Helping children with homework can get frustrating. Confusion combined with parental pressure often leads to tension, tears, and a fractured relationship. It doesn’t have to be so stressful. Here are some tips to take the drudgery out of the equation.
To eliminate last-minute car-homework headaches, carve out a dedicated chunk of time in your busy schedules. There’s no one size fits all solution: the best time is the one that works best for your family. Early risers focus well before breakfast, introverts tend to like the calm after a busy school day, and for many families the only option is after, or even during, dinner. Find a time that works and try not to let it take a backseat when something better comes along.
It’s a good idea to make homework a habit even if your child is too young for “real” homework. Building it into your family’s schedule at an early age means he’ll be less resistant (read: it’ll be easier to enforce) as he grows up. Many preschoolers will sit to glue googly-eyes or practice cutting, and won’t know enough to complain if you call it homework versus crafts.
If your child is old enough to protest and you’re exhausted just trying to get him to the table, make his favourite activities off-limits until the work is done (or until a set amount of time has passed). In our house screens and hockey are the ultimate motivators, but LEGO and Play-Doh work well too.
Once you’ve tweaked your schedule, have a conversation about ownership and responsibility so that your child doesn’t feel blindsided by any new rules. Make sure he understands that you’re happy to help and will repeatedly explain difficult concepts as long as he’s making an effort.
He has to own his homework and you have to let him: showing off your long division skills makes no difference to his future or self-esteem and could drive a wedge between you—especially if you keep insisting that it’s easy. Stay nearby so you can help if needed, but keep busy doing other stuff (hello dinner prep) so your child isn’t stressed by your hovering.
It’s okay to let him struggle, he’ll feel even prouder when he finally gets it, but step in if he asks for help or you see he’s getting frazzled. If he forgot or, worse, lost important papers, books, or project components, resist the urge to solve his problem. Be supportive and empathetic but by no means agree to talk to his teacher. If anyone needs to request an extension or explain that the dog ate his homework it is certainly not you.
Homework time should be as relaxed as possible. Try to keep it casual and, even better, fun. Low music is fine if it’s not distracting, and a snack will help get those neurons firing. He needs to focus, which means you need to find a craft (AKA homework) or engaging toy for siblings and turn off all the phones.
Trying to work through too much frustration can backfire, so if you’re both losing patience, it’s probably time to take a break. This way you’ll be able to keep your words encouraging and avoid letting any frustration you might be feeling come out with a critical tone.
Schoolwork will be more relevant, and therefore more enjoyable, if you work it into everyday conversation. My children are particularly chatty when we walk anywhere together, so it’s a perfect time for my preschooler to practice sounding out words (on license plates and signs) and to challenge my older children with math problems relating to time (planning our evening) or fractions (divvying up the snacks in my bag).
To earn bonus points, turn homework into a family affair by challenging yourself with a new hobby like an instrument or foreign language. When adults become students it teaches children that we don’t automatically know everything, and we have to work hard, too. If you embrace learning as something fun that you enjoy and take pride in, it will help your child to develop the same open mindset. He will particularly love it if you pick something he’s good at, so that he can be the teacher whenever you need help.
If you try this approach and things don’t improve, take some time to realistically reassess. If doing schoolwork together puts a real strain on your relationship, maybe you aren’t the best person to be on homework duty. Your spouse, an older sibling, a high-school-aged neighbour, or a tutor could be a better fit. Additionally, if your child is working hard and simply can’t keep up, it might be time to speak to his teacher. There are a number of possible explanations—maybe he needs glasses or maybe the workload is too much, but allowing the situation to continue will shatter his confidence—making it difficult for him to develop a love of learning. And more difficult for both of you than it needs to be.
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