Getting a Positive Start On Homework

Homework…That seemingly endless battle that seems mostly to inspire anxiety, avoidance, annoyance and loads and loads of frustration. If your children are like so many others who find homework overwhelming, I’m sure you’ve experienced the tears, cries, avoidance strategies and many more frustrating or annoying behaviours that children can be so good at. Although I’m very fortunate to have two boys who don’t have difficulty getting their homework done, they can still feel overwhelmed at times. I know to count myself lucky, because getting homework done is one of the most common things our families working with us ask our help with. Spending time supporting parents with this challenge has given me a lot of insight into the daily battles of many parents and experience as to which strategies are successful at reducing the pain of homework.

This article is going to focus on how to start homework in a positive and successful way, and I will write some posts in the near future about more strategies for sticking to homework and coping with the frustrations that can come along with it. If you would like to receive a notice of when I have written these, don’t forget to join our newsletter in the form below. We do not send any spam and we do not pass on our email addresses to anyone. Alternatively, follow us on Twitter or Facebook and you should see our ‘announcement’ there.

  1. Prepare Yourself:

This is probably one of the most important, shortest and most forgotten steps you can take. It is very easy to jump straight from one activity (e.g. lunch) to homework, because we want to get it done. Unfortunately, when we do this, we are bringing with us all the “baggage” of the previous activity. We may have been frustrated with the mess at the table, flustered by the rush of the afternoon, annoyed by the war that broke out between the kids or any number of everyday issues. This step is really only about taking 1 moment (or more if you need it) to calm yourself down, let everything else go and focus on developing a positive attitude towards the homework. Our attitude towards the homework can go a long way towards helping our children calm and focus during homework.

Here’s how to achieve this: First, remind yourself that whatever just happened is just a normal part of parenting/daily life with kids and that the children will have forgotten it in a matter of moments. If necessary, remind yourself also, that although it may seem like it, they didn’t mean to be naughty, disrespectful, clumsy, lazy, careless or whatever may have happened. Next, take a few deep breaths and help yourself get into your calm place. Finally, remind yourself that it is important for you to be positive about homework (even if you are sick of it and have done it for 5 kids already) in order for your child to be positive about it. Even though these seem quite logical, we all have a tendency to not focus on these things. Keeping our focus on these can really help us maintain our patience going into and enduring the task of homework.

  1. Get Organised:

Another seemingly logical, but often overlooked, task is getting organised and prepared. Being fully prepared will avoid unnecessary interruptions which will interfere with the flow of the work. It will also ensure your child doesn’t have the opportunity to get off task by having to hunt down some necessary tool or “go to the toilet”. It can be hard to keep track of what you need to do to get prepared, but having a paper or mental checklist can be very useful. Here are some things we recommend you do/consider before starting homework:

Go to the toilet: ensure your child has recently been to the toilet before you start, even if they say they don’t need to go. Remind them that there will be no toilet breaks in the middle of homework time.

Have a drink or snack: You can choose if you would like to give your child a drink and/or snack before or during homework, depending on what works for your child, but ensure that this has been organised beforehand to avoid trips to the kitchen.

Prepare tools and materials: Don’t forget to have a quick check through to make sure you have all the pencils, rubbers, scissors, glue, paper and anything else you may need. Personally, I like to keep a separate pencil box for homework time and I check and sharpen pencils while my son is doing his homework, so that all pencils are sharp for the next day.

  1. Stay positive:

Homework is arguably one of the greatest stressors of most parents. This is primarily because it is a repetitive task, and most parents have several children with which to do homework (at this moment, I only have two children and I am already bored with homework). It can also raise the most emotive of feeling by children, and if your child has any regulatory or attention issues, this can make it much more difficult. It is important for you to “keep your cool”, but even more, to stay positive. Continue to count homework as a blessing that helps you keep on top of what your child is doing at school and how they are progressing. Before and during homework, remind yourself that this too shall pass and that this “battle” with homework will actually stand your child in good stead when he/she is older.

  1. Be Empathetic:

As much as we are soooo tempted to say “Just deal with it”, or “You just have to do your homework”, these aren’t particularly helpful to someone who is having a hard time. It’s a little like when you are so completely frustrated with something (say your child’s endless tears) and your husband or best friend turns to you and says “tough” when you are looking for a listening ear. Instead, remember that your child is experiencing his/her feelings intensely (children feel emotions very strongly). Help your child know that you understand how they are feeling by saying things like “I know you don’t like homework, so let’s do it as quickly as we can so that we can do X” or “I know this feels like a big job, but we will tackle it together”. Avoid minimising their feelings whenever possible (try not to say anything like “it’s not that bad” or “it’s only a bit of homework”). When you feel someone is not on your side (even if this is not true), you are less likely to be open to working with them.

  1. Setting boundaries

Children can find the task of homework particularly overwhelming when it seems like it will be a never-ending task. Setting some boundaries about how long they will work for can be hugely helpful in letting them see the end point. Smaller chunks will be useful, especially if homework takes longer, with a break in between. Telling your child “We will work on this for 15 minutes and then get a break” will help them see an end. Using colourful timers can be useful too (there are currently countless apps that will show visual timers suitable for children of various ages). Remember that the boundary doesn’t have to be set all the way until homework is finished, but can be set to the next “break”. Also, remember, if your child is taking a particularly long time on homework, you may need to talk to his/her teacher about what a reasonable amount of time is.

Another thing to think about is setting boundaries about what your child will or will not do during this time. For example, say something like: “We are going to work for 15 minutes and stay sitting and concentrating for that whole 15 minutes before our break”.

  1. Offer Incentives

Children really do work for rewards. In fact, even we work for rewards. The difference is that we can be more internally motivated and our “rewards” can be more subtle (for example, as much as I hate housework, walking into a tidy room makes me feel much less stressed, which motivates me to do it at least every so often!). For children, rewards need to be more concrete and obvious, but they don’t need to be “big”. There is no need to offer your child 15 minutes on the iPad for every 15 minutes of homework, or a chocolate bar for every day of homework done willingly. In fact, the more “big” rewards you offer, the more your child will get used to expecting such big rewards. Train your child to work for smaller and more intrinsic rewards by beginning and continuing with small, but desired rewards. Also, be clear to work these incentives in a positive way that offers your child control. Instead of saying “If you don’t do your homework, you won’t get to watch TV (or go outside or play with your lego)”, say “As soon as we are finished our homework, you will be able to watch TV (or …)”. This way, your child knows that his positive behaviour leads to a positive outcome.

Finally, remember: This too shall pass! We all hate homework, and doing homework with a child who struggles with homework can be doubly challenging. Take your deep breaths and remember that this will not be forever!

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