-dots/ have a special ‘homework book’ for them etc
  • When you need to test your older child, you can try involve the younger one. For example, you can whisper spelling words in their ear and they must say it to their sibling or they can say a sentence with the spelling words
  • Don’t give big perceived rewards like watching TV to younger kids while their older sibling slaves away at the books.  That’s just not fair.

I’m not home

Parents are understandably tense when they work all day and then have to come home and face the rigors of algebra and the past perfect tense. If there is someone else helping your child with homework, chat to them about how things are working so that you can ensure that there is a good game plan in place. It is a good idea for your child to do what they can before you get home so that there is room for connecting time before bed and before it all starts again tomorrow

Most of our kids are saddled with homework for their whole school career. They most probably will never love it but in managing homework they may just learn some solid skills on the way. We can help facilitate that learning and that can ease things on the homework front at least some of the time which is better than never.