Is “homework” the word that strikes dread into the heart of your family? Does it ruin your weekends? Do you find even your best intentions to keep your “positive parenting” in check as you start crumbling to dust as the sessions ends in tears (for everybody involved)? We do - regularly. So we’ve set out to find some strategies that will help us to arm our children with the tools they need to get through their homework with the most focus - and least drama - possible.
1. Be consistent with when and where you do it.
Sit down with your child in advance and agree on a time during the week when they will do their homework, in a place they will feel most comfortable. This time needs to be something they’re able to stick to, so look at the activities and commitments for the week and work out when homework best fits in. Perhaps they find it easier to tackle one subject a day throughout the week, or maybe they prefer to get it all out of the way on Saturday mornings. Of course, this will depend on their age and the amount of homework they have, but giving them agency over when it gets done will help them feel a sense of ownership and control, and increase their motivation.
Remember that while consistency is key, in this case, flexibility is also important. If they get invited to a birthday party during homework time, of course they should be able to go. The point is that homework - like just about everything else in life - should never be done in a panic at the last moment.
2. Remove distractions
Help your child by removing everything that will compete for their focus or attention. Turn off music and the TV, put your phone on silent, if there’s a tablet nearby move it out of their eye line, and if younger siblings are in the house, set them up with something quiet they can do at the same time so they don’t cause a distraction. While it’s true that only the child is doing homework, the whole family should feel part of the same mission, helping to create an atmosphere of calm that will help him or her to thrive.
3. Be “available” - but don’t hover.
Ralphie Jacobs, positive parenting expert and founder of “Simply On Purpose” recommends you let your child know that during their homework period you are available for any help they may need, and you make sure to stay nearby, but - crucially - that you are busy yourself doing something else. Perhaps working on your laptop or preparing food - anything that is quiet and not distracting but that will remove any impression of pressure or expectation as your child sets about their tasks. Your presence should reassure them that they are being supported, but keeping a small amount of distance shows you have confidence in them to complete the tasks on their own.
4. Have them write a “To Do List”
Is there anything more satisfying than ticking tasks off a to-do list? The chances are that your child will feel the same way you do about it. So before they start, have them write a to-do list and then tick off each item as they complete it. Just as it does for you, this helps to minimise overwhelm, and gives small hits of satisfaction which lead to momentum as goals are achieved.
5. Take breaks
Nobody should sit for long periods without getting up and taking a break - least of all a child. Work out through trial and error what the most productive time periods are for your child (it might be 10 minutes at a time, or it might be 40 minutes, depending on their age). Set timers and then have them take brief breaks so they don’t become over-tired or unproductive. During their breaks (which should also be timed), have them run once around the garden, drink a glass of water, jump up and down on the spot, or just zone out if they need to. If you help them stay consistent on their “productive minutes” and “rest minutes”, having them return to the task will get easier as time goes by.
6. Just admit defeat
Although nobody likes to give up, children aren’t robots - and neither are you! Sometimes when a task is frustrating, challenging, or causing upset, persevering can be the opposite of productive. If they’ve been at it for a while, their focus is sliding beyond reach, or you’re both feeling frustrated and upset, the best thing to do is “put a pin in it”, and come back to it another day or another time. Remember that no homework task is important enough for you to lose your temper with your child over, and there will always be another time to return to it with fresh eyes and a fresh state of mind.
7. Have a reward
Create good associations with completing homework tasks by setting a reward at the end of it. Agree in advance something your child will be excited about - this could be anything from going outside for a bike ride to choosing a movie to help them build a fort in the living room to agreeing to play a round of Twister with them (why is that the game they always choose?!). Homework is hard, and they deserve to feel rewarded for completing it. And so do you!
8. Stay calm
We’re all human and it’s inevitable that sometimes homework will go more smoothly than other times. Our truest role as parents is to remove as much of the drama from it as possible, and by following these simple strategies you can help to achieve this. Above all, try your hardest to avoid getting frustrated with your child - calmly leave the room if you need to. While they negotiate the challenges their homework throws at them, they need to know that you are safely in their corner, no matter what.
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