10 Steps to Fewer Homework Meltdowns

It’s an all too familiar scene for many families.

Homework overload. Exhausted kids spending too much time on homework  – or doing everything but homework. And stressed-out parents who just want it done.

Amidst the ongoing debate around homework (how much is too much, how long should it take, is it even necessary) lies the harsh reality that it’s still assigned in 99% of schools and needs to be done.  I’ve written about why I think homework is important. Now, I’ll share ten things you can do to help your family avoid those dreaded homework meltdowns.

Steps 1-3 are proactive ways you can create a positive atmosphere around homework in your family. Steps 4-10 are strategies you can use to help your child stay focused.

  1. Talk to your kids about homework – Remind them why it’s important and reinforce this message throughout the year. When kids understand that homework is a priority in your family, and that it needs to be finished every night, they’re more likely to do it without a hassle.
  2. Honor homework time in your home. After kids reconnect, play and process their day, create a homework hour in your house. Turn off electronic distractions. While older students might prefer to do homework in a quiet room away from you, younger kids may not be ready for that. Sit them at a central counter or table to do their work while you do your work.
  3. Stock a homework basket, caddy, or shelf with all the supplies your kids will need. This eliminates excuses and lots of up and downs that chip away at time. Keep pencils sharpened, glue sticks closed, and staplers filled. It also helps to stock pencils, poster board, index cards, and writing paper.
  4. Do regular check-ins. When you check up on your child’s progress, rather than him coming or calling to you every other minute, he’ll focus more on his work rather than getting you to his side. If your child is 7, tell her you’ll do a check every 7 minutes; if 8, do an 8 minute check.  This also lets kids know you’re paying attention and helps to build their independence.
  5. Split it into sections. If your kids get overwhelmed, help them break their homework into parts. Separate it by subject or section so they can see each part and complete them one at a time. If they put each section back when it’s finished, they will see themselves making progress.
  6. Stay neutral. It’s tough to stay unemotional when you have feelings about certain subjects, but it’s important to try. Some moms have a tendency to downplay their abilities in math and science. Likewise, dads may relegate English work to moms. Try not to convey messages that pigeonhole gender and subjects. It’s also helpful to stay calm and positive when your child starts to get frustrated.
  7. Guide, don’t do. Resist giving your children the answers. Instead, ask a question that will lead them to the answer. Or take a “lets figure this out together” approach. Teachers need to know which students understand the curriculum and which need a reteach. Show your child one of the many online resources available now in math, science, English and more. You’ll find lots of them (and the answers!) in The Parent Backpack resource section.
  8. Take breaks on the downhill. Some 4th graders can sit for 40 minutes and do homework; most cannot. If you teach your children to take a break after a hard part, or when they come to an easier section, they are more likely to get back to the work quicker. It’s counter intuitive, but it works.
  9. Communicate with the teacher. The recommended amount of homework is usually 10 minutes per grade, with first grade at 15 minutes. Most teachers appreciate a heads up if your child is struggling with the amount or level of homework. Send a short email with your concern or jot down a note on the homework. Letting the teacher know it was done with help, or he did not understand the work is key so your child gets the needed reteach.
  10. Make connections to what your kids are learning.The more ways a child sees and hears information, the more likely she is to retain it. If the homework is on measurement, encourage kids to measure toys, their rooms, or siblings. If he is studying space, visit a planetarium or take out a library book about an astronaut. More connections to real life = deeper learning.

If you can do these ten steps on a regular basis, you’re likely to find a quieter home at homework time. It’s not always easy, but it’s doable. For some guidance on how to handle those long-term homework assignments, or that daunting school project, this post may help you. Next week, I’ll share tips on helping your kids get organized