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How to End Homework Battles For Good
Homework as a Nightly Battleground
As a private tutor, I know from experience that homework time is one of the most stressful times in many households, especially those in which the child has a special need like ADHD. Perhaps this scenario seems familiar to you: The kids come home from school, cheerful, chattering and looking for a snack, you ask about homework, and boom! The power struggles begin. A happy, relaxed afternoon turns sour in an instant. According to an Empowering Parents poll, half of all parents report homework battles in their families. If that sounds like you, you're not alone!
To make matters worse, teachers are also giving much more homework than in the past. A 2013 article on Education Week reveals that high school teachers assign an average of 3.5 hours of homework per night, and middle school teachers assign slightly less at 3.2 hours a night. In a time when kids do not have enough time for imaginative play and fresh air, increased homework demands have left parents trying to enforce homework time with play-deprived, overstimulated kids.
As a tutor, I frequently get jobs precisely because parents cannot handle homework time with their kids. No matter how much they love their children, something goes badly wrong as soon as math books are opened. Parents suddenly lose the ability to parent with patience and feel overwhelmed with the responsibility to simply get the work done, often at a great detriment to their relationship with their children. In this Hub, I will offer a few strategies for making homework time more enjoyable. I hope a few of the techniques will be useful to you!
Change the Way You Talk About Homework
My first tip to end homework battles is quite simple, but it requires you to pay attention to your words. The key to this technique is a positive attitude - from the parent. When you talk about homework with your child, always use positive language rather than negative. For example:
"Charlie, if you don't get your homework done by 5pm, you can't go play at Andrew's house before dinner!" This is an example of negative framing. The second a negative word leaves your mouth, your child is primed and ready to fight and contradict you.
You can re-frame the same statement in a positive way by switching it around. "Hey Charlie, if you get your homework done by 5pm, you can go play at Andrew's house before dinner!"
When you choose to speak in a positive manner, you set your child up for success. One positive sentence also leads to another, so rather than counting down the minutes until your child fails - "It's 4:45, and you're not done! If you don't finish that math in 15 minutes, you can't play!" - you're able to encourage your child with praise. "Great job, Charlie! If you finish up your spelling in the next 15 minutes, you can go play, hooray!"
As adults, we tend to forget that children don't have a very good handle on two skills that are important when it comes to homework: time management and anticipating consequences for our actions. Parents know quite well how long 15 minutes is, what can be accomplished in 15 minutes, and what happens if, for example, you haven't showered yet but you need to leave the house in 15 minutes. Kids don't understand these concepts yet, simply because they haven't been alive long enough to practice these skills. Kids with ADHD need even more help structuring their time. Your kids are not ignoring you on purpose (most of the time!) but remaining focused on the task at hand is very difficult for kids with ADHD.
Using positive language helps kids feel good about themselves, and when they feel good about themselves they are more likely to listen to you.
Don't Ask: Tell!
I see parents doing this one all the time, and it hardly ever works out like the parents want. A child is sitting on the couch playing Minecraft on the iPad. "Are you ready to go get your hair cut?" the parent asks. "Nope!" replies the child. Now the parent is in a quandary; they DID give their child a choice, but what they really meant was, "We are doing to get your hair cut right now, so get in the car!"
Parents are told to give their kids choices so the kids will feel empowered. Choices are a great way to give kids some authority in their lives, but you should only offer a choice if you are willing to live with your child's answer! For a lot of parents, making a statement in the form of a question is just a habit, rather than something they do consciously. Children, however, are VERY sensitive to small forms of injustice ("My brother got 2 minutes longer on the xBox than me!" - cue meltdown!) so parents need to watch their questioning very carefully.
In order to cut down on arguments caused by questions, particularly when it comes to homework, make sure you do not offer a choice unless it's appropriate. I disagree with this article on Love and Logic, which recommends offering a choice about when children want to start their homework. Most of us cannot pull this choice off because it's impossible to get the child to abide by their own decision. Sure, kids say they'll start homework at 4pm, but... what do you do if they don't? Sometimes kids just need to obey their parents; not everything is a negotiation! Offering choices can make obeying more palatable to a kid, however; this can be a great strategy for encouraging kids to do things they'd rather not do. For example:
"After you finish your math, would you rather play a game with me or go ride bikes?"
"Once you kick butt on writing that paragraph, we can make popcorn or bake some cookies. Which would you prefer?"
This is also a great place to insert positive reinforcement. Praise your child as he or she does homework, even if it's at a turtle's pace. Keep praising when your child completes a task, and offer the activity of choice as a motivation.
You can, of course, offer choices during the homework session, but the actual homework is non-negotiable. You can ask if your child would rather start with math or spelling, but both need to happen and it's not a choice. You can see that making homework a choice - "Would you like to start that project on the life cycle of lobsters now?" - has the potential to turn into a serious homework battle. By watching your words carefully, you can avoid triggering the "it's not fair!" reflex of your child. Remember, though, to use positive language even when you're making a statement.
Manage Transitions Wisely
A transition occurs any time we switch between tasks. One of the best ways to reduce homework stress is by managing transitions wisely. By choosing when to do homework and how to transition into homework, battles can be greatly reduced.
Every child has a different tolerance for transitions. Some kids slide easily between reading a book, setting the table, walking the dog and playing a computer game. Others, particularly those with ADHD, have more difficulty. If you child gets deeply immersed in an activity and then snaps at you when you try to get their attention, your child probably has a hard time with transitions.
Certain activities make transitions easier, and others make them harder. It's pretty easy for a ten year old boy to transition from an after-school snack into an hour of Minecraft, but it's much harder to transition from Minecraft into defining 20 vocabulary words. Adults are pressed for time and always anticipating the next thing on the to-do list, and we forget that kids are not. Kids are living in the moment, and to have a parent suddenly approach them, brandishing a multiplication worksheet is very jarring.
Realizing this fact is half the transition battle, and the next step is to use transitions to your advantage. Some kids do well with coming home and immediately starting their homework while eating a snack. This is what parents usually prefer, because it is easier for them - for the parents. Other kids, particularly those with special needs like ADHD or dyslexia, need time to decompress from a stressful day at school. Things get tricky when kids, relieved to be doing something fun after school, need to start homework.
The best bet for a transition in this case is to start with something that's not too fun so the transition to homework is not such a challenge. Transitioning from watching TV or another highly stimulating activity to a math worksheet is a recipe for disaster. Transitioning from a quieter activity to homework is more likely to work. To do this, it can be wise to make a rule about after-school time. For example, you could make it a family rule that nobody uses electronics until homework is done. Remember to frame it positively, though! "Once your homework is all done, you may watch TV or play on the computer until dinner."
Parents can use any activity to set this rule, and it just depends on what their children like. If your child is a bookworm, you can make it a rule that they can read anything they want as long as their homework is done. If your child is motivated by playing with friends, make it a rule that going next door only happens when homework is done.
The transition strategy is not just for homework either; if your child regularly melts down during transitions, taking a look at what he or she was doing before the transition can lead to clues about your child's triggers. Once you know the triggers, you can take steps to avoid meltdowns during transitions.
Parents, Weigh In on Homework!
Are there homework battles in your house?
Homework Battles: You're Not Alone!
Parenting is hard work, and homework is not something that should cause undue stress. We all want the best for our kids, and we want the to do well in school... but we also want them to have happy childhoods without negative memories of adults getting on their case about every little thing. To sum up the three strategies discussed above,
- Do frame homework talk in a positive way. Do not take away activities as a punishment, but give them as a reward.
- Offer choices when you can live with the result. Do not offer a choice if you don't really mean it.
- Manage transitions wisely. Make family rules about what activities can happen before homework (the boring ones), and what activities can happen after (the fun ones!).
Homework battles are very common, and you are not alone! If you try implementing these strategies, I would love to hear about your experiences.
Most Homework Battles Occur in Families That Value Education
© 2014 hazelbrown