According to a survey by Public Agenda almost half of all parents of school-age students said they have arguments involving tears or yelling with their kids about homework. And one third of parents admit those school assignments cause repeated kid meltdowns. There's been some controversy lately about homework that some say isn't necessary, assigned by an administrative policy that's trying to make the parents feel the school is serious about education, or being sure their attendees pass standardized tests. Research says that the right kind of homework assignments enhances children's learning as well as helping them acquire the essential skills for success in school and life (such as organization, self-pacing, problem solving, internal motivation, concentration, memory, goal setting, good old "stick-to-it-ness") and don't forget, they might learn something!
So here are a few tips to help parents weigh the battle versus the learning. The key is a bit of organization from the start.
Make homework mandatory, not a choice.
From the beginning maintain a firm, serious attitude about homework. Your kid needs to know that homework is not an option. Enforce the "work before play" rule.
Your role is guider, not doer.
While you need to make sure they understand the concepts and are capable of the assignments, once they do, step back! Use the mantra: "Never do for your child, what your child can do for himself." It may take a bit of adjustment, but hang tight until you reach the desired change: independent, self-motivated learners.
Know the teacher's expectations.
Be clear as to expectations and homework policy so you are all on the same page. If your child is in middle school she probably has a number of teachers, so you will have to do the same query per teacher. Many teachers prefer an email query- find out how the teacher prefers to be contacted. Most important: Find out on an average, how long should the homework take per night? That answer will help your determine if your child has too much work, is a procrastinator, has a learning disability or lacks study skills. Talk with your child so he knows you are not only aware of those expectations but support them.
Develop a weekly homework reminder.
Teach your child to create a simple reminder of daily or weekly assignments as well as a long-term projects and reports. A white board or chalkboard is preferable because it is reusable. With a permanent marker list the days of the week or month and then note regular daily or weekly assignments (Monday: sharing; Wednesday: library; Friday: spelling test) as well as practice dates, scout meetings, tutoring, etc. Use a different color to represent each kid (John is blue; Sally is green). The goal is for your child to be able to do this on her own.
Create a special homework spot.
Involve your child in the selection and stock it with necessary school supplies. It helps your kid get organized and saves time wasters: "I can't find a ruler!" The general rule is the younger the child, the closer that spot will be near you. Put the computer in a place where you can carefully view what your child is doing online. Background noise from TV is distracting. Turn it off.
Set a routine.
Select a time that works best for your kid to do his--after school, before dinner, after dinner--then stick to it. Ask your child for his input and do try to accommodate his schedule. A set and predictable schedule helps defray the battles and gets your kid on a routine. Drawing a clock face of the set time helps younger kids. Set up a rule, "Homework first, then play."
A Columbia University study found that praising your child's work effort (not inherent intelligence "You're so smart") stretches persistence, develops a positive mindset and increases grades. And restrain the urges to correct all his errors or focus on the mistakes.
Teach study skills.
Usually the biggest reason for those homework battles is that kids don't have study skills. So slowly make sure your child has those skills.
Make a list of what needs to be done in order of priority. He then cross each off as done. A young child can draw a different task on paper strips then put them in the order he plans to complete them, and then staple the packet together. Each time a task is finished, your child tears off a strip until no more remain.
Divide the assignment into smaller parts.
Breaking up homework into smaller chunks is often helpful for kids who have difficulty sticking to a task or seem overwhelmed with an assignment. Just tell your child to do "one chunk at a time." Gradually you can increase the size of the "work chunks" as your child's confidence increases.
Respect learning style.
Tune into how your child learns and encourage it! Visual: Draw pictures, color code, Auditory: Hears it, plugs in music to tune out sound, hums as he reads, says words out loud. Kinesthetic: Moves - so don't stop him. If your child has trouble focusing, then suggest he work in 20 minutes bouts then take a quick refresher break.
Do the hardest first.
Teach your child to do the hardest homework assignment first. It takes the most concentration (which is usually at the beginning of a study session) and the longest time.
Once done, establish a routine that she immediately puts the work in her folder or binder placed in her backpack and set by the door to find the next morning.
Set a consequence for incomplete work.
If you find out the homework isn't getting done and done with the quality you expect, then announce a consequence. For instance, if work isn't finished by a predetermined time (ideally, the same time each night), your kid knows he will lose a desired privilege either that evening or the following day.
Stay in touch with the teacher
especially if you see your child is struggling. Consider a tutor! When you see your child struggling, homework becomes an ongoing battle and your relationship with your kid is taking a dive), your child continues to fall behind despite homework efforts, then consider a tutor. Consider a high school kid or even retired teacher. Then make a plan with the teacher so your child is being tutored in exact needed areas.
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Dr. Michele Borba is the author of over 22 books including the upcoming Big Book of Parenting Solutions. She is a leading educational consultant, national parenting expert, contributor to iVillage, adviser to Parents magazine, regular guest on NBC's Today Show, and mom of three.