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Homework strategies that really work - no more homework battles

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Written by Vera C. Last updated on .

young girl doing homework at a table

Is your child refusing to do homework, or crying during homework? I can completely relate. We had a lot of these problems with my youngest, and now he is finally drama-free. He was struggling with homework long enough that we had plenty of opportunity to try different strategies and figure out what worked and what didn't. What works for your child might not be the exact same approach that worked for mine, so I'm going to give you all the strategies we tried. This gives you the best help possible, since it means you'll get a lot of options.

First of all though, I want to cover how it probably feels for your child when they come home with homework. When you think about it, it's not surprising that he or she is upset at the idea of homework. Then I'll go over practical tips to ensure that your child does the homework, even if he or she hates the idea of it. Yes, it's possible. No more homework battles!

Why it's normal to feel upset at the idea of homework

Imagine you finally finish a long day of work where you're expected to master lots of new skills. Your day hasn't gone all that smoothly either - so many new things to remember. Finally you can go home. But the minute you arrive and are looking forward to relaxing, you're reminded that you need to do more stuff for your job. Can you imagine how upset you'd be?! It's not surprising that so many kids have homework anxiety.

You as the parent are allowed to sympathize with your child - but he or she still needs to do the homework

You don't have to buy into the idea that homework is a great thing. Your only job is to help your child see it as manageable. So promote homework as being part of the school or teacher's rules and that it is fair. It's fair because everyone in the class is expected to do it. So no matter what approach you take from the ones I mention below, start off on the right foot by sending that message to your child. Here's how.

Throw the teacher under the bus

No, don't literally throw the teacher under the bus! But you need to make it clear that this expectation is coming from teacher and the school (not from you) and that it is actually fair. Ask, don't tell. Here is an example script:

You (talking to upset child who is refusing to do homework): "Who is in charge of the class? Is it Mike, Mom/Dad, or Mrs. Smith?"

Mike: "Mrs. Smith". (If the child says Mike! Or Mom! just reply "well, I bet you wish it was [who he said] but we really know that Mrs. Smith is in charge of the class".

At this point, you and your child should be in agreement that the teacher is in charge of the class.

You: "So when it comes to math class [or whatever homework subject your child has], Mrs. Smith's rules apply. Mrs. Smith says we do homework for math. And it's fair. Everyone gets math homework, right?" At this point, you and your child should be in agreement that everyone is getting math homework.

You: "So your friend James from class, he got one of those worksheets too, right?"

Mike hopefully agrees.

You: "Would it be fair if James did his math homework, Sophie did her math homework, all the other kids in the class did their math homework, but you didn't?"

Hopefully Mike says no it would not be fair.

You: "So for it to be fair, you need to do your homework too. Everyone else in the class has to do it, after all."

See what we did there? You don't need to convince your child that homework is important - that's a really hard argument to construct anyway, especially if you're trying to convince a kindergartner. You only need to make the point that homework is a requirement made by the person in charge of the class (the teacher) and that it's fair because everyone has to do it.

Sympathize with your child's current situation

Being understood helps, at least from your child's point of view. So next say something like "I know you are ready to play and you don't want to do homework. But you still need to do the homework. Let's make some changes with how we've been doing homework. That might make it a bit better." Then go with one of the solutions that I give below.

Your child is going to be more open to these ideas if you're proposing it as a new change, even if it's not that big of a change compared to what you were already doing anyway.

Strategies for how to motivate your child to do homework

Pick one of these options here. These homework rules are reasonable and importantly, allow your child to have a snack and decompress before doing homework. If the option you choose doesn't seem to work out that well, don't be deterred. Give it a few days for your child to get used to it. If it still doesn't work out, try one of the other ones.

  • Snack and then do anything you want, even screen time, until 4.30pm (set an alarm) then start homework. Or
  • This works well for your social child: the child can't have screen time or play with friends IRL until homework is done, but can do anything else e.g. read, eat snack, do an activity without screens, etc. Any homework not done by dinner time needs to be started immediately after dinner. Or
  • If your child doesn't like doing homework in a big chunk, let them do it as they wish with breaks any way they want until after dinner. Anything not done then needs to be completed in 1 chunk, no breaks, after dinner. Or
  • Snack first, then homework, then anything else (this is my least favorite because it's way too much sitting still at once). Or
  • Let your child come up with a plan immediately beforehand when they come home - this plan can vary day by day depending on homework. The catch is, they have to tell you the plan first before they begin, and they have to stick with it. The plan has to realistically allow for completion of the day's homework that day. For example, if your child has multiple challenging worksheets, it's not reasonable to say they'll do it in 15 minutes before bedtime.

How to make homework feel more manageable

Start with the easiest item first

While we as parents might feel comfortable tackling the toughest item on our own to-do lists first and knocking it out of the way, this can backfire for kids. Instead it's better to set them up with a feeling of success, the feeling that they can do this.

So if your child starts complaining about homework, even after picking one of the strategies above, just ask him or her what the easiest worksheet is that they have today. Even if they say it's all really hard, have them try to tell you what the easiest one might be. Then have your child start with that item.

Set your child up with what to do if they get stuck

Your child will be much happier about homework if he or she can handle what to do when stuck. Much of my child's problems came from the fact that he couldn't get un-stuck by himself and would instead sit staring at the worksheet. If your child gets frustrated with homework, this could be a big cause of it.

Explain to your child that getting stuck is something that happens to everyone at some point, but they need to have the skills to un-stick themselves.

Options of things to do when they get stuck:

  • Leave that question for now, move on to another question (or a different subject), come back to it at the end
  • Have a quick look at the textbook or the online learning material for that topic, it will probably jog their memory of what they did in class about it
  • Ask a parent for help

When the child is stuck, they should pick one of these action items and do it.

Explain that knowing what to do when stuck is going to save them a lot of time and get their homework done faster instead of staring at the question and stressing out.

Don't help unless you're asked

It's not your job to "rescue" the child from the homework. That said, you should help point them in the right direction if they ask you. By that, I don't mean doing it for them, I mean just showing them how to do it without answering that particular homework question for them. In the case of math, you can show a worked example of the same type of problem but with different numbers, explaining the steps verbally to your child along the way. This way they still have to do the question themselves, but now they know how it would be done.

But wait for them to ask you. If your child starts getting upset and is crying during homework, gently remind him or her "I will help if I'm asked. So far, no-one has asked me for help." There are other ways of saying this so just use the phrasing that works for you. Your child screaming, crying or yelling about homework is not a request for help, although it may be understandably an outlet for their emotions. As long as they're not hurting anyone I'd recommend letting them get their emotions out.

I found I had to make the statement almost daily to my child that if he needed my help, he must ask for it, and that him yelling "I hate homework!" did not equate to a request for help. In the long term, this worked really well.

Institute a family work priority system if you haven't already

Make homework seem more manageable and palatable by reminding everyone that "anyone doing work in this home gets priority over anyone doing play". So if one child is doing homework and someone else is watching TV in the same area, the person watching TV has to either stop or keep the noise down really low until the homework is done.

You can reinforce the priority system by saying something to your homework child like "You have priority in this house right now because you are doing homework." This means if 2 kids come to you with questions, the child doing homework gets helped first, and you will tend to the other kid after you've answered the homework kid (assuming it isn't anything critical, the child is not hurt or sick etc). Of course, the other kid gets priority when he or she is doing homework, so it's fair. It's all about work having a higher priority than play in your house rules.

Conclusion

It's not your job as a parent to explain to your child that homework is a good thing. You only need to show that it's a school requirement and that it's fair because everyone has to do it.

Pick from any of the after-school rules for homework that I gave earlier on this page.

Also, follow the tips I gave above for making homework more manageable.

You won't see changes overnight but things will get much easier for your child (and yourself!) when you follow this homework guide. It's wonderful when your child gets their homework done with minimal opposition and drama. Homework battles will be a thing of the past!

You can also make their school day go more smoothly when you pack these school lunch ideas for picky eaters.

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