Avoid the homework hassle
As children start back to school, homework can be a stressful issue for both parents and children. There is a lot of focus now on raising performance on standard testing, so our children may be doing even more homework in the future.
Some researchers have said that parents who let their kids take the lead in homework teach the best lesson. However, this does not mean that parents will not worry or get stressed over their child’s homework assignments.
There seems to be a fine line between showing concern and interest in a child’s homework and taking it over. We want to be there when our children ask for help, but one goal of homework is to help children work on their own and manage the resources that will help them. If we are constantly checking to see if homework is getting done "right," our children may tend to feel that whatever they do is not good enough.
According to research, children who do best in school have parents who show interest in their work. It is very important to listen to their ideas, pay attention to what they are learning and give help when it seems appropriate. Early encouragement of consistency and routine will help to support good homework skills.
The age of your child can determine how much "help" is required. Younger children, perhaps up to the third grade, need a parent to be available to step in if necessary. Some children like to know that a parent is nearby at homework time, while others may prefer to work alone. Children this age can be conflicted at times, wanting to do homework by themselves at the same time as they seem to want help. This conflict may cause a child to be "grouchy" and even reject any suggestions that a parent thinks is appropriate.
With older children, the need may be for help in organizing assignments rather than a physical presence. They may prefer not to have parents around, but still need to feel the interest and support of the parents.
Suggestions that may help avoid the homework hassle
- Establish a regular routine. This will help get your child into the homework habit. You and your child should agree on a time and place for homework. By having your child’s involvement in this decision-making process, he/she will be more likely to follow through. Specific rules can also be established, such as no TV, phone, etc., until homework is completed.
- Be a homework coach. If necessary, help your children understand instructions, then back off and let them do the assignments themselves. Encourage them to look for the answers. Ask open-ended questions such as: What do you think you should do next?
- If your child has no homework, suggest other activities. Although a "no-homework night" may be a rare occasion, encourage your child to spend at least part of "homework time" reading a book, doing artwork, or participating in a physical activity or some creative endeavor instead of vegetating in front of the TV.
- Look over assignments if asked. It’s okay to point out items that are wrong, but let them decide whether or not to correct them. Dr. Judi Craig, author of What Happened at School Today? says, "This policy makes it clear that homework is your child’s responsibility and is less likely to create power struggles . . . than if you demand that he redo the incorrect work."
- Notice "forgotten" or "lost" assignments. They may indicate your child needs help getting organized. If they frequently answer "no" when asked if they have home- work, it would be wise to check with the teacher to see if this is true. If it is not, then you may need to try to figure out why. (Does he doubt his ability? Could she be rebelling for some reason?)
- Focus on content, not appearance. Sloppy or incorrect work may not meet our standards, but it is important to focus more on content than on how it looks. Being positive will help keep children more confident and motivated. Let the teacher point out areas for improvement. Point out to your children what you appreciate about their homework. For example: "I like the way you described that," or "You were really thinking when you suggested that." Please note, however, that incomplete homework and dropping grades should have agreed-upon consequences that parents enforce consistently.
- Support the teachers as team members. According to Dr. Harris Cooper, professor of psychology at the University of Missouri-Columbia, "Parents supporting teachers could be the single most important ingredient in keeping their child’s academic progress on track. Supporting teachers through cooperation over homework tells the child that the parents and teacher are a team." It also shows them that learning takes place at home as well as at school.
- Realize your limitations. Not everybody knows every thing! Dr. Jane M. Healy, has said, "Admitting your confusion . . . may be the best teaching you can do. Even if you don’t get the answer, you are working together to solve the problem–and that is the basis for the most lasting learning."
Source: Mizzou Magazine, University of Missouri-Columbia, Fall 1996.
Maudie Kelly, MS
Human Development Specialist