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Oregon Family Magazine

Nanny Connection: Beating Homework Dread

09/01/2009 ● By Anonymous
I am dreading the start of school because it means non-stop arguments with my son to do his homework. I am desperate and will do whatever you say to stop the power struggles.

Homework. The worst part of school for many kids…and parents! Since everything parents do (or don’t) say and do is role-modeling for their children, let’s start with your attitudes and beliefs about school. Do you communicate to your son that learning is fun? This is different than lectures about the importance of getting a high-school diploma. This is about being open-minded and curious about life, and particularly about your son’s life. Do you ask about his school day? Do you inquire about what he is studying? Do you offer help it’s needed? Even if school was hard for you, “acting as if” can be a good reminder to help motivate your son.

Research shows that parental involvement in their children’s school life has a positive effect. This may mean helping out with homework, volunteering in the classroom, and everything in-between. Children are usually proud to have their parents participate in school activities (going on field trips, chaperoning dances, etc.) and that unexpected visit at lunch can both make your child feel special and be an effective way of checking on problematic behaviors.

Let’s assume you are a positive role model, and homework is still problematic. Here’s a little hint: Kids can’t argue with their parents if their parents don’t argue back. When you argue with your child, you are stooping to their level; which is as if there are two children in the house and no adult to supervise. Not a good combination!

When you continue arguing you are also role-modeling that arguing is acceptable, which it isn’t. Easier said than done, but disengaging is the best way to stop the argument. It is impossible to argue with someone who is not in the same physical space. Walk away: go in your room, lock yourself in the bathroom, go out and sit in the car, go for a walk. The magic words, “And if you continue arguing with me there will be a consequence” can be very effective in helping your son think before he talks.

Now let’s assume you no longer engage in power struggles, but homework is still an issue. What part of homework is still “the problem”? Doing it, turning it in on time, or both? The biggest challenge I see with children transitioning from elementary school to middle school is homework. In middle school it becomes very important to not only do your homework but turn it in on time. Capable students have failed classes just because they haven’t turned in their homework. I remind them that it doesn’t count unless it is turned in on time.

To gain some organization around this processes - First your son needs to know his homework assignments and when they are due. Next he needs to bring his homework home every night (with the necessary books, etc.) and complete it. Then he needs to turn it in, on time. Where he is struggling most in this sequence may determine how best to help.

Does he lack organizational skills or not write down assignments? Maybe he needs a planner, and to be taught how to use it.

Does say he doesn’t have homework when he really does? It becomes your job to check his backpack/binder every day.

Do you have a predictable after school routine that includes doing home work? Most families follow something similar to: snack, homework, chores, and then free time if there is any time left. Homework is a requirement; free time is a privilege!

Does he say he doesn’t understand how to do his homework? Maybe he needs extra help - although daily homework (not reports or special projects) is usually a review of that day’s class work.

Are you willing to sit with him, assess his level of understanding, and help him as necessary? Does he do his work but not turn it in?

Most middle schools have an internal system of “homework checks and balances” where the student writes his assignments, the teacher checks his planner for accuracy, the parent signs off when the homework is complete, the teacher does the same when it is turned in, and the documentation is returned to the parent. Most middle-schoolers dislike this structure because it brings attention to them; but it can be very effective.

Equally effective can be an incentive program, where your son can earn daily points, stars, stickers (depending on age) for bringing his homework home, doing it and turning it in on time. These can add up to something larger on a weekly or monthly basis. Perhaps there is something (an item or activity) that is so important to your son that he is willing to do his home work so he doesn’t lose the privilege or he is able to earn more of the privilege by doing his homework. Some children are more responsive to earning programs, while others to losing privileges. Most important is to be consistent, and if your son is earning privileges, he only earns… You don’t take them away no matter how frustrated you get!

In some cases homework is a problem due to learning difficulties. Believe it or not, very bright children who are not adequately challenged may easily become bored and apathetic. “Homework is boring” may mean “This is too easy” or “Why should I do it if I already know the answer?”

Also, your son may have a learning disability, vision or hearing problem, or other disability which has not yet been diagnosed and affects his success in school. Having him evaluated by your pediatrician, the school, or a local counseling agency may reveal the problem, which when successfully treated could remedy the homework problem.

Hopefully you can make the necessary changes so you and your son can have an enjoyable and successful school year. Good luck!