Homework is and always has been a problem for certain types of children. This is particularly true for children with specific learning disabilities, ADD, ADHD, and emotional problems. When it is a problem for the child it often becomes an even greater problem for parents.
Some children eagerly approach school while for others it becomes an agonizing time of their life. Some children learn quickly, memorize easily, and work rapidly. Other children struggle to pay attention, are not skilled in concentration, exhibit memory problems, and process information slowly.
Children need the daily structured life that school provides. These 12 years help to mold the patterns that form a bridge between the playful life of a child and the heavy demands of providing for oneself as an adult. Homework is a valuable part of education; it teaches the child to work on his/her own, to be personally resourceful and to develop problem solving strategies.
The function of homework should be to teach self-discipline organization, responsibility, and mastery. The child must organize things on their own, do the work, and return it to the teacher. Children in primary school require parental assistance to do homework. Although there is nothing wrong with parents helping with their child’s education, homework should be for the child. The best assignments are clear and very doable for the child.
Watch Out for Bad Homework Patterns: The most common problems are perfectionism, procrastination and whining. Have a set time to do the homework. Let the homework start at the same time every day. A good time is right after school or just after dinner. Let it be as routine as going to school. For the perfectionist child, do not let it go on forever. If the child works 60-90 minutes and the work is not finished, have them stop. A note to the teacher about the child’s effort should be enough. If the teacher is unrealistic in the assignments, then schedule an appointment with the teacher to explore options. Some school divisions have policies regarding homework.
Find out what they are. For all three problems- procrastination, perfectionism or whining- always be caring but firm and consistent.
Be Available During Homework Time: But do not do the homework. The parent’s role is that of a good coach, tester, and example giver. Show how to do a similar problem without doing their problem. Remember, you are trying to train skills not just get through the content. Developing the skills of independent work and organization takes time. Most parents will be involved in the homework through the 8th grade year. In high school the parent’s role should be reduced to a consultant.
Have a Designated Space for Homework: Let the homework space be the same all the time. That is where you go when you do homework and nothing else should be done in that space at that time. Keep homework materials handy in that space. Make sure there are always plenty of extra paper, pencils, pens, crayons, markers, hi-liters, rulers, glue, construction paper, etc., in homework space. This way the child is not wasting energy and time looking for supplies and you are not running out in the evening to get them from your local store.
Your Child Must Invest More in The Homework Than You Do: Avoid power struggles. Your child can really frustrate with statements such as, “that is not the way my teacher does it” or “you don’t know how to do it.” You are the coach not the student. Give the examples, test the child, encourage but then back off. Remember, if your child struggles for a while they may be more ready to listen to you. The child may have to work out some problems and details with the teacher. Children should be encouraged to communicate with their teacher. A good teacher can tell when the assignment was too lengthy or too difficult.
Maintain Family Harmony By Disengaging From A Disruptive Scenario: Sometimes parents must find someone else to help with the task, an aunt, older sibling, friend or neighbor. A high school student might want to make some extra money supervising the homework. This action will stop the power struggle immediately. Set the rules and the structure, then disengage.
Reduce Stimulation: No radios, TVs, or games should be played while homework is being done. Never let your child play the radio and do homework. Make the environment cool, quiet, and calm. It is also not fair to ask one child to work while others are playing. Homework time should be a quiet peaceful time for everyone in the house.
Break Homework Down Into Small Parts: Put one piece of work, one row of problems, or one task in front of the child at a time. Do not overwhelm them with too much to do. After one problem is completed then give another. If a child can do three of one type of math problems, don’t give them 15 additional problems. Keep it simple, keep it organized. Repetition is important in building mastery but not in training independent work habits. For the child with a learning disability such as ADD/ADHD it is a torturous process to keep doing the same type of work over and over.
Set-Up a System: A good way to train the skills is to set a specific night for a specific subject, if possible. For example, Monday night is math, Tuesday night is spelling, Wednesday night is science, etc. Work with the teacher(s), communicate clearly the problems and seek openly the solutions.
Set-Up a Feedback Loop: Know when your child has homework. Know that it gets turned in. Let the teacher know how long the child worked. Let the teacher know when the child feels overwhelmed. Let the teacher know if there are problems and seek openly the solutions. Assignment notebook and quick phone calls can be very helpful in knowing the quality or work the child is doing at all times.
Establish Good Communications With The Teacher: The teacher and the parent are both responsible for helping the child develop intellectually and emotionally. Work together, stay in communication and do not get into a power struggle with each other. The child becomes at greater risk when this happens. Homework is a difficult problem and can turn anyone, child, parent, or teacher, into the scapegoat. Remember, our purpose is to help, not hinder, the child’s development.