Avoiding Homework Wars

How to improve your child’s after-school routine.

Does your child have a problem finishing homework within a reasonable amount of time? Do you have to survive a battle each night? If your child has learning or attention problems, it’s likely you have faced such challenges. Adopting these strategies for managing homework effectively can help.

The purpose of homework

Homework gives your child a chance to practice what she’s learned in school. It’s not supposed to teach new concepts or skills. But often, it’s the kids most in need of practice who find homework hard to do.

First, make sure your child understands the assignment and the directions for completing it. If she’s having problems with this, schedule a teacher conference to develop a communication system. It might be a homework sheet that the teacher reviews with your child, then sends home for you to sign.

Where is it done – and when?

For some kids, a small desk where supplies can be stored is best. For others, the kitchen table is perfect. Wherever your child works, check to see that she’s sticking to the task, especially if she has problems with concentration.

Right after school is a good time for some kids to start homework, because the assignment is fresh in their minds. Others need a break before they can tackle more schoolwork. Sports or a parent’s work schedule can interfere with a routine. With your child’s input, develop two plans: one for the typical day, and one for unusual events. Write the plans down.

If your child usually resists homework, make sure it doesn’t follow an interesting activity, such as playing a computer game. Instead, transition from fun activities to activities that are less enjoyable, and also less difficult, than homework. For example, ask your child to bring in the mail, then ask her to set the table. This is called “behavioral momentum”: getting your child to do relatively easy tasks before asking her to do something challenging. Resistance is less likely if the momentum of compliance is built first.

How much time should it take?

If your child has problems focusing, writes slowly, or needs extra time to understand concepts, homework can take a lot longer. No wonder she protests or tries to delay! Be sure the time she devotes to homework is appropriate. Some schools expect 30 to 45 minutes per night in the early grades, one hour in late elementary school, and two hours by middle school. If your child takes longer than the school expects, speak with her teacher about accommodations.

How can parents help?

  • Reassure your child that everyone makes mistakes; they are an important part of learning.Ask your child what she finds hard or confusing, and listen to her ideas for making homework easier.
  • Break assignments into smaller parts so your child won’t feel overwhelmed. For a young child, fold worksheets in half. Have older students highlight sections of the assignment in different colors.
  • Communicate progress with a chart. Draw a star when each portion of the homework is finished. When it’s all completed, give a high five or a hug.
  • Let her choose a fun activity when she’s finished.

© 2001, 2004 Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation. Adapted with permission from Schwab Learning. For more information, visit SchwabLearning.org.