Whatever it may be. problems with homework can be very stressful to family life and in many cases, result in parent-child relationship break-down.
As a teacher for many years, I have witnessed many families stressed, anxious, frustrated and angry because of homework problems.
If this is happening in your family, take heart. There are simple and effective ways to relieve and eliminate the stress and friction caused by homework problems.
Is your kid lacking focus?
Perhaps your child is having difficulty with maintaining their attention during class. If the problem is focus – this means your child cannot spend more than a few minutes before she loses concentration – then you will need to break the homework up into 10 or 15 minutes chunks.
Place a timer on your child’s desk and ask them to come and show you what they have accomplished when it rings.
Look carefully at the amount of work completed, its neatness and quality.
Comment on each aspect. Let the child know what is good and what needs to be improved. Continue this practise until all three aspects of the work reach a level that you feel is acceptable (be patient – this could take days or weeks!). Once you have reached this goal, set the timer for a longer period and go through the process a second time.
Do NOT sit with your child. Do not monitor them while they are supposed to be working. Remember your goal is to develop independent work skills in your child.
NOTE: An inability to focus may be symptomatic of a bigger problem. If your child exhibits this inability with other subjects or other aspects of daily life then you need to seek the help of a specialist. The school should be the first place to begin your search.
Is your child procrastinating?
The procrastinator likes to wait until the last minute to get homework done.
For most children, this is usually what they are accustomed to doing. If this is the case with your child, then your task is to break a habit that is well engrained.
If your child procrastinates with long-term assignments, then it is your job to ensure that these types of assignments are started the day they are assigned, and you and your child have agreed upon how many minutes must be spent on this assignment each night in order to reach the deadline.
You and your child could keep a log book (that you need to sign off each day) to ensure the agreed upon time is adhered to and you should check each block of work to ensure enough has been completed in the allotted time.
If your child procrastinates with starting homework each night, a timer may be a good tool to help you and your child solve the procrastination problem. At the start of each homework session ensure your child is seated in the place where they do homework and they are prepared to start on time. Set the timer for 10 or 15 minutes and leave them to work. When the timer rings they have to bring the work completed in that time to you.
If you are not satisfied with the amount completed let them know what needs to be done for the next block of time.
Another approach is to take the amount of work to be completed - say 30 math examples – and establish a small chunk of work – say 10 examples – to be completed in a certain amount of time. If the child does not complete the amount of work allocated for that 10 or 15-minute period then you need to help them to readjust their rate so it could be completed on time.
Remember ‘Practice makes Perfect”. Your child needs time management guidance – something that is not usually taught in school. Set the homework block for each day and homework MUST be completed in that time.
Is your child struggling with self-confidence?
Perhaps your child is suffering from ‘The helpless syndrome’ which is characterized by a child who places little faith in her own abilities. She exhibits a lack of confidence and frequently asks her parents for assistance. While a child should feel free to ask parents when a difficulty with homework is encountered, there is a point at which the requests for help are too frequent and unnecessary.
You can begin to remedy this behaviour by setting an amount of time – say 10-15 minutes – and tell the child that they have to do all the work they can by themselves in that time. If they encounter difficulties they are to move onto the next question and wait for you to come and see what they have accomplished.
Once you have the child working in small blocks of time on their own, slowly increase the amount of time, but now let them come to you after the block of time is over if they have questions or need help.
You will still need to set a reasonable time for them to work independently and attempt the assignment before asking questions. Remember, you are there to support them – not do it for them. This means you still have to check the quality, quantity and neatness of the work. Do not accept work that is lacking in any of these three areas.
If your child comes to you with a question that you know they could answer themselves, do not chastise them – instead ask questions that will help them to come up with the answer, then say, “See how you solved this question? Next time try to use this way to find the answer yourself.”
The solutions offered above are simple to initiate – the real difficulty is maintaining the routine, being consistent and retaining your patience and sense of humor.
Does your child need school-based solutions?
When parents, teachers and the school work together, solutions can usually be found in just one or two conferences. Contact the yeacher if you notice consistent errors in one subject area or if homework is becoming an on-going struggle.
Be prepared to describe the negative behaviors or habits of your child to the teacher.
Schools have specialist staff (Psychologists, Councillors, Learning Assistance Teachers, etc.) who are equipped to provide support and solutions.
If necessary, homework assignments can be modified by the teacher to help your child stay on a curriculum track and provide him the opportunity for success.
The success that a child experiences through modification of assignments helps to promote self-confidence and increase self-esteem. With specialized help, your child can develop an “I Can” attitude and as success is achieved the level of expectations can be slowly increased.
Homework should always be a beneficial exercise – not a make-work project. The material should always be work that was introduced and explained in class – if your child seems to not have a clue how to do the work then this is most likely an indication that he was not paying attention in class or the material is too difficult.
Is your child lacking motivation?
The debate continues whether it is better to punish or provide incentives to get children to work more efficiently and effectively. You can find arguments for and against each method and it is really what works with your child.
When talking with your child about how to motivate them to overcome their homework problem, it is important to first review/talk about the problem. Make sure you both are on the same page when it comes to understanding exactly what the homework problem is.
Once you have established the problem, it is then time to talk about what if anything you can do to help motivate them. Be careful here for it could be a nasty trap for you.
Try to lay some ground work by first talking about how you are there to help and provide guidance (i.e. you are there to ensure they stay on track and follow any plan agreed upon). Try to avoid any actual rewards or punishments – rather talk about how, with your guidance and their commitment, the problem could be resolved without resorting to either.
Talk about what specific expectations you have and try to resolve that neither punishment nor rewards will be used. If you cannot get to this point, then determine with your child what method would help them the best.
At this point it is time to put things in writing so no one forgets what was agreed upon – in other words – a contract. The contract should clearly indicate the expectations and rewards/consequences.
When it is signed off – post it – as a constant reminder of what everyone’s obligations are.
A good contract should indicate:
1. Scheduled time and place
2. Elimination of all distractions
3. Getting homework to and from school
4. Quality, quantity and neatness
5. Attitude – no whining, no procrastination, no forgetting, no relying on parents to do the homework
6. Preparedness – have all materials, books, pens, etc. required to complete the assignments properly.
7. Rewards/consequences – if any were decided upon
By taking the time to develop a good understanding with your child of what the problem is, and how you both will go about correcting it, you empower your child to gain control over their learning.
This method also provides immediate feedback to the parent on whether the child is responsibly fulfilling his obligations on a nightly basis.
A final note on rewards and consequences:
- Specific praise is a powerful reward (for example: “Hey! I am glad to see you remembered to put your backpack by the door!”) – also praise your child in front of others – it is a great tonic.
- Rewards need not be elaborate (e.g.: having a friend over for a pajama party)
- Natural consequences are good (e.g.: let child face a poor grade for homework incomplete)
- If you must give a consequence make it immediate – long lasting consequences have little effect over time – avoid too hash a consequence – focus on the positive.
- Solving your child’s homework issues requires commitment and time from both you and your child.
- Remember to determine if the problem is pervasive or not.
- Make sure the homework problem is not just you demanding unreasonable goals be met.
- Pinpoint the problem by talking with your child.
- Create a description of the problem and then consult with the teacher.
- Discuss and prepare an action plan.
- Consistently follow through!
- Motivate your child preferably without many incentives or consequences.
- Most children emulate the behaviours and attitudes of their parents. Keep this in mind when you are finding it hard to remain cool and reasonable with your child’s homework struggles.
For more help encouraging your child to do homework or determining if there are any problems, please contact the expert contributor.