Our 4 Step Homework Survival Strategy

~by Allison Andrews, PsyD~

Homework is frustrating even for bright children without the right skills.About this time of year, parents and kids are coming into our office with homework stress.

Parents are worried and upset.

It feels like a lot is on the line when a kid struggles with homework.

First I have to tell you a secret.  I am not the biggest fan of homework.  Personally I would rather my kids run around outside after a day of sitting still and working hard.

But homework is a reality AND in fact teaches kids a lot about organization, getting things done and goal setting and advocating and asking for help.

Homework, at its best, is a chance for children to begin to understand how they work best and what kind of support is most helpful for them.

I am not sure how it much homework actually contributes to the learning of content (at least the way most schools seem to do it). In fact some research suggests that when it comes to homework, less is more. But that is a blog post for another day.

Kids get homework and we as parents need to figure out how to help them without adding to the stress.

Here are four ways you can help:

1. Focus on developing structure and systems to help your student get things done.

This means create a reasonable routine that stays mostly the same each week.  This is especially helpful for kids with ADHD, Autism or learning disabilities having concrete reminders that support structure and routine is often very important.  All kids though, benefit from learning about how to structure and organize their work.

Maybe you sit down might with your kid at the beginning of the week and map out a plan of attack.

White boards, reminders, checklists and other systems that help increase organization are typically very helpful.

Or maybe you hang back and just let them know you are available when and if they need some support with a bigger or more complicated project.

2) Don’t correct the homework or comment on the actual work (unless you have a very explicit understanding that your child needs and wants that).

Often this leads to unnecessary and even harmful conflict.

STOP WORRYING if they are not getting the right answers. Let that be the teacher’s job.

Instead, teach them that they can identify a problem and ask for help from you or (even better) from the teacher.  Teach them that perfection is not the goal and they are not supposed to know everything and get it right on the first, second or even third try.

This is teaching them how to advocate for themselves.  This is teaching them that not knowing and mistakes are a normal part of the process of learning.  Even a third grader can put a star by a math problem and have a conversation with their teacher about it.

This lets your child know that you are less concerned with them always getting the correct answer and more concerned about what they do when they have a problem.

Problem solving and advocacy are  invaluable skills.  They are key factors in helping all kids, succeed. Teach them how to identify a problem and look for support and solutions. Teach them how to let a teacher know they need help.

3) Help your middle or high schooler work work smarter not harder.

When I worked in college counseling settings, this is what we taught students, often considered to be the best and the brightest: work smarter not harder.

Make careful choices about where to put your energy.  You may not have the resources to put 100% effort into every task. That is ok.  Think carefully about what each project truly needs.  For example, some texts can be skimmed.  Some need to be read carefully. Some work needs our undivided attention, some can be done with a video or music playing in the background.

That is making smart, measured choices about your internal resources.  Remember, this is about organization and  priority setting.

In other words give them permission to make choices and give them permission to slack a little.  When you think about how you work best in your job or at home, this is probably what you do too.

4) Let your child know that you are available and willing to be helpful.  Really listen to what they say they need.

It can be a tricky thing to figure out how to position yourself so that your child feels supported by you but also has enough room to problem solve and advocate for themselves.

When they do make mistakes, or get a bad grade, or fail a test don’t let your anxiety and worry dictate your response.

Parents worry a lot. It is part of our job.  But it helps to keep the big picture of your child in mind.

No one is perfect and lifelong success is tied, NOT to our grades, but  to how we handle adversity.  Getting distressed about a poor performance is futile and counter-productive.  It adds to the enormous amount of stress some of our kids are under.  Help them learn how to deal with stress by example.  Everyone can learn how to better problem solve, self advocate and work to keep the big picture in mind. Do you still lose sleep over your US History grade in high school? I sure don’t. Let’s work together to help our children learn life skills, develop emotional intelligence and their success will certainly follow.