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Homework Tips: How To Get Through The Nightly Hell

Parenting expert Alyson Schafer offers her best tips.

Well, school is full on now and that means the euphoria of being back with friends is quickly fading and the nightly groans about homework are starting. Who’s groaning louder? You or your kids?

Let’s face it, homework is a pain for the entire family. Alfie Kohn’s book “The Homework Myth” cites a boatload of research proving homework is not helpful and can hurt our children’s learning. Ouch!

Yet, here we are night after night, nagging, reminding, reprimanding and yes, even completing our children’s homework for them. (That isn’t good for them, either!)

While I am doing my part to eradicate homework, I totally understand that it’s still a requirement (unless you want to do as one Calgary couple did and create a legal agreement exempting your children from homework).

For those of you who need to know how to get your little Jaquim to get his nose to the grindstone tonight because a book report is due tomorrow, let me give you some parenting tips!

1. Keep your ego in check

Parents feel personally invested in their child’s school performance. Our ego is invested in how our kids do and that means there is pressure on us. We privately think, “I’ll be judged poorly as a parent if you don’t get your homework done.” It’s time to let go of that idea.

Homework is a child’s responsibility – not a parent’s. You can play a supportive role in their journey as they learn to manage their responsibilities, but it’s the approach you take that makes all the difference. Remind yourself; you are the co-pilot not the pilot. You are the sous-chef not the chef.

If you try to intercede and take over managing their homework responsibilities, they will resent you and will likely abandon doing homework, protesting the hostile takeover of their rightful station.

2. Coach instead of control

Many parents think homework should be done right after school and with no noise or distractions, thinking that is “the right way.” Instead of imposing your approach to homework, get curious about what your child’s methods are.

Some students work better in loud coffee shops, some like working in teams online where they can tackle questions together. Some are tired at the end of the day and want a good long break before tackling homework at night, when the house is quiet and they are rested again. Some even put it off till the morning knowing they think clearer and are more focused in the morning.

Helping your child find their own personal style for success is most important.

3. Mistakes are opportunities to learn

It can be painful or even aggravating for parents to watch as kids mess up and learn what works best for them. If they are crying about the book report that is due in the morning, saying they have not even finished the book yet, there is no benefit in saying “I told you so.”

Instead, take an educative approach! Help them process and understand how things went off the rails with estimating the time and scope of the project and what they will do differently in the future.

“It sounds like you are discovering that reading takes more time than you expected and you need to adjust your calculations for how long it takes you to read a 186-page book. I am sorry this report won’t be your best work – but let's get some solid ideas of what you would like to do differently next time!"

It's slow and painstaking, but this approach is going to serve them better in life.

4. Don’t teach

Sure, some kids really do need additional support outside of the classroom. That doesn’t mean you should automatically become their tutor. Such dual roles are not recommended.

If your child needs help, it's better to hire a tutor, find an older student mentor or even have grandparents or a friendly neighbour help.

5. Don’t correct homework

If they can’t answer a homework question or they don’t know the answer, have them write that in their work: “I don’t understand.”

If every student did this, teachers would have a more accurate idea of what concepts their students are understanding and which need additional instruction time.

6. Make a plan; work the plan

Some kids may need help keeping to their homework plans. If your child has created a plan to do homework for an hour after dinner and before watching the hockey game, you can hold them accountable. Just use the “broken record” approach, which allows you to simply repeat “we had a plan” whenever they try to change the plan or negotiate.

“I am just gonna play 15 more minutes of Minecraft and then I’ll start.”

“I am sorry – we had a plan.”

“I am just gonna grab a 10 min power nap and then I’ll be ready to hunker down.”

“I am sorry – we had a plan.”

"I am just gonna do twice as much tomorrow so I’ll still get it all done the end of the week."

“I am sorry – we had a plan.”

Usually if you stick to this repetition they will come to see it’s non-negotiable.

7. Keep alert to underlying issues

Some kids don’t like homework because they are struggling with the learning and homework is a reminder they are not keeping up. They may even feel they are stupid. Who would want to spend an hour at the kitchen table revealing all your inadequacies? I would want to run the other way, too.

See if your child is struggling and, if they are, request a meeting with the teacher and possibly hire them a tutor or have an assessment done to rule out any underlying learning disabilities.

8. Overcome common discouraging homework issues

These issues are: feeling overwhelmed, getting started or perfectionism.

For some children, the amount of work can be paralyzing. Others have a hard time switching gears and getting settled into homework. Others procrastinate because of their perfectionism.

It's important to investigate the underlying purpose of putting off homework before you can make strategies to solve the issues. Arrange a meeting with the teacher and your child to discuss strategies you can work on as a team to overcome these discouraging issues.

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