The homework nightmare: it occurs when students become easily frustrated, feel stressed out, and begin to panic about their homework. It can impact any type of student from the perfectionist to the procrastinator, and it turns daily homework into a battleground between parents and children. Frustration with homework is incredibly common not just with young children, but even with high school aged students. The good news is that there are a lot of things parents can do to make a positive difference, reduce frustration, and improve homework completion. Keep reading to learn our top five tips on how to reduce homework battles and keep your child calm and on focus.
1. Set Expectations Upfront
One of the most confusing statements for kids to hear is, “do your best.” Why? Because their definition of “their best,” could be entirely different than yours. This phrase is way too vague and leaves so much up to the imagination. Instead, you want to be very clear with your child about what you expect from him during homework time.
For example, if your child is chronically struggling to get started with his homework, try setting up a homework routine. Say, “I know you like to have time after school to relax and I want you to have that, but I want your homework to be started before dinner. I am going to set a timer for 30 minutes when you get home; when that goes off, I expect you to start your homework.”
This takes the emotion out of getting started with homework. Rather than telling your child “not to put things off to the last minute,” you’re giving clear, specific expectations.
2. Hold Your Child Accountable for Completion, Not Quality
I was recently speaking with a mom who said, “Nothing drives me more insane than looking at my son’s homework and seeing chicken scratch all over the page. It’s like he has no pride in his work. I keep telling him he has to redo it, but he doesn’t want to. He just doesn’t care.” This mom was not alone. Parents and children often don’t see eye-to-eye on the quality of homework, and this can lead to a big blow out or power struggle.
Rather than arguing with your child over the quality of the work he’s producing, only hold him accountable for completing the homework thoroughly. Leave the quality check up to the teacher. While this can be very uncomfortable for most parents, it eliminates a power struggle and allows the teacher to be responsible for monitoring quality control. Often times, the teacher will intervene and provide your child with feedback. If you still feel that the work isn’t up to standard, contact the teacher directly and ask for her thoughts. Say, “I just want to make sure this work is in line with the standards and your expectations.”
3. Allow Your Child to be Heard
Seeing children struggle academically makes parents feel uncomfortable; the first reaction to stop the pain. Does this sound familiar?
Child: I’m just no good at math!
Parent: Oh, yes you are sweetie. Come on, you can do this!
Child: No I can’t, and I suck at math! Why do I have to know this dumb stuff anyway?
Parent: Listen up Jimmy, math is a really important subject to your future. If you can’t learn to reduce fractions, you’ll be lost when you do more complicated things later on.
Child: Whatever. (Puts head down on desk.)
LESS Is MORE
What happened here? How did such a well-intentioned discussion go so wrong? The reason is that when kids don’t feel heard, they become argumentative or they withdraw completely. Such was the case with Jimmy when he was told how to feel. When parents practice empathy, students are far more likely to stay focused and less likely to meltdown. Instead of negating a child’s feelings, its far better to actively listen to what they say, empathize with their feelings (you don’t have to agree!), and state the emotion. I call this the LESS is MORE strategy.
Here’s how the LESS is MORE strategy works:
L – Listen (make eye contact, nod head)
E – Empathize (Oh, I see how you feel)
S – State the Feeling (I can tell you’re angry with your teacher)
S – Sometimes Narrow
Let’s rewind and play back that scenario using the LESS is MORE strategy.
Child: I’m just no good at math!
Parent: Oh, I see, (nodding). I can tell you’re frustrated and I can see why. This is tough material.
Child: I am! This is hard!
Parent: Which problem is giving you a hard time?
Child: It’s number nine.
Parent: Okay, let’s see if we can tackle number nine together.
In this case, the parent made what seemed like a huge problem (hating math) into something much more approachable – number nine. Narrowing the problem to a large issue into a smaller one redirects kids and helps them to stay focused.
In this example, the student remained on task (instead of putting his head down on the table) mainly because he felt heard. When kids feel understood, they are less likely to engage in an argument. In addition, the less a parent says the better.
4. Take a Break from the Power Struggle
What should you do when tempers are flared and you realize that a disagreement is becoming a power struggle? Extricate yourself ASAP by taking a quick break. Use these words:
“Let’s take a 30 minute break. I’ll be back at 2:34 pm.” Be specific about time
“We’re both upset. Let’s grab a quick snack and then we can talk about a compromise.”
5. Get Outside Help
The reality is most parents are not the best teacher for their child. Even several of our tutors have another tutor who comes and works with their child. If you feel like the power struggle during homework time is causing a large strain on your parent-child relationship, take a step back and get outside help. At Educational Connections, we’ve found that just involving a third party in the mix can often help both parent and child wave their white flags in the ongoing homework battle and come to an agreement.
Interested in more tips to help resolve homework issues? Book Educational Connections’ President, Ann Dolin, M.Ed. to speak at your school! Ann talks to parents on a wide variety of issues ranging from study skills to organization. Her most popular presentation is Homework Made Simple: Tips, Tools, and Solutions for Stress-Free Homework.