Homework Tangles?

Submitted by Jody McVittie, MD

The school year is well underway and fall routines are settling in. What is the homework routine in your family? As a parenting coach and consultant to schools I often hear complaints about homework from both parents and from teachers. Each expects the other to take a little more responsibility for homework. Interesting isn’t it? Where is the student in all of this? What can we do to grow the student’s responsibility?

How the homework tangle starts. Adults want children to learn “good habits” and a work ethic. Often teachers (with some parent support) start giving homework when children are 5 or 6 before many of them have the ability to do the planning required to take responsibility for homework. Who “learns” what? I would argue that parents learn to get tangled in homework more than it teaches responsibility.iStock_000010363273Small

The purposes of “homework.” Let’s think a bit about why we have homework.
• To practice and gain more skill for things learned in class.
• To explore new ideas that come from things learned in class.
• To develop a practice or pattern of behavior and responsibility.
• Some teachers also want to teach families to work together.

Homework is not meant to:
• Make students hate homework or school.
• Incite conflict at home.

Some things parents can do:
• Work with your student to set up a place and routine for homework. Most students need time to play or relax right after school before embarking on homework.
• Remember that homework is their job not yours. Offer to be available to help when asked but remember it is your child’s learning so you are not in charge of correcting, fine tuning or even doing their homework. It is certainly okay to set limits on helping. “I can’t help after 9 PM.”
• Ask don’t tell. What is your plan for your homework tonight?
• Acknowledge that homework isn’t always fun. Paying bills isn’t always fun either.
• Avoid threats or punishment.
• Sometimes it helps if you sit down and do your paper work while your child is working.
• Have faith in your child and his or her teacher. Let them learn from mistakes.

Some things teachers can do to be more effective:
• Reframe and rename the task. The word “homework” carries connotations of drudgery and something that you have to do. Is it for practice? What if it was called home practice? Is it to explore or challenge thinking? Call it a home exploration or home challenge.
• Assign the “homework” to the appropriate person. In kindergarten and first grade you are really assigning the job to the parent. Tell the parents that you would like them to read to or practice math with their children. Most children are not old enough to follow through and pushing them to do it earlier than their brain can do it doesn’t help in the long run.
• When homework is not done, give responsibility back to the student without shame or humiliation. “What is your plan for getting this done?” Support the student by checking in about their plan.
• Remember that not all families have the skills to work together without conflict. Adding a project to that mix won’t teach or give the family the tools they might need.

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