It's back to school time and, in some ways it can't come soon enough. In others, we sort of dread it--not it, but the stress and emotions that come with it. It happens to all of us at some point: screaming matches between parent and child over homework habits.
Just saying the word homework can suck the air right out of the room and throw everyone into high-stress mode. I love vacations because they offer a break from my kids groaning and me having to nag. But once they’re back at school the homework issues and frustration come roaring back.
I have often struggled over whether I have helped too much, nagged too much or was being naïve in believing them when they said they didn’t have homework. I didn’t want to be that parent who constantly emailed and called the teacher. There’s a fine line between being a strong advocate for my children and knowing when they need to take that role over themselves.
Unfortunately, homework is a fact of life—but the parent/child struggle doesn’t have to be. Finding a way to reduce the stress can improve not only the family dynamics, but also your child’s ability to focus and retain information, which can help build self-esteem.
So take a look at your child’s homework routine. And if there isn’t a routine, now is a good time to begin:
1. It’s not too late
Don’t worry if you haven’t already established good habits. Do it today. Set a routine now because the amount and difficulty of homework continues to grow.
2. Find the right time
After experimenting a bit, I found that our kids did best when they had a schedule. They came home from school, had a snack, and then would dive into the homework. Even when they had friends over, we stuck with the schedule and they all settled into it together. It takes the pressure off because they know they get to hang later.
3. Designate a space
Help your child set up an area dedicated to homework. Ours was our kitchen table because when my kids were young, they liked having me sit with them. My daughter continued that practice until senior year and I think it helped her stay focused. My son eventually moved his spot to another room. with a proper desk and bookshelves. Wherever they do their homework, try to keep it a clean space. Messy areas can feel chaotic and be distracting.
4. Break work into bite-size pieces
Sometimes all of the homework is just too overwhelming. That’s especially true if you have a child with ADHD or learning differentials. Work with them to break down the steps they need to take to get the homework done. Setting smaller, manageable goals will make them feel they’ve accomplished something.
5. Give them breaks
Kids can’t just sit still for long periods of time. My daughter, who has ADHD, likes playing music or moving onto the deck when she needs a break. Letting them take a break, and encouraging them to decide when to get back to the homework, takes away the power struggle.
6. A tip for textbooks
Our schools have enough textbooks for the kids to use one in the classroom and leave a second copy at home. This means fewer books are lost and the kids stay better organized, not to mention the ability to actually carry their backpacks! If your school doesn’t have the resources for this, you may be able to access textbooks online or even rent them from Amazon.
7. Offer suggestions for coping
Teach stressed-out kids a few mindfulness techniques. Slow, deep breathing, playing white noise, or using an app like Calm can all be helpful for managing homework stress, as well as helping them in other areas of their lives.
8. Feed the beast
No matter how old you are, it’s really hard to concentrate when you’re hungry. Hunger can also make kids cranky without them knowing why. So definitely offer them a snack before or during homework sessions.
9. Encouragement goes a long way
If you believe they can do it, they will too. School can be stressful. When they’re frustrated or say they can’t do it, add this word: yet. As in, “You can’t do it yet.” Yet is the best little word for offering gentle encouragement.
10. Just relax
Sometimes you need to take a step back. You can give your kids the best environment for doing their homework, but you can’t do it for them. Yes, it’s hard when it feels like grades count so much, but once you’ve prepared them and given them all of the tools to succeed, you need to let go and trust they’ll figure it out.