Routine to the Rescue: Homework for the Modern Family

We don't live in a "Leave It to Beaver World" anymore — so you need an approach to homework that flexes with your family's schedule.
Success at School | posted by Ann Dolin, M.Ed.

Children who are expected to start homework at a given time, have a quiet place to study, and are reinforced positively do better than those with little to no structure.

Why is back-to-school time bittersweet? On one hand, most parents love that their children are back in school all day long, but on the other hand, they dread the one thing every family is confronted with after the school bell rings — homework.

Focusing and finishing homework can be tricky for any student, but throw ADHD in the mix, and you have a situation full of frustration and conflict. How can you avoid these problems before they crop up? The first step is to create easy-to-implement routines.

Why Simple Routines Can Make a Huge Difference

Routines are essential for decreasing arguments and frustration during the after-school hours. When kids with ADHD know what to expect, parents get less pushback. Research has documented the benefits of after-school routines. Children who are expected to start homework at a given time, have a quiet place to study, and are reinforced positively do better than those with little to no structure.

Call a Family Meeting

In order to make a routine work, it’s imperative that everyone in your household (not just your child with ADHD) is on the same page when it comes to when, how, and where homework will be done.

Start by scheduling a time to talk by giving advanced notice. Say, “Let’s meet as a family this Sunday at 7 P.M. right after dinner.” Make it a formal appointment and be prepared by knowing what you’re going to talk about beforehand.

Think about the one thing you want to accomplish when it comes to setting a routine, not the many things you’d like to change about your child’s behavior. At the beginning of the year, getting a solid schedule in place is essential. For example, if unbridled use of electronics was a huge issue last year, open up the dialogue with “Last year, when video games were played right after school, it was hard for you to pull yourself away and get started on homework. What might be a good solution this year?”

Perhaps procrastination and getting started at a reasonable hour was an issue. You might say, “I noticed that homework was started late in the evening last year, and it was hard for you to get it done before 10:00 P.M. What might be a better time to get started on homework this year?” Enlist ideas from all family members and settle on a solution that’s attainable. When kids have a say in the solution, they’re more likely to stick with it.

What Does a Routine Look Like in a “Modern Family”?

In a Leave it to Beaver world, you as the parent would be home baking cookies waiting anxiously for your freckle-faced child to arrive home from school, at the same time every day. But life isn’t like that anymore, and I’ve yet to meet a parent who tells me that their after-school schedule is the same every day. You can still have a routine. There are five time slots for doing homework: right after school, after a 30-minute break after arriving home from school, before dinner, after dinner, and before bed. At your family meeting, sit down and come up with a start time for homework. The first three options are winners, but the last two rarely work unless you have a motivated child.

Let’s say your fourth-grade daughter, Sally, has soccer practice on Monday evenings, a tutor session right after school on Tuesdays, and attends after-care Wednesday through Friday. She is not home from school at the same time each day. Not to worry. I like the 30-minute break idea for elementary-schoolers. On Monday, your daughter comes home from school, has a half hour break, and then starts homework. On Tuesday, she has her tutoring session, gets her 30-minute break, and then completes homework. On the other days, although she’s not home until later, she still gets her break, and is then starts homework.

This works for older students, too, although the break period can’t be as regimented. For most students, beginning homework before dinner is key.

How Do You Ensure the Routine Works?

At your family meeting, ask the question, “How will you get started on homework?” Determine whether your child will need a reminder, and, if so, agree on how many. Two reminders to get started should be enough. Stick to your agreement; don’t give 10 reminders if you’ve agreed on two.

Where Should Homework Be Done?

I used to think that schoolwork should be done in the same place, day in and day out, but newer research tells us that that’s not true. In order to establish a good routine, agree upon three places your child can do homework, such as the dining room table, home office, living room or kitchen. In general, you want a place that’s as distraction-free as possible. That’s why the bedroom is hardly ever a good option. It’s inherently distracting for students of all ages, even teens.

Put It in Writing

If you’ve tried to implement a daily schedule in the past without success, put your routine in writing and post it on the refrigerator or another conspicuous place. Remember, visual reminders are superior to verbal ones and also allow students to stick with a routine on their own.

 
 
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