Strategies for Supporting Homework

Homework – love it or hate it – is here to stay. Homework can be a real drain on our relationships, take a ton of time and create unneeded tension and stress. Because it’s a lifelong skill, homework is a great thing to think about, work on, have fun with AND not obsess over.

In this long form blog, you will find homework thoughts and actions to consider and experiment with. It’s like a dress-up box – try one on, see it how fits. Some will make sense, some won’t. Try one now, save one for later.

Next, I lay out tips and advice broken down into developmentally appropriate ages and stages. One of the most annoying/exhilarating things about parenting is that it is a moving target. Just when we get good at raising a four year old, they go and turn five on us. Ugh/Yay!

Finally, we want to support our kids into being responsible, lifelong learners and not enable them to wait until they are nagged and coerced into doing their job. We all blossom at different times over different topics. While homework is important, it isn’t a litmus test on our parenting or a prediction of their future. Take it easy, stay involved, and we all might learn something along the way!

Thoughts & Actions

Action: Be available to help at consistent times (not at anyone’s whim, yours or the child’s). For example, decide that from Sunday – Thursday, one parent will be at the kitchen table from 7:00 – 8:00 p.m. Beware the child that ropes you into helping the whole time. If a child demands constant assistance, be available from 7:00 – 7:10, then take your shower, color your hair, do a workout (anything NOT in the room) and be available again from 7:50 – 8:00.

Thought: Homework represents a relationship between the child, their work and the teacher. When we butt into other people’s relationships we are in “parenting mischief.” Best to stay out of relationships that are not ours (even when we have so many good ideas that would really, really help!).

Action: Create a homework-friendly environment. Provide a clutter-free and clean table. Kids generally like to do homework in the family area when they are elementary-school age and tweens. As kids get older and have internet access, it’s best to keep them in the family area. Find a shelf or cubby where each kid can toss homework stuff. Awesome if it has a door (kids don’t like being neat all the time). Then every 3-5 weeks help your child sort, purge, re-arrange and generally re-boot their cubby.

Thought: What gets fired together gets wired together. If homework is a crazy, emotional, power strugge-ly time, it could be that the kid's brain is wiring together homework + drama. Let’s avoid that please.

Action: Have a device bowl. Your device bowl is where everyone leaves their devices and can "check" them at predictable intervals. Use limits for everyone and be reasonable, not draconian. Something like this works: Devices go in the bowl from 5:30 – 7:30. From 7:30 – 8:00, we all get a half hour to check, update and play. At 8:00, devices are powered down for the night. A great rule of thumb is to turn off the devices one hour before you want your kids to go to sleep (and you too!).

Thought: Nagging is a service. Do not work for free.

Action: One reminder is appreciated, or tolerated, entertained, heard as love and involvement. All reminders after the one are interpreted by our kids as a lack of trust. To them, our constant reminders tell them that that we don’t trust them, we don’t think they have what it takes, and they need us to succeed in the world.

Final Thought: Parents, focus on being homework modeler and pit crew. Kids might let us take over the wheel, but remember, it is ultimately discouraging, disheartening and relationship-draining when someone takes over. No one ever learned how to drive a car while someone else was in the driver's seat. Experience -- with all of its bumps, curves, and C-pluses -- is the best teacher.

Grade & Age Specific Tricks of the Trade

PK – 2nd Grades: Relax. This is all about showing up and creating routines. Create a homework space, set a time and then back away slowly. Do not correct homework, do not do homework with them, and under NO CIRCUMSTANCES should you erase their homework because they could do better. Watch and see how your child deals with homework, how she deals with not doing homework, how she handles herself, her teacher. It’s great to be interested in homework, but think long term here. If we get our child used to having a homework companion, cheerleader, task master ... well, when will we catch up on all our Netflix?!

3rd – 5th Grades: If you just got the news that you don’t have to sit with your child and do the homework with him, you might find yourself in a bit of a quandary. Think of this age group as a great time to fail, procrastinate, not turn stuff in and just generally be a hot mess. While you are NOT doing your child’s homework, you might want to read “The Learning Habit” -- it provides clear guidelines on how long children should be doing homework (10 minutes per grade), how to set it up, and what they do if they are done early. It also provides current research on technology and its impact (interesting and a wee-bit scary).

6th – 8th Grades: Tweens are a little bananas. They are neat and organized one week, and the next their hair is greasy, they cry and their backpack is a disaster. Now is the time to practice using your own pre-frontal cortex, the CEO part of your brain. Think of your organizational modeling as the exoskeleton for the jelly-like changeling child you are living with. Uphold homework time. Keep nagging to a minimum. Consider adding in your weekly calendar an appointment with your tween to review, re-cap, re-jigger and plan. If they can tolerate it, a non-judgmental backpack clean out once a month can do wonders. Don’t be afraid to stay in touch with teachers. Please refrain from acting like 7th grade is the window into your child’s future success. Take a moment and consider how well-rounded, rational and organized you were at 13. Thank you.

9th Grade: This grade presents major changes in the social lives, sexuality, and brain development of your child. You might be doing one step forward and 62 steps back. The water is rough and the life preserver that will save you is the relationship, not the A in AP French. Use the teachers, stay in touch with parents of the peer group, get your own life and please review 6th – 8th grade and read ahead to 10th – 12th grade. You truly are betwixt and between. Self care is mandatory during this phase.

10th-12th Grades: Back off, calm down, call a friend. Read all about kids who did crappy on their SAT’s and went on to be millionaires. Review your own high school grades (I for one was not as straight A-y as I imagined). Some kids are super-duper organized and on top of things, and some kids are chill, disorganized, avoidant and totally unready, uninterested and/or overwhelmed. You can not shame someone into being ready. That said, please set and uphold limits on technology, bedtime, and expectations and consequences for low effort and performance. Consequences, not punishment. If a child has trouble studying for Spanish and is getting a C –, for the next quarter he gets dropped off at school early on Thursdays for the teacher-sponsored, free tutoring. Avoid over-checking your kids progress, getting upset at a low grade, nagging, fretting, and comparing. Sometimes their own experience of seeing a D on their online grades will be enough to change their tunes. If we flip out over the D, they are off the hook and can spend their energy rolling their eyes and complaining about their overbearing, unreasonable and out of control parents. The goal is really to let go now so they will have experiences trying and failing and working hard and solving problems BEFORE they get to college.

College: Pay the bills, uphold pre-discussed grades limits, listen to the stories, ask questions, take your own class so you are busy studying and improving yourself! Resist the urge to protect, over-involve, check-in, double-check, just make sure, one last time.