Is your elementary school child struggling with homework? You’re not alone! Homework is designed to provide extra practice of skills learned at school and to help your child develop good study habits. However, homework time can become a battle, and it can test your patience and persistence! Try these six tips to make homework go more smoothly in your house:
- Designate a homework spot. An ideal spot has easy access to the school supplies needed for homework and is near an adult who’s available to help. Consider setting aside supplies just for homework to make it feel special!
- Make homework a consistent part of your daily routine. Some kids can start homework right after school; other kids need a break before they’re ready to tackle homework. If your kid has after-school activities, you might try doing homework in the morning (the day before it’s due)! The homework routine ends with your child putting the assignment away and cleaning up the workspace.
- Follow “Grandma’s Rule” (the behavioral concept of the Premack principle), which means your child first completes homework before doing a preferred activity. For example, “Yes, you can watch your favorite show, after you finish your homework!” Your child is motivated to complete homework to get to the fun activity coming next. When trying this rule for the first time, don’t be surprised if you get pushback–if you consistently enforce “homework first, then [fun activity],” the pushback should subside.
- Support your child during homework time. You may need to provide consistent help throughout homework time or simply check it at the end, depending on your child’s age and skill level. Examples of homework help include reading and explaining instructions, assisting your child in getting supplies ready, helping with the first step or problem, reminding your child of the directions, and/or checking completed work. Try to balance providing enough support to minimize frustration and make them feel successful, while also giving your child the opportunity to grow their skills and independence.
- Give choices to avoid power struggles. At school, your child’s been told exactly what to do and how to do it… all day long! Children thrive when they feel a sense of control. Try to offer 2-3 choices when you’re going through your routines at home. For example, “Do you want to start with reading or math?”, “Do you want to use the green or red pencil?”, or “Which of these snacks would you like?” If choices seem overwhelming to your child, try limiting the number of options. You can also help them make a choice in the moment, and then offer another choice later.
- Empathize with your child and believe them when they say they’re tired or find the homework hard. Respond to your child’s frustrations (“I hate homework!”) with empathy, while also holding a boundary (“It is homework time”). For example, you might say, “This homework feels really hard to you” or “I used to find homework boring too!” and then, “Let’s take a two-minute stretch break, and I’ll help you get started.” Keep in mind: You know your child best. If they’re sick, unusually stressed out, or just need a day off, you can make the decision to delay or forgo homework for the day.
Many elementary school teachers suggest a time limit for homework, and research suggests that 10-minutes per grade level (e.g.,10 minutes in 1st grade, 20 minutes in 2nd grade) is enough. Teachers may be willing to collaborate with you on solutions to homework problems, including adjusting assignments so homework causes less stress and conflict for you and your child. If homework continues to be a struggle, however, you might consider additional resources to help your family: ask for support from the school counselor, share any learning or behavioral concerns with the school or licensed professional outside of school, and/or seek out parenting support from a qualified professional.
Written by Jill B. Jacobson, Ph.D. (Oct 2022), Psychologist, Parenting Support Therapist at Kentlands Psychotherapy. If you would like to learn more about her services to support parents, call us at (240) 252-3349. Jill loves to support, empower, and uplift parents in their relationship with their children.