‘How can we conquer the homework battle?’

young boy hates doing homeworkQUESTION
Since my son moved into fourth class, things have become really difficult at home. He is getting a lot more homework this year and it has become a real battle to get him to do it. He is in bad form the minute he comes out of school as he knows he has to start homework. Then I have to sit with him during homework when he has several meltdowns saying he “can’t do it” or “hates it all”. It can take over an hour to do it, with me sitting over his shoulder.

It is all very stressful and it is affecting my two other children and can ruin our family routine. He can actually do the homework but he just doesn’t like it and finds it boring and gives out for the entire time. Last year was very different – he had less homework, and seemed to enjoy it more and he seemed more relaxed in school. What should I do?

As children enter the later stages of primary school, stressful nightly homework battles are a common problem for children and parents. This is mainly due to an increased academic workload and increased expectations from parents and teachers. Before looking at ways you can help your son complete homework in a stress-free way it is important to first put homework into context.

What homework is meant to be
In primary school, homework is meant to be a short period of home study that links the school curricula to home life and which encourages independent learning for your child. While sometimes homework can be a little demanding, it should never be stressful for a child and indeed the ideal is that it should be enjoyable and satisfying.

Once homework becomes boring and stressful it becomes counterproductive and damaging to a child’s learning. And once it becomes a constant battle between parent and child it becomes damaging to family relationships as well. At this point it is important to take steps to change the pattern.

Take a step back
In thinking how best to help your son take a moment to think about what might be at the bottom of the homework battles.
Is your son struggling with the content of the homework or the format it takes?
Or is he demotivated and bored and does not see the point of homework?
Is the teacher’s expectations for the homework too high or is the format of the homework not engaging for him?
Are your own expectations too high about how he does his homework?
Are you getting too involved in doing the homework with him?

It is worth taking time to discuss his situation with his teacher. He/she should give you an indication of how your son is doing in the classroom and how the homework might match this. There may be some scope to adapt the format of the homework for your son and to agree a system for how you communicate with the teacher about progress.

Change the homework routine
A good homework routine that matches your son’s and your family’s needs can make a real difference. Some children prefer to start homework straight away but some need a break and a snack first. Some need a quiet location away from the family and some need you to be nearby to provide occasional support.

Generally, a smaller amount of time doing homework well is better than a longer time struggling to get more done.

For some families, it works best to take homework out of the family routine altogether, by getting their child to attend a homework club after school. In these situations, the parent’s role becomes one of taking an interest and reviewing homework once it is done.

Agree the routine with your son
Sit down with your son and discuss school and homework with him and how it might be improved. Include his ideas and suggestions on how to create the best routine. Make sure that something rewarding follows homework, e.g. leisure or sreentime is only allowed after homework has been done.

To get a new homework routine started, you might consider a special reward to motivate your son, e.g. for completing 30 mins of homework he can gain a point on a chart (to be transformed into treat activities at the weekend). You can award him bonus points if he completes the homework in a jolly mood without shouting or moaning.

Change your role in supporting his homework
While occasionally parents need to directly support a child doing homework (eg when they ask for specific help), the goal is for the child to largely do the homework independently.

Your role as a parent should be to simply help them get started, check in occasionally and to review how they got on at the end. As you move towards letting your son take responsibility this might mean letting him take incomplete and incorrect homework into school for the teacher to review.

This takes you out of the stressful role of correcting his homework and instead allows you to be a positive “coach” praising what he has done well and allowing him to learn at his pace.

Focus on other positive learning
The benefits of formal homework for primary school children are largely overstated (and disappear if the homework becomes stressful or a battle). Other creative child-centred learning at home can be far more beneficial for children.

Put simply, spending 20 minutes reading a great book with your children or doing a fun quiz or crossword, or learning about baking or gardening together is far more beneficial than an hour of homework that the child finds boring and you find stressful.

Prof John Sharry, Irish Times Newspaper, October 2016. John writes in the Irish Times Health+ every Tuesday.
For information on John’s upcoming courses for parents see www.solutiontalk.ie