Taming the Homework Monster


I thought when I finished school I was done with homework. Nothing could be farther from the truth! From the time our daughter gets home from school until she goes to bed it seems as if we’re battling over homework. She finds a million excuses to avoid it, and when she finally does do it, it’s messy, incomplete, or incorrect. I can’t imagine going through this for another six years until she graduates—that is if she gets her homework done!

Emma Adderly, Portland, OR

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Peg Dawson, Ed.D

Dawson is a psychologist at the Center for Learning and Attention Disorders in Portsmouth, NH and a member of Smart Kids Professional Advisory Board.

Anyone with children knows that homework never ends! While many students consider it the toughest part of the school day, homework also can be a painful aspect of parenting—especially for those whose children have learning difficulties. However, that need not be the case. When homework is a collaborative effort between home and school, with parents and teachers both playing helping roles, it is likely to make the process go more smoothly. Here are some pointers for all involved.

What Parents Can Do
  • Check in with your child every day.
    Ask what the homework assignment is and if there’s any doubt about the answer, check his assignment book. This lets him know that you see homework as important.
  • Make a daily homework plan.
    At a minimum, it should include a list of what needs to be done and when she plans on doing each assignment. To help her develop time-management skills, have her estimate how much time it will take to complete each assignment (and track this to help her improve the skill). When making a plan, ask about long-term assignments and upcoming tests, so those can be built into the plan.
  • Provide a clean and quiet workspace.
    It’s also helpful to keep on hand extra supplies such as pencils, markers, scissors, rulers, calculators, etc.
  • Reward rather than punish.
    Giving him something he can look forward to when homework is finished may be the incentive he needs to get through it. Saying, “Guess what? You get to do X as soon as you finish your spelling workbook,” is more motivating than saying, “If you don’t do your homework, X is off-limits.”
  • Supervise, but don’t micromanage.
    The goal is for your child to complete homework independently, but that often depends on maturity, which varies tremendously from child to child. In the early stages, parents often need to sit with children while they work. As they get older, parents can check in frequently, be there for the hard stuff, or just get them started and then leave.
  • Distinguish between your role and the teacher’s role.
    It’s your job to make sure that your child does his homework and puts it in his backpack when complete. It is the teacher’s job to make sure it’s done correctly. In most cases it’s best to let teachers judge neatness as well (although at times it’s effective to let your child know that if you can’t read his handwriting, he’ll have to redo it).
  • Reach out for support.
    If homework battles threaten family functioning, make an appointment with the school. Homework wars should not jeopardize parent-child relationships. If they threaten to do this, then parents and teachers need to put their heads together to come up with alternatives.
What Schools Can Do
Using the following suggestions, work with your child’s teachers to find ways to collaborate:
  • Make end-of-the-day check-ins available for students who need it. It’s genuinely hard for youngsters with working memory problems to remember everything they have to bring home at the end of the day. Having a teacher or aide check in with the child before she goes home to make sure she’s written down all assignments and has the necessary materials solves this problem. To reduce the labor-intensity of this process, some teachers use the last 10 minutes of the school day for the whole class to go through the end-of-the-day check-in together.
  • Post homework assignments online. And keep the postings current and complete. When done consistently, this allows parents to monitor their child’s homework. If it’s not done right, however, it introduces another crack that a child can slip through.
  • Make weekly progress reports available for parents who need them. This can be a powerful tool. Letting parents know of any outstanding homework assignments on a Thursday or Friday enables them to structure weekend activities around homework demands.
  • Be flexible. Kids with ADHD, in particular, often run out of steam by the end of the school day. At that point, medication, too, has often worn off, making homework seem particularly daunting. When teachers trust parents to shorten or cut out assignments based on their child’s capacity on any given day, this approach can work quite well. Sometimes teachers star the most important assignments, so that parents can ensure that if shortcuts are to be taken, the priority work gets done.
  • Accept parent involvement. Allowing students with written language problems to dictate homework to parents can significantly reduce parent-child conflicts around homework.
  • Establish after-school homework clubs. Many students are successful with homework when they’re given time either during school or before they leave school at the end of the day. This is because school provides sufficient structure and environmental cues to remind them to stay on task. These same students often experience a letdown in energy and focus when they get home. Whenever passing or failing a course depends on homework, schools need to be willing to offer an in-school alternative so that youngsters whose home life is not conducive to getting the homework done will not be penalized.

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