I remember attending a conference last year, when another psychologist said, “We are meant to love our children unconditionally, but this is hard to do when you have to battle through homework with them!” As much as this is amusing, unfortunately there is an element of truth to this; it is amazing how many parents I speak to who ask for help to get their kids through their homework in the afternoons with as little hassle and fighting as possible. So, I’ve decided to share with you some pearls of wisdom gathered over the years from various sources, in order to help the homework process become as painless as possible for you and your children.
- The first point you have to get your child to understand is that life goes on while they are doing their homework, so the quicker they start, the sooner they’ll be finished and can join the rest of the family or get on with their own activities.
- There needs to be a specific place where they go to do their homework, not the kitchen or the dining room and certainly not sprawled across their bed. If possible, they should have a small table to use in their bedroom where they can shut the door and be free from the distractions of the rest of the house.
- Let’s talk about this desk or table. The most important thing is that this desk is cleared of everything; no pens, pencil holders, desk calendars, hi-fi’s, etc. Ideally there should be drawers attached to the desk but if these don’t exist, think about investing in one of those plastic stacking drawer sets to roll under the desk. The top drawer needs to contain a set of stationery that is kept specifically for homework. This prevents the child roaming around the house trying to find a specific pen or pencil and wasting time. The second drawer should contain spare paper — lined, plain white, coloured and even some card to be used for projects. If there is a third drawer, this is where you should keep dictionaries, atlases and reference material.
- Make sure the desk is not facing the window because, trust me, that’s where the child’s attention will be. Rather have it facing a blank wall to provide as few distractions as possible.
- I have mentioned ‘distractions’ a couple of times and I would just like to discuss this a little bit further. Please bear in mind, a child cannot concentrate appropriately with the television on. I do know that many kids, particularly teenagers, argue that they need music on in the background in order to concentrate and funnily enough there is a body of research that agrees with this. However, this music should be classical such as baroque and preferably the CD should be kept specifically as the homework CD. The music is there as white or background noise and is not there as something to be listened to per se.
- Please make sure there is adequate lighting to complete the work by. Many people invest in desk lamps for this purpose, which is great but they can cast a shadow across the desk so ideally, there should be two desk lamps, one on either side of the desk, so the shadows counteract each other and provide good light.
- They should also be a set time to do homework. This does not have to be exactly the same time every day of the week but every Monday should be the same and every Tuesday should be the same, etc. Routine is incredibly important.
- Think about how you feel when you get home from work at the end of the day or how you feel when you’ve just finished completing a chore. The last thing you now want to do is start working and your child feels the same. When a child gets in from school, before they begin their homework they should be given a break. Provide a protein snack during this break to stop them from wandering away from the homework to find something to eat and to give them the required nutrients to get on with their work. This period of time is actually the ideal time to watch TV as it requires no attention from the child whatsoever and gives them a mental shut down before they start work.
- Make sure your child takes everything to do homework setting before they sit down and start. Time is wasted by walking through the house trying to find a particular book or piece of paper that they need.
- Regular breaks are very important while doing homework. Ideally, the child should work for 25 minutes, take a 10-minute break and then work for a further 25 minutes. Some may work well with timers to monitor how long they’ve been working but other children may simply become anxious with this, so test this out with your child first.
- It can be really daunting to sit down to a full page of maths sums or a science project, so teach your child how to break their assignments up into chunks. For example, they sit down and complete five maths sums, look over their spelling once, outline the idea for their science project and then take a break.
- Encourage your child to categorise their homework as fun or boring, easy or difficult, etc. and then let them alternate. Homework should be started with something that is fun and easy, as this provides the motivation to move onto a hard or boring task.
- With older children, you don’t actually need to sit with them while they complete their homework, but it might be an idea to pop past every now and then and just see how they’re doing.
- Make sure your child realises that there is no point trying to get on with a task that they don’t understand. Therefore, as soon as they don’t understand something they should come to you for help and if you can’t help them, hopefully you can point them towards somebody who can!
- Remember to occasionally give your child verbal feedback while they are working. When you praise them, be honest and precise, for example, “you answered that question very well.” If an answer is wrong, give them additional help and clues so they get the correct answer and then praise them for having got there.
I hope you find these tips useful. If you want some more information about this, please don’t hesitate to contact me and if you have any additional information that you feel might be useful to me, please let me know about it.