As a parent, the most frequent point of contention I have with my teen and tween is homework. As a school counselor, it is a frequent concern voiced by parents. Homework can quickly become a power struggle, turning kitchen tables into battlefields and consuming family time in the evenings. While there is no easy rule for how many minutes of homework a child “should” have each night, and some nights will have more homework than others, there are ways to help ease the burden.Getting to the Root of Homework Angst
I’m always sad to hear stories about children spending many hours every evening on homework. By the time I am contacted everyone is usually at wit’s end; the child is failing, the parent/child relationship has been damaged, and academic confidence has been shaken. Before things reach that point, it is important to figure out exactly where the problem lies, which typically falls within one of these areas: organization, learning/content, or power struggles.
It can be intensely frustrating when a child is chronically disorganized and seems to have no idea what has been assigned or when it is due. Time spent scrambling to organize only extends homework time. Sometimes there is the added frustration of having left supplies at school or having lost components as well. This instance is different from a child who does not understand class concepts. It can be a very slippery slope to argue that homework should just be dismissed if a child is showing reasonable content mastery on quizzes. In addition to homework reinforcing the content taught in the classroom, we ultimately want to equip our children with organization, time management skills, and a healthy work ethic.
Often organization challenges can be solved through teaching the child an appropriate and accessible way to track assignments. This can vary greatly for each child. Some respond to using a Google calendar to enter assignments, others use apps designed to track homework, and a great many benefit from returning to the old fashioned paper agendas. Most middle school children are unable to grasp the concept of time; an assignment due a week away can give the false sense of a great deal of time. A paper agenda can help students not only organize work but prioritize tasks and manage both academic and extracurricular time. Lastly it can be very useful to contact the classroom teacher early to determine where the breakdown in organization is occurring.
It is just as frustrating for a child who works to be organized but struggles to grasp the content being taught within a class. First, it is important to make sure the child is appropriately placed. This generation saw a rush to place kids into full day school at very young ages, especially if the child was a particularly precocious 4 year old. We often see students struggle in their middle school years if they are much younger than their peers. A huge amount of brain development and maturing occurs during puberty. It can take a while for very young students to catch up. If you have a young student, please keep this in mind and avoid comparisons between friends and siblings. A ten year old 6th grader will usually require a greater level of parent support than a twelve year old 6th grader.
I also hear from kids who complain that they get home and can’t remember how to do the work that has been assigned. Often parent help is not available due to schedules or subject level (I say that kindly, I can’t do Algebra either!). In these instances we want to engage the teacher and find out about the child’s classroom behaviors - are they socially distracted? Taking notes? Sleepy first thing in the morning? Comfortable asking questions? Once we can narrow down a disconnect, it can be easier to address.
When I was still teaching, I had a student we were considering for a possible math disability. I rearranged the order of my day at semester and discovered he could do math in the morning just fine, but now his writing was impaired. He was consistently failing whatever class was offered right after lunch. With further discussion, we found that he didn’t have a learning disability but an intolerance to lactose that had not been diagnosed. He was eating cheese and yogurt every day and his discomfort caused him to miss the entire lesson.
It is important to establish an arsenal of ways to get homework help prior to sitting at the kitchen table with a tearful child and children may need assistance in identifying sources for help. The teacher is, ideally, the first line of defense. Faith Lutheran uses a block schedule system, which allows a child to have at least one day before an assignment is due. This time can be used to seek support from the classroom teacher. Children should also identify a “buddy” in every class who they can text with simple questions such as clarification on classroom instructions. Faith also offers after school and online tutoring to assist with homework. Children may need help to identify what it is they are not understanding as many will avoid seeking help when they do not know how to verbalize what they don’t understand.
Homework can be the final frontier of family battles and a place where children can rebel and act out. While there are generally underlying family dynamics at play in this situation, homework becomes the focus for all family tension and arguments. Oftentimes I will see children who can easily show me how they find out their assignments or how they locate classroom materials go home and tell parents that they do not understand how to navigate these systems, creating frustration on all sides. If a power struggle is suspected, it is important to keep expectations as black and white as possible-missing assignments equal a predetermined consequence. These consequences should be established during a time when emotions are not running high and should be firmly established. It is important for parents and teachers to partner together to love the student while also maintaining accountability.
At Faith Lutheran we believe that students should have the opportunity to be well rounded and engaged in a variety of extracurricular activities. For this to happen students need to learn appropriate time management abilities. Middle school is a great time to learn and practice these skills, high school is a time to hone which strategies work best individually, which both prepare the student for success in college and beyond.
What are some strategies that work for your family during homework time? How have you partnered with your teacher and school in a way that helps your child get their homework done? Do you think there is an appropriate amount of homework? Let us know and leave a comment!
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