Ending Homework Hassles
By Denise Morrison Yearian


Homework is an important component of a child’s educational experience. For many kids, it’s a given - they just do it without complaining. But for others, it’s a battleground, a place where war ensues every weekday evening. Even in well-functioning families, homework can be one of the hottest parent-child crisis buttons. So how can you, as a parent, keep the battle to a minimum and make homework a positive experience?




A child’s ability to be successful with homework begins with the value parents place upon learning. Success in this department requires helping your child develop essential homework skills, creating a working alliance with your child and his teachers, and learning to deal with common homework problems. Following are a few tips to help get homework done––without the battles. 
While asking about homework and helping out is an important part of guiding your child through his assignments, excessive involvement may stifle his ability to learn to work independently. Be available for assistance and feedback, but do not jump in too quickly to correct homework, or wait until the eleventh hour when, out of frustration, you end up completing his homework for him. Remember, the more responsibility you assume, the less responsibility your child will take. Hand over the reigns. This will give your child responsibility and ownership for his homework.
From time to time, kids will make excuses to avoid doing homework. While there may be times the excuse is valid, at other times it could be just a ploy to avoid the unpleasant. For this reason, parents should familiarize themselves with their child’s abilities. Then they’ll know if Junior is really struggling or just wanting to take the easy way out. 
One way to avoid homework hassles (and help your child become an independent learner) is to establish rules and routines. This should include a regular place and time for doing homework, as well as guidelines regarding TV and telephone usage.
Try to create a pleasant homework environment. For example, if you decide to work at the kitchen table, make sure it’s clean and that you have ample supplies within reach. You might even include a healthy snack or drink. Some children work better with quiet music playing or a window open for fresh air. Others are easily distracted and need absolute quite. Try to figure out what works best for your child and stick with it.
Guidelines regarding TV and telephone usage should be established from the very start. This avoids the potential of getting trapped into lengthy discussions and arguments when the phone rings or a TV special is on. While establishing these rules, remember that there may be a circumstance in which your child needs to call a classmate to double check an assignment. If this is the case, set a time limit on the call--five minutes or so. This should be ample time to write down any information needed. From time to time, a TV special may rouse your child's interest. If the special comes on during homework time, give your child the option of doing his work early, or offer to videotape the program so he can watch it at his leisure. Above all, be consistent with rules and routines. This avoids procrastination and lets your child know his boundary lines and your expectations.
From time to time, children feel overwhelmed if they have to complete a long-term assignment, such as a report or special project. As a parent, you can alleviate some of the stress by helping your child divide the work into bite-size chunks. For example, if your child has to do a book report and it’s due by the end of the month, set a date when he should have the book read, another date when the rough draft should be done, and another date when the final report should be completed. Do not nag, but follow up when the allotted dates arrive.
A lot of kids rush through their homework to get it over and done with. In general, this is not a problem if the work thorough and complete. But if your child is rushing through his homework and, as a result, makes careless errors, has sloppy handwriting or fails to pay attention to directions, it’s time to intervene.
Explain to your child that you want him to do his best work, not his fastest. Suggest that he underline or highlight important words or phrases in the assignment directions so he will remember what needs to be done. Also, encourage him to look over his work for accuracy.
Each night before the homework gets put into the backpack, review his assignments. Check for neatness and accuracy, as well as for interesting ideas and good organization. Encourage, but do not demand that all the mistakes be corrected. Remember, the goal of some assignments is creativity and original ideas, in which case spelling and grammar can be worked on at a later time.
If you suspect your child has made mistakes due to poor understanding, provide assistance. If you continue to see the same type problems cropping up, talk with the teacher or consider hiring a tutor.
If your child lacks the confidence to work independently, he may perceive himself as destined to fail and see others as having all the answers. If this is the case, spend time encouraging him, not only in the area of homework, but with other school-related activities. Emphasize your child’s strengths rather than his weaknesses. When you do review homework, start with what has been completed correctly before focusing on the revisions.
If you suspect your child is receiving more homework than he can handle, talk with his teacher. Find out how much time the assignments should take. Based on what you learn, set a specific amount of time for homework to be done. If finishing the homework continues to be a problem, return to the teacher and explain the situation. Perhaps it’s more than your child can handle. Teachers are often willing to make adjustments in quantity of homework assigned when they understand a problem exists. Above all, remember the importance of down time. Like adults, children need time to wind down from a busy school day, to think or simply rest.
In conclusion, as parents we want our children to get the best education possible. To achieve that goal, we must show them how to be independent, responsible learners. If we do the job right, education will continue long after their school days are over.

-Denise Yearian is the former editor of two parenting magazines and the mother of three children.