Dr. Cindy Taylor

Clinical Psychologist

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Home Homework Tips

Homework Tips

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Homework is a huge battle for many families.  Wailing and gnashing of teeth is the norm for both children and parents on most days:-)  This is particularly true when the child has an attention problem, or is in an educational environment that is too advanced or demanding for the student.   Let's face it, every school is not a perfect fit for every kid.  As a parent, you work hard to make the best opportunities available for your child, but sometimes they are unable to take full advantage of them.  Here are a few hints that will make things smoother at homework time...

Let's start at the beginning... Is there any homework, do you know what it is, and did the child bring home the required materials?  Some schools have the homework hotline, or a website where parents can view the assignments, grades, and upcoming tests.  This is really helpful when the teachers keep the system updated properly.  Otherwise, things can easily be forgotten, lost, or written down wrong.  It is good to be in email contact with the teachers or to meet other parents in the class so you can call back and forth to get homework and verify assignments.  Another good strategy for kids who tend to be disorganized or forgetful is to keep a second set of textbooks at home.  This usually elimates the need to drive back to the school and get things.

Constantly confroting your child about low grades or missing assignments will put them in a position to begin lying to you just to avoid the confrontation.  Many children need help with organizational skills.  Parents often tell me that they know the child did the homework because they checked over it, but the child forgot to turn it in when he/she got to school.  There can be a "homework folder" with a pocket on each side.  The Right side can be for TO DO, and the Left side of the folder can be labeled DONE, COMPLETE, for homework that needs to be turned in.  So, we don't have to look all through the backpack every night.  Everytime an assignment is given, it should go in the right side.  Likewise, at the end of the day, there should not be any papers in the DONE side, because all the work should have been turned in.  Some kids respond well to things that are different colors, such as the green folder for TO DO and the Purple for DONE.  Find a strategy that works for your child, and help them until they learn to do this independently. 

Another strategy is to help your child get everything packed up at night, in the right place in the folder, and then to have a central, designated place for the backpack containing the homework.  This could be a table or corner right by the door that you will see when you are ready to leave the house, so everything can be all together and ready to go the next a.m.  

Children with ADHD have trouble consistently using a planner or agenda to write down their assignments.  One of the issues here is consistency, and the child may write in the planner one day, but not the next.  Many kids say they "just try to remember it", keeping it in their head, but this is usually not an effective strategy.  For the child who does not like to write things down, perhaps there is a recorder function on the phone and they can simply speak the assignment into the phone after class.  Another option would be to text the assignment to you, or to their email address so they will have it later.  Many teachers are willing to take the time to check with your child and verify that he/she has written down the assignment correctly after each class period if you explain to them that your child is having difficulty with organization. 

The homework area is also important.  Try to find a clean, neat, well-lighted area for your child to work.  It should be quiet and free of distractions.  Believe it or not, some kids actually DO pay attention better with background noise, such as a fan or radio.  However, I have never heard of a child who works better with younger siblings bothering him or with loud TV noises in the other parts of the house.

For younger children, it is a good idea to help them get started, reading the directions with them and dong the first problem or two just to make sure they know what they are doing.  Getting started is one of the biggest problems for ADHD kids.  Using a reward strategy usually works well.  "When you get your homework finished, you can play."   Children with ADHD also have trouble seeing the big picture, and often don't know exactly where to start or how to break down larger tasks.   One way that some kids with ADHD compensate for this is by waiting until the last minute to begin a task.  In this way there is a panic or adrenalin rush which heightens their attention to normal levels or higher so that they can actually focus.  I know that this is maddening for parents because the child has been given 2 or 3 weeks to complete an assignment, and only begins working on it the night before it is due.  Some of this problem is simply due to the child's brain chemistry and can be corrected through medication.

  • As a parent, it is important to evaluate the work your child has been given.  Make sure the time spent doing homework is appropriate for the age and grade level of the child.  The rule of thumb is 10 minutes per grade.  So, if you have a 3rd grader, he/she should be spending no more than 30 minutes a night on homework.  For 6th graders, no more than an hour is appropriate, and so on. 
  • Know the strengths and limitations of your child.  Some children will spend 2 hours doing a 30 minute assignment.  They are unable to sit still, unable to focus, argue about why they have to do the work in the first place, want a drink of water, then have to go to the bathroom and on and on.  If most of the child's friends are able to complete the work in a half hour, if may be time to get the child evaluated to see if there is a problem with either attention or learning.
  • If the teacher is assigning 2 or 3 hours of actual work to an elementary school child, the amount of work is inappropriate!  Go to the school and let them know that you are not willing to have your child working all night to the exclusion of other activities, such as friends, sports, family time, etc.  If the school does not respond positively to you and you feel that your child is truly doing the best he or she can, then it may be time to find another school.  Children have to become competent in more than one area to become well-rounded adults.  If they have all A's, but do not know how to interact with friends, are not getting any physical exercise or spending quality time with you, this is not healthy.
  • Another tip that wil make homework time easier is to let the teacher be the teacher.  Don't try to do the teacher's job by assigning extra problems, having the child rewrite messy work, etc.  Let the teacher correct the work unless you child asks for your help.  Tell them you are always available to look over things, but you don't have to grade and critique your child's work before it gets turned in.  Teachers need to understand where your child needs help, and your child needs your support more than anything else after a long day at school.
  • Some children, especially those with ADHD, do not really have a good idea of how long an assignment will take.  When they look at a full page of math problems, it can be overwhelming and feel like an impossibility to finish.  Try using a timer and see how many problems the child can do in 5 minutes.  Or try tearing the page in 1/2 or 1/4 and rewarding the child for finishing each section.  When the child completes a worksheet, mention how long it actually took:  'You did that in only 7 minutes!"
  • Give lots of reward for effort and time spent working on the assignments rather than looking for perfection.  A child's perception of what is "a good job" is not the same as an adults.  Young children are proud of the pictures they color even when the crayon marks are way outside the lines and the page may look messy to you.  Visual perception develops as we age, but your child begins developing a sense of competence as early as 3 years of age.  The child may actually feel that he or she has done a great job on his paper only to hear that you do not like it and see mistakes and problems with it.  Make sure your expectations can be met and that you are rewarding the attitude and effort.  Most children want to please adults and will work hard for your praise. 
  • Be patient and kind.  Try not to get frustrated, even when the child gets frustrated.  Talk to them about their work the way that you would want your boss to speak to you at work.  Try not to argue with them, or get sucked into a discussion about the merits of the assignment itself.   This only prolongs the inevitable...we have to do it anyway!
  • Take breaks and do physical activity for a few minutes after doing homework for a while.  Get up, stretch, shoot hoops, run around outside for at least 10 or 15 minutes before getting back to the homework.   You probably have a sense of how long your child can attend to a task.  When they have that blank stare on their face, or start whining, or no longer comprehending things that they knew earlier, STOP!  It will only get worse if you continue. 
  • Always be on your child's side!  There is nothing more important than the relationship you have with the child.  Stop and think...will anybody really remember this math sheet next year?  
  • Lastly, have fun!  Try to make things enjoyable for your child.  Use toy cars to learn math, pizza to learn fractions, form cookie dough in the shape of letters, and make up cheers to go with spelling words.  Be creative and your child will enjoy the learning process. 


Last Updated on Monday, 25 August 2014 23:57  


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