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Ending the Homework Hassles

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Question: Getting my kids to do homework is a big hassle and an energy drain. By the time report cards are sent home, I usually feel there should be a page that grades ME for nagging, begging, coercing and reminding. (I'm sure I'd get an "A" for effort, but a "C" for results!)

Think about it: Because you get an "A" for nagging, begging, coercing and reminding, it's obvious that your children have gotten used to depending on this particular form of "guidance." If you'll put some effort into changing the rituals that you've developed, you'll find that your children can, indeed, become responsible for their own homework. Read on...

Solution #1: Give your children responsibility and ownership of their homework. It should be clearly understood that homework is their job and one of their priorities. It's your job to create an environment that is conducive to getting homework done, and to act as a manager and a coach. Don't hover or get overly involved with the actual work, because the more responsibility the parent takes, the less the children will assume themselves.

Solution #2: Establish a regular time and place for homework to be done. As an example, immediately after the dinner dishes are cleared and the kitchen cleaned, the routine is to bring all homework to the kitchen table. In order to maintain the pattern, and thus create a habit, when the child has no homework the time can be used to read or write letters or thank you notes. If a specific sports or music lesson occurs at that time a few days a week, have a specific alternate time for those days.

Solution #3: Create a pleasant homework environment. Make sure the table is clean and clear, have ample supplies at hand, have a healthy snack and a beverage included. Avoid using this time to reprimand, nag or complain. Some children work better with quiet music playing in the background or a window open for fresh air. Some kids are easily distracted and need absolute quiet. Try to figure out what works best for your children. It may not necessarily be your preference, but choose the best environment to suit your child's personality.

Solution #4: Avoid homework-related rewards and punishments. These take the focus away from the learning process and create additional stress as your children try to avoid the punishment or earn the rewards. Or, even worse, your child decides the punishment isn't so bad, or the reward isn't so great, so he continues to march to the beat of his own drummer.

How do I motivate my child? My child knows all the homework excuses. "It's not due yet." "I don't have any." "I forgot it." "The dog ate it." The bottom line is that her grades have been affected because she's not getting her homework done.

Think about it: For many kids, doing homework is their fifty-sixth favorite thing to do. It comes somewhere between dropping a bowling ball on their toe and picking up the dog doo-doo in the back yard. In other words, given the choice, they'll avoid it at all costs. Your job, then, is to convince them that, regardless of their personal feelings, homework is important, required, and not a topic open for negotiation.

Solution #1: Meet with the teacher so that you have a clear understanding of what is expected of your child and how much time homework should take. Make sure your child is doing well and keeping up in class, and that the only problem is homework-related. (Sometimes, reluctance to do homework is an indication of a bigger problem at school. It's best to rule this possibility out first.)

Solution #2: Set aside the "homework hour" to do your own paperwork, bill paying or newspaper reading. Sit at the same table with your child. Be available to answer questions, but otherwise stay focused on your own work. Your presence will "encourage" your child to complete her homework. If your child "doesn't have any homework," this doesn't excuse her from homework hour. Just let her know that you'll be happy to assign an extra-credit project to occupy her during the required homework time. She may remember an assignment that she can work on.

Solution #3: Provide your child's teacher with a stack of index cards. Ask the teacher to send home an index card each Friday with the simple notation, "Homework done (or not done) for this week," along with the teacher's signature. Let your child know that if the work has not been done for the week, then she'll have to complete all work Saturday prior to any playtime. (If your child is on a sports team, or in a music group, or takes a Saturday class, this rule would apply to the time prior or following the Saturday event). Announce that if no index card is returned on Friday, you will need to assume that the homework was not done. If the paperwork is not at home, have your child complete a book report for you on the most recent book she read. (This requirement will encourage your child to remember the index card next Friday, and is an excellent way to enhance her reading and writing skills!)

Solution #4: Hire an older child (perhaps a neighbor) to become your child's "homework coach." Often a teacher can recommend a student from a higher grade at school. This older child can bring her own homework to your home (or vice versa) and sit beside your child during homework time. The "coach" is then close at hand to answer questions or provide guidance. Just be sure a parent is nearby so that this doesn't become a visiting session.

What About Perfectionism? My child takes an excessive amount of time to do her homework. She erases a lot, and becomes frustrated over even the simplest mistakes. I don't want to encourage her to be "sloppy," but I think there's a point when she should just get it done without obsessing over every little letter she writes.

Think about it: There are lots of reasons that children develop homework-perfection-itis. It can be helpful to try to pinpoint your child's reason. Is this typical of her personality? Has this behavior created undue attention? Is she in "over her head" and confused, or is she using the perfection-itis to procrastinate doing work she doesn't like or doesn't understand? Whatever the reason, making and using a plan is essential to overcoming this behavior.

Solution #1: If your child doesn't display these same behaviors at school, it's possible she is getting too much attention at home in regards to her homework. Let your daughter know that homework is considered "practice." Discuss with her the goals of her assignments. Talk to her about "priorities," for example, that her final book report needs to be especially neat, but that the first draft can be less perfect. Be available to answer questions, but don't hover. If she asks for your help provide simple, specific answers with no mention of the work she has already completed. If you aren't hovering, the only person affected by her dawdling is her. When she finds that she can actually complete her homework in less time, with less perfection, and still get good grades, she'll feel confident in moving a little more quickly.

Solution #2: Instead of saying things like "Stop taking so long!" provide an incentive for her to finish up by using the "If/Then" technique, "If you're done with your homework before 5:00, we'll play a game together before I make dinner".

Solution #3: Avoid "you" statements, "you don't have to erase that and do it over". Instead talk about yourself, "If that were my paper, I'd leave it just the way it is and move on to the next one". Or ask a helpful question that leads her to making her own discovery, such as, "Do you think it matters that..." or "Do you think your teacher expects..."

Solution #4: Find out from your child's teacher how much time the daily homework should take. Based on what you learn from the teacher, set a specific amount of time you will allow for homework. (Add a few minutes to the teacher's longest estimate so that your child doesn't get stressed over your limit.) Before your child sits down to begin homework, tell her you are setting the timer for thirty minutes. When it rings, homework time is over for the day. Ask her to take a few minutes to think about and plan how to best use that time. This exercise will help keep your child focused and on track. Remind her halfway through that she's got fifteen minutes left. Otherwise, don't nag!

How should I handle sloppy or rushed work? My child rushes through his homework. The work is sloppy and careless. I know he's capable of doing a better job.

Think about it: Many kids see homework as an interruption of all the fun things they want to do after school. Some see it as a tireless repetition of things they already did at school. In either case, the result is that they rush to get it over with.

Solution #1: Set a minimum amount of time for homework (based on the teacher's estimate of how much time should be spent on homework). Set a timer. Tell your child he cannot get up until the timer rings. If he finishes his homework you can provide him with additional work to fill up the rest of the time. (Purchase educational workbooks from a bookstore or get some from the teacher, or create worksheets duplicating the types of tasks included in the homework, such as math problems, or ask your child to create sentences with vocabulary or spelling words.)

Solution #2: Convey an attitude of importance about homework. Review all your child's work when it is complete. Make positive comments about things that are done well. Show great interest, ask questions about the work, and let your child know that his work is important to you. Positive attention can often give a child the encouragement needed to improve the results of his work.

Solution #3: Children who are bored will often compensate by producing sloppy work. Meet with your child's teacher to see if this may be the problem. If it is, encourage the teacher to provide a slight variation on the homework to better suit your child. Avoid simply assigning more homework, because that just exacerbates the problem.

Solution #4: Children with too many extracurricular activities sometimes become overwhelmed and rush through work so they can fit everything into their day. If this is the case, have your child choose one outside activity to focus on and save the rest for summer vacation.

Credits: Elizabeth Pantley

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