How to Help with Homework: Tips for Ending the Homework Hassle

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How the Nightmare Began

If homework time at your house involves screaming, cajoling, whining, crying, and complaining, all set around the dinner table to the background music of whiny younger siblings, noise from the television and the smells and sounds of dinner burning - take heed. You are not alone in wondering how to help with homework.

It is likely that this image of homework time was not what you had envisioned when you began your journey into parenthood. In your mind’s eye you picture yourself as a wonderful mother simply offering to help with homework – a noble and loving gift to your child. You are sitting near an adoring child with pencil in hand and a smile on his or her face appreciating your assistance and diligently applying themselves to their work. Perhaps, you remember times in your own childhood where you sat at the kitchen table while your own mother was cooking and testing you on your spelling words and all was good and lovely.

Unfortunately, your dreams of motherhood are crashing down with the reality of the nightly homework battle and, some days, even if you hate to admit it, you’re beginning to dread hearing the brakes on the school bus because you know the war is on.

Help for the Battle

Stories like yours are not uncommon. Many parents desire to offer this sort of help with homework, only to find themselves in a nightly battle with uncooperative and seemingly ungrateful children. Despite the fights, parents often believe that this scenario is the only possible option for helping their children succeed.

Fortunately, family psychologist, parenting expert and columnist John Rosemond has offered a step-by-step plan to turn homework time from a family battle to an individual’s success. In his book, “Ending the Homework Hassle: Understanding, Preventing and Solving School Performance Problems” (Andrews McMeel Publishing, 1990) Rosemond outlines a three-fold plan every parent can employ. Using what Rosemond calls the “ABC’s of Ending the Homework Hassle” parents can return the responsibility of homework to it’s rightful place, on the shoulders of the student, and begin to enjoy the after school hours and their children.

Re-learning the ABC’s

Here are the ABC’s of Rosemond’s approach.

A. - All By Myself - Children should do their homework in a quiet, private place away from noise and distractions. While the kitchen table might seem at first like a nice, flat surface for them to spread out their work, it is also a high traffic family center, and this is to be avoided. Ideally, a homework desk in the child’s room or another quiet out of the way area without distractions is ideal. With the child working independently in their own space away from the main activity of the home, the parent’s desire to physically be there to help with homework will also be reduced. This leads directly to Rosemond’s second point.

B. Back Off - This is often the most difficult step for parents. The idea of “backing off” means that the child should be doing their homework on their own without a parent hovering over their shoulder or sitting at their side. While this might seem contrary to the help you mean to be offering, you might be inadvertently sending the message “you can’t do this without my help.”

Rosemond suggests that the parent’s role is only as a consultant to occasionally help with homework, and only as needed. This means the parent is available to offer specific assistance such as explaining an unknown word or helping a child understand complicated instructions, but only at the child’s request, and only for a few moments. A consulting parent’s input should be brief and encouraging and should not offer the child a shortcut to completing their own work. If the question cannot be answered within about five minutes, Rosemond recommends that the child be redirected back to his teacher for further explanation, after all it is the teacher’s responsibility to ensure that the requirements are understood.

C. Call it Quits - Although many parents set a time for when homework must begin, few provide guidelines for when it must end. This results in what Rosemond calls the “homework marathon.” To end the homework marathon and offer your child a healthy view of how homework fits into the overall picture of the day, parents should set an evening deadline whereby homework must be completed. For example, if parents say that homework is to be completed by 8pm, then all homework is to be put away at that time whether it is finished or not. This teaches children good time management skills and might even offer them the possibility of a little family time between homework and bedtime.

Setting Up the New Rules

Now that you understand how to help with homework, you might be wondering about the best way to implement these changes with your child. The first thing to do is to decide on a quiet location for your child to work. Once this issue has been settled, gently let your child know that you have a new idea about homework time. Chances are they aren’t any happier about the fighting and cajoling than you are.

Begin by telling your child how capable you know they are. Boost their self-esteem by telling them how responsible and able you believe them to be. Then share with them that they are going to have their own work space. Describe to them the benefits of working in this space, continually emphasizing that this is a demonstration of how responsible you know they are. Explain how they won’t be distracted by their siblings and answer any questions they might have. With regard to the question of playing popular music while doing homework, according to Rosemond this is perfectly fine provided it does not interfere with their grades.

After explaining the space, let your child know that you are available to assist them if they need you, but that you are sure they are very capable on their own. Let them know that as part of the new plan, you expect all homework to be completed by a certain time each evening or it will be put away unfinished. Be sure that this deadline precedes their bedtime by about an hour so that they will have something to look forward to after homework is completed.

Loving Life

If all goes well, the new image of homework time might look something like this: Your child comes home from school and rather than handing you their backpack, as if it is somehow your responsibility, they carry it straight to their room. You follow and find out about their day. They share with you that they’d like to call a friend later in the evening and that they really need to get started with their homework to have it done in time. You offer to bring them a snack while they get started. You return with a healthy snack and find your child, pencil in hand, book open and concentrating on their work. You smile and see your child as the successful, responsible, independent student you always hoped they could be, because you know exactly how to help with homework from now on.