“Ugh, is it already time for homework…again?” If you are just as likely as your child to be thinking this when it comes to homework, then read on…..
For many families, homework can be the most challenging part of the day. Between the prodding to get your child started, fighting through your child’s anger and tears, and constant redirection to stay focused, it can start to feel homework time is more work for you than for your child. Homework with less drama is the ultimate goal.
Perhaps homework time with your child looks like this:
Your child comes home from school and plops in front of their favorite TV show. As the show winds down and it is time to get them started on homework, you start feeling tense, gearing up for an argument.
“Once the show is over, time to sit down at the table,” you say. “Mhmm…” your child responds. Of course, the show ends and the next one starts.
“I said time to go sit down!”
“No, one more show!”
You grab the remote and turn off the TV. “Hey! I was watching!” Yelling, arguing, stomping away ensues. Eventually, your child may reluctantly get to the table and sit down angrily. And this is just the start…
Within 2 minutes, your child shuts down complaining “this is too hard!” or “I’m so bored!” You feel exhausted constantly reminding your child to sit and focus. Perhaps your child makes a mistake, and crumples up the paper in frustration. ‘We can’t keep doing this…’ you think.
I know feeling stuck in this daily routine can feel all too overwhelming.
Luckily, there are a few things you can do to help decrease the drama and empower your child to feel capable of not only completing the tasks, but of managing the difficult emotions that often accompany the challenges of homework.
Tip One: Commit to building a routine
Sit for a minute and imagine a world where homework time was free from tears and frustration. If you are reading this, chances are this world does not currently exist. The truth is making changes toward a healthier homework routine may include some initial emotional difficulties as you and your child acclimate to the changing expectations. However, if you decide what you would like your child’s routine to look like and accept that it may involve some initial push-back, you can start to build a functional routine that will better serve your child and your family.
It is very important to respond to your child’s frustration with calmness, empathy and support, but while also ensuring the expectations you have communicated stay in place.
One key to changing your routine, is committing to consistency even if the change results in some increased frustration from your child.
There are some key things to consider in building a healthy routine.
First, your child likely needs a break when getting home from a day at school. Having a snack and 20-30 minutes of free time (ideally, electronics-free) can help your child ‘recharge’ and be more ready to face the challenges of homework.
Secondly, it is important that homework doesn’t mark the “end of fun” for the day. It can be tempting to let your child have his/her free time until homework finally has to get started. However, this has two negative effects: first, your child will be more tired and less focused toward the end of the night; secondly, your child learns that his/her fun-time is over when homework time starts. Instead, if you find some motivators (see below) that your child can access after homework is complete, it can help limit your role in “forcing” your child to start his/her homework, as well as provide your child a sense of empowerment from working toward the things they find meaningful.
Lastly, it is helpful to break tasks into small ‘chunks’ for your child. This can occur within a specific task, such as having your child do five math problems, take a short break, and do the remaining five problems. It can also occur by breaking down all the assignments for the day, such as having your child do math, science, take a break, and finish with reading. Often times, being able to see these small chunks being completed can build some momentum and help your child feel successful.
At Simi Psychological Group, we strive to help address difficult emotional patterns by empowering the whole family. With parents, we focus on envisioning the areas they want their child to grow, setting healthy boundaries, and being able to confidently respond to their child’s upsetting emotions, as well as their own. With children, learning to ‘expect’ difficult emotions in certain situations (such as homework), develop strategies to cope with these feelings, and ultimately feel successful, helps the children we work with feel more confident within their daily lives. As both children and parents build their ‘toolbox’ and confidence in managing the emotional difficulties that emerge, they develop a shared language/understanding, and ultimately grow more connected.
Tip Two: Let the motivators do the work to allow for homework with less drama
Often times, children learn that if they don’t do the “right thing” they get punished and lose things that are meaningful for them such as electronics, dessert, etc. There are some problems with this.
First, it gives the power to adults in the child’s life to be the judge of what is ‘right’ or what ‘good enough.’
Secondly, it promotes the likelihood that anger and frustration will be directed toward you once you decide your child has “lost” something they cherish. Simply flipping the message can help address both of these pitfalls. As discussed in step 1, it is important for your child to have motivating things to look forward to once his/her daily tasks are complete.
Reminding your child that it is “up to them” and encouraging them along the way can help you feel less pressure to make sure your child gets the work done, and help you both feel you’re on the same team. If you allow your child to use electronics during the week (TV, computer, phones, etc.), these are usually the most motivating activities to provide access to after homework. However, other enjoyable activities also work well such as Lego, preferred games, etc.
Tip Three: Build in choices for homework with less drama
Once you decide what you want your child’s homework routine to look like, it is important and helpful to provide your child a sense of control within that structure. As long as expectations remain consistent (ex. Electronics time starts after homework), there are many opportunities to build in choices and empower your child during homework time.
For example, your child can choose what they are working toward that evening (ex. Watching a tv show, playing a game, etc.), which assignment they want to do first, how many questions before a break, etc. These types of choices help children feel in control and provide them with a sense of responsibility and ultimately, a sense of capability when it comes to homework.
Tip Four: Communicate with your child’s teacher and school
Parents often feel hesitant to communicate difficulties to their child’s teacher for fear it may be a poor reflection on them or their child. However, teachers are usually willing and wanting to work with the family to make homework time successful. Sharing with your child’s teacher how long homework takes and specific subjects that are more intensely difficult can help the teacher provide feedback and/or modifications to better support your child’s needs when it comes to homework.
For example, if a child struggles with reading, a teacher may be willing to have him/her read for a certain amount of time rather than needing to complete the whole chapter or allow you and your child to alternate reading the chapter. Such modifications can help your child feel more successful and more supported as academic skills develop.
Sometimes, a child’s homework difficulties are indicative of underlying learning disorders, that can result in significant attentional struggles or struggles reading, math, and/or writing difficulties, that require more formalized support.
Again, parents often feeling hesitant to bring these concerns to the school’s attention for fear of labels or mistakenly feeling these difficulties are a result of lower intelligence. It is important to know that learning disorders do not correlate with intelligence and supporting a child with these difficulties as early as possible can provide the most positive outcomes in the future.
Additionally, if necessary, there are supports available within the school system such as 504 plans, and Individualized Education Plans designed to meet the needs of children with learning disorders. In these cases it may be important to ask the school to conduct formalized testing or pursue a private assessment to determine any underlying issues that may be affecting your child’s academic difficulties.
If your family is struggling with the demands of homework, we are hopeful these steps can help.
Simi Psychological Group is here to help you and your child tackle homework with less drama. Please reach out to us for a free consultation.
John Danial, Ph.D.