I hear it and witness it time and time again. In fact I used to live it. ‘Doing homework’ often turned into a battle of wills and power struggles complete with drama, stress, raised voices, and ….ugh!!! Almost every parent has experienced the homework battle at one time or another. For some it’s a daily occurrence that leaves the parent or child or both in tears. In most cases, it doesn’t have to be this way.
It’s not about winning the homework battle – it’s about Ending the Homework Battle.
In this article, we will explore 3 ways to bring peace back to the family and get homework done in a reasonable amount of time.
1 – Establishing Routines and Structure
Humans are creatures of habit. If we create good habits and routines around homework, there will be much less argument and negotiation.
Designate a set time when homework will be done. This will solve a multitude of problems. As an example, if the child knows that everyday from 3:45 – 4:45 is homework time, it will become a part of the everyday routine. If it’s “what we always do,” pretty soon, no one expects anything different.
Ideally, you want to have homework time be the same time everyday. Determine the time with your child. Does she need a snack or a little down time before she starts? How much time will that take?
Look at the child’s needs, the typical amount of time homework takes, and the family activities. Then if at all possible, designate the same time everyday for homework. If this is not possible due to parents’ work schedules or other activities, create a weekly schedule where the homework time may vary from day-to-day, but there is a designated time each day of the week.
Stick to your designated homework schedule. Don’t let anything take priority. Do not schedule appointments or take phone calls during this time. Nothing gets priority over homework during the set homework time!
Children are often guilty of saying, “I don’t have any homework today.” This may or may not be true. Sometimes, students forget their materials, forget to write down their assignments, conveniently forget, or just find it easier to say they don’t have homework. Whether the child has homework or not, the designated homework time is for homework.
If the child has no homework from school, homework time should be spent studying for spelling tests or other upcoming tests, working on long-term assignments and book reports, doing free-reading, or writing in a journal. This preserves the homework time routine and helps remove the temptation of saying there’s no homework when there in fact is.
Many schools, particularly middle schools and high schools have classwork and homework available on the school or class website, or have instituted a ‘Homework Hotline’ which provides parents and students with the homework assignments in case they are unsure of what was assigned for the day.
At the elementary level, having another family from your child’s class that you can call to check on what the homework assignment is when there are questions can be very helpful.
2 – Set the Stage for Success
Set up a specific space for studying. The space should be:
- Free from distractions
- Clear of clutter
- Stocked with all of the materials needed.
Having a clear work space with all necessary materials at hand, such as pencils, ruler, and lined paper reduces the need to get up and waste time or get distracted looking for materials.
Determine and create the space together with your child. The more your child is involved in the process, the more he “owns” it. Stocking his own desk with his materials can be fun and motivating.
3 – Avoid a Power Struggle
Getting Started with a Homework Routine
From the time children enter the first grade, they are expected to do homework. If your child is very young, setting up a homework space, time, and routine will be quite easy. If you stick with it throughout your child’s schooling, making minor adjustments each school year, the structured, standard routine will help you avoid many homework battles.
If your child is a little older, or even a teenager, creating a new way to approach homework will not be accepted as easily. However, it can and must be done if getting homework done is a battle in your home.
At a calm and neutral time, not in the midst of a homework conflict, sit down with your child and discuss and plan the new homework routine.
As a parent, you are in charge, and complying with the homework routine is not an option, but the child should feel heard and should be involved in the process of developing the routine. Here’s an example of how you as a parent might approach the child:
“Trying to fit homework in and get it all done has been pretty hard for us as a family. We are going to make some changes that I believe will help us all.”
“Together, we are going to decide on a specific time and space that will be for homework. Nothing will get in the way – no phone calls, no video games, no appointments. We will all honor this time.”
“Once we decide on a time and space, I’m going to ask that we all try it for two weeks, exactly as we plan, with no complaining. Then, we will sit down and talk again and decide if we need to make any adjustments. This is something that we are going to do. It’s not going to be an option, because it’s my job as your parent to help you be successful. But your ideas are important and we’ll keep adjusting to make sure it’s really working for you.”
This kind of approach lets children and teens know that while this is not negotiable, they are a part of the team.
There will of course be ongoing challenges even after you’ve started with the above steps. Reinforcement and continued support are critical to keeping the momentum and preserving the peace.
Implementing the routine
Now that your homework routine is established, don’t argue or negotiate on it. Stay calm and objective.
When your child whines or pleads that just this time, she needs to make an important call to a friend during the homework time, calmly say, “This time is for homework only. You can make your call at ____ o’clock.”
To help with interruptions from phone calls, a part of your homework routine may include turning all phones, including cell phones on silent. Instant Messenger type services on the computer should be turned off during homework time. Set-up these parameters in advance.
For younger children, or those who have trouble comprehending time or shifting activities, try using a timer. About 15 minutes before homework time is to begin, set the timer for 12 minutes and let the child know that when the timer goes off, he is to clean up whatever he is doing and immediately go to his homework space. If the child tries to argue or complain, calmly say, “I’m sorry you’re in the middle of that, but the timer went off. It’s time to move to your homework space.”
Calmly and consistently reinforcing the routine keeps you from having to get upset or be the bad guy.
Continue to Set Clear Guidelines and Reward Children for Following Them
Kids often think that watching TV, playing electronic games, chatting with friends online, or using their cell phones are their rights, their entitlement.
We need to re-frame their reality. Their job, as kids, is to get an education and become well-adjusted, productive adults. Our job as parents is to help them get there.
So here are the rules:
Students go to school and do their best.
They follow the homework routine at home.
Watching TV, playing electronic games, chatting with friends online, using their cell phones, etc. are privileges that are earned by following the rules, or by doing “their job.”
Teachers and parents must actively notice and praise students for doing their job. It’s a hard and time-consuming job that children have. It needs lots of recognition from everyone involved.