Monitoring homework can be a challenge. How do you strike the right balance when it comes to helping or prodding your child to successfully complete homework? Sarah Groves, a mental health therapist with the Executive Functioning Skills Building Program at Akron Children’s Hospital, offers some guidance.
If your child is stuck on a homework problem or assignment, how much parental help is appropriate?
I generally recommend that parents encourage their children to start homework independently. This is especially true for children who tend to whine or complain, prolonging homework. It is important to set a time to start homework that remains relatively consistent throughout the school year. This will hopefully create a habit for the child and, in turn, lead to less frustration when starting homework.
I also encourage parents to set accuracy goals when doing homework, such as checking work when the child has legibly completed five problems. Parents can also set the boundary that they will check work and help with difficult problems at the end of each assignment. This will encourage the child to independently problem-solve and self-regulate when feeling overwhelmed with a problem.
If a child is stuck on a problem, encourage them to look back through notes, homework or the book to find a similar problem to use as a guide. This may also be a good time to take a short break. Sometimes a break will help refresh, decrease frustration, and improve problem-solving abilities once she has calmed down.
During times when a child truly does not appear to understand and has attempted to solve the problem, it is OK to help work through the problem.
After homework is complete, should a parent review it? Should the parent point out mistakes and have the child make corrections?
It is good to review homework so that you are aware if your child is struggling in a particular area. Reviewing throughout may limit the frustration of having to correct many problems at the end of homework. If there seems to be ongoing concerns related to comprehension, a parent may choose to discuss additional supports with the school.
If homework assignments coming from different teachers together become overwhelming, demanding excessive amounts of time, should parents speak up?
There are various strategies, such as starting earlier in the evening and taking breaks throughout, that may improve time management and decrease frustration during homework. However, if there are ongoing problems related to your child’s comprehension of the material or ability to complete the work, talk to the teachers and explore possible problems or barriers. The child may need a hearing or sight evaluation or may fit the criteria for a 504 or individual education plan (IEP) to address learning disorders or ADHD-related concerns.
The value of homework has been debated a lot, and some schools and teachers have eased up. What do you think?
Research has shown that there is value to homework; it has been shown that the optimal amount of homework improves test scores and builds study skills. However, research has also shown that the benefits of homework peak after a certain amount of time, depending on the age and amount of time spent on homework.
It is important to have a good balance between school and life outside of school. Consider discussing the workload with the teacher if strategies to improve time management and frustration tolerance have been implemented and homework continues to negatively impact sleep and/or the ability to engage in enjoyable activities.
More about research on homework can be found here.
What other advice do you have for parents?
I encourage families to have a scheduled “homework time” that stays relatively consistent throughout the school year. I recommend no more than a half-hour break after school, with no technology during that break. Start as early in the afternoon as possible; attention, working memory and frustration tolerance all diminish as the day goes on. I also encourage families to keep a schedule during the summer that is similar to the evening schedule during the school year. Set a time during the summer that will be similar to the time that they will start homework during the school year, have the child turn off all technology and complete a chore, reading or short assignment. This keeps the child in the habit of starting “homework time” and reduces difficulty transitioning back into the school year.
Once homework has started, breaks throughout are good if your child is becoming overwhelmed or frustrated. Breaks should be 2-3 minutes and include some kind of motor activity (i.e., walk out to get the mail, get a snack, go to the restroom). If a child struggles to come back to homework after breaks, try switching assignments rather than leaving the table. This gives the child a break from a frustrating problem or difficult subject, and typically helps reset and refresh.
Set up a designated homework area. Make sure this area is distraction-free (or as distraction-free as possible) and has all the materials that may be needed during homework.
Set accuracy goals to encourage your child to give their best effort rather than rushing through work. Instead of saying, “You can have a break when you’re done with math” say, “You can have a break when you get five right in a row.”
Visually break work down into manageable chunks. You can fold the paper into thirds, or use a folder to cover part of the page. This can decrease the feeling of being overwhelmed and prevent them from focusing on upcoming homework problems.