Homework is a point of contention in many households. Whether it’s begging your children to get started, or pointing out that at half past eight they really should be finished by now, the nightly battle of wills can leave both parents and children feeling frustrated and discouraged. Fortunately, there are some tried and true techniques which can help parents achieve victory – or at least draw a truce!
At the beginning of the school year sit down with your child and create a realistic homework schedule together. This is a chance for both of you to weigh in on what works and what doesn’t. Be sure to convey your expectations and set limits from the getgo, but allow your child to have an opinion. By levelling out the playing field, your child is less likely to feel like homework is a chore that they are being forced to do. Remember that expectations should reflect the stage your child is at – an hour of dedicated homework time with regular breaks should be enough for a child in prep school, but as your child gets older that time will likely change to reflect their growing workload. Some children may prefer to dedicate time right after school to get their homework out of the way, whilst others may require some down time to stretch their legs and reset their minds after a full day of focusing in class. Once you have established a routine, write it down and place it somewhere where it is prominently displayed, such as pinned up on the fridge, to avoid any misunderstandings over what is expected. Treating it like a contract to which each party has agreed will also give your child a sense of responsibility for holding up his or her end of the bargain.
Now that a schedule has been established, get to work on carving out a dedicated space at home where your child can concentrate on the task at hand. This can either be in your child’s room, at their desk, or somewhere else in the house. For children who have a hard time focusing, it may be best to choose a space that is more communal so you can keep an eye on their progress. This space should also be relatively free from distractions, i.e. not with a view of the television! Their ‘homework space’ should be roomy enough to accommodate whatever task they have been given, whether it’s working on a math problem or finishing up an art project. Stock up on school supplies and reference tools, such as colouring pencils and paper, and a dictionary or thesaurus, and keep them within reach of their workspace to avoid any unnecessary disruptions to their productivity.
The use of incentive systems might have some parents humming and hawing, but research shows there’s a lot of behavioural benefits for children associated with the use of rewards! Rewarding children for their good behaviour encourages good habits to form and before long these habits take root and become a part of who your child is. This can be useful when introducing positive homework techniques.
Incentive systems don’t have to be elaborate, but they should be age-appropriate. Sticker charts are great for toddlers and preschoolers, who will enjoy the process of creating and decorating his or her own sticker chart, and watching it fill up over time. For school-age children, consider introducing a slightly more complex system in which your children can trade in stickers earned from completing their schoolwork for bigger rewards, such as longer screen time or a trip to the movies. Remember, rewards don’t have to cost money!
Agree on potential rewards beforehand to set realistic expectations. Regardless of which reward system you install, the important thing is to reiterate to children that this is a chance for them to take responsibility for their behaviour. If you need ideas on rewards systems, take a look at Pinterest for inspiration.
TOP TIP: Create a sheet on which your child can mark
down which subject the homework is for, what the topic
is they must work on and when it is due. Leave a space
for them to tick it off when it is done. They should carry
this with them to lessons and write down the homework
task as soon as it is assigned. Review it with them
Positive reinforcements are also a great way to shape your child’s behaviour. It’s no secret that homework isn’t always fun, but if your child is already feeling discouraged by a piece of difficult work then the last thing they need is parental frustration projected their way. Reminding your child that the process, i.e. working to understand something and solve a problem, is more important than the end result or grade earned is key when helping your child with their homework. Recognise the effort that they are making and praise them for it, whether verbally or through a hug or a pat on the back. Your child is far more likely to stay motivated and plough on with their homework, without arguments, if they feel supported throughout the process.
Learning does not have to be confined to the classroom. Many teachers encourage parents to go over what their child is covering in school in the comfort of their home’s more laidback environment. Most likely their homework will be based on the day’s lessons so talking through it with them can help ready them for their evening workload. However, Diane Levin, Ph.D., an internationally recognised child education expert and author, reminds parents to not ‘take on the role of drill master’ when reviewing schoolwork with your child, “it should feel as if your child wants to be part of the practice”. Instead, lead by asking questions and encourage your child to explain the lessons as they understood them.
Appreciate your supporting role – be there to answer any questions, quiz them and offer advice, but ultimately remember that homework is your child’s responsibility and you should resist the urge to give them the right answers or complete their work for them. Watching your child struggle is excruciating for some parents and they’ll often swoop in to save them, but your child will never learn if you insist on taking the reins when things get difficult. If you lay the foundation for good, independent study habits from the get-go, your child will learn that they own their choices and consequences.
Be aware that consistent complaints about struggling with a subject could suggest your child may require some additional support. If so definitely ask the school if they can help, or look for a tutor. It might only take a few lessons to bring them up to speed.
According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control & Prevention), up to 11% of children aged 4-17 have ADHD. There are lots of things you can do to help a child with ADHD; the key is to get it diagnosed and get professional advice on the next steps.
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