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Take the "work" out of homework

March 7, 2018

How many times have you struggled to help your child to complete their homework? With the business of life, multiple demands and the ambush of electronics wanting our time and resources, it seems impossible.

There are many reasons for struggling with homework, with the most common ones being:

  • Sensory overload or attention issues: a knock on the door, loading the dishwasher, siblings playing nearby, or conversations within earshot can inhibit the ability to complete assigned tasks
  • Learning preferences or differences
  • Poor executive function skills, which means struggling with the ability to plan, prioritize, or organize information and assignments

Here are 11 tips that can help with homework:

  1. Create a structure that works.

Timing is probably THE most important thing to consider. After school, some children may need some downtime but for others, there is no time like the present. Having the appropriate tools for completing the assigned tasks, such as worksheets, calculator, etc. at home also make homework easier to complete.

  1. Communicate with the school.

Teachers have a wealth of knowledge and ideas. If your child is struggling with a task, ask the teacher to tailor it to your child’s needs.

  1. Minimize distraction by creating or finding a quiet and uncluttered space.

  1. Give your child a healthy snack without added sugar, as sugar can often cause a spike and then a crash.

  1. Minimize sensory overload.

Give your child a break after school  - remember that they have been engaged most of the day. Find ways to calm your child – for example swinging is a way to calm the nervous system and organize the senses. For older kids, provide structure by having them to do chores, exercise, or read. Access to TV or gaming should only be a reward.

  1. Set a schedule.

Get your child to help you to decide when, where and what time homework begins and ends.

  1. Be available.

Help your child stay focused on the task at hand and be available to answer questions so that your child knows you are invested.

  1. Give your child some control.

Allow your child to choose what to start with. They can change it up from time to time - if you do math first today, do it second the next time.

  1. Break large tasks into smaller bite-sized pieces.

Try five minutes of math, five minutes of social, then back to math etc.

  1. Allow for breaks and movement.

Change of position, fresh air, and even short walks around the table can help bring back focus.

  1. Reward for success.

Let your child know you appreciate their effort and accomplishments. Verbal praise is very important for a child.

Final thoughts:

  • If you use the statement “I have told you 1,000 times”, consider that the problem isn’t your child but the way you communicate with them. Try asking them to look at you, explaining using different words, drawing it out, acting it out, or asking your child to repeat the instructions back to you. There are many ways to teach a concept to your child.
  • If your child is acting out and appears angry or upset, find out why. Do you remember how to play charades? It’s a bit like trying to guess what’s going on by the individual’s actions. Don’t guess with your children – inquire, communicate, listen to them. What’s going on in your child’s life? Maybe your child is anxious, missing a key concept, dealing with relationship issues at school, tired, frustrated by his lack of understanding, hungry, or worried about a friend.

Setting up a structure for homework can have many benefits. Not only can it help your child to understand how they learn, but also improve independence, encourage further study and curiosity, increase connection with caregivers, and develop communication with your child’s teachers.

Daniel Dannhauer, MA MFT, CCC

Community-Based Mental Health Therapist