Positive Parenting: Homework Help
Thursday, September 22, 2011
It's that time of year again....school, activities and homework! One of Suzy's readers was looking for advice on how to get through the struggles that homework can bring! Suzy turned to Dr. Brandi Henson....
READER: We need homework help!
My fourth grader has about an hour of homework per night including his reading assignments.. He whines, yells, or cries. He even breaks his pencils in frustration. He is very capable but is resentful of having it interfere with his free time. This is disruptive to the entire family each day and results in 5 frustrated people. We have tried everything. Any tips???
Dr. Brandi Henson:
The battle over homework leaves so many families feeling frustrated and overwhelmed, particularly when they are first adjusting to the back-to-school routine.
Here are some strategies that can help make the homework battle a little easier for everyone:
1) Establish a routine. The school year brings increased expectations and more structured activities, which means it is time to get back on schedule. Many kids need some down time when they get home, but then can’t transition back to work. Give your son some independence by working with him to create a routine that works for both of you.
2) Have a designated area to do homework, making sure to minimize distractions and have all supplies accessible so you can prevent stragglers.
3) Allow him to work in smaller chunks of time, with an opportunity to earn a reward after each successful period of work. If he has an hour of homework, have him work for four 15-minute increments, with a scheduled break after each period. Depending on how much time you have available, you can spread these increments throughout the afternoon, or do them all at once with a brief 5-minute break after each one. The reward can be the break activity itself (e.g., 5 minutes of compute time), or for kids who cannot transition back to the less desirable activity, you can use a point system where he earns time towards the reward activity for another time. As with any rewards system, it is important that you set it up so that he will experience success from the beginning. If he cannot work for 15 minutes straight right now, you need to start with a smaller increment, and then over time, you can build up to longer increments.
4) As you implement your new homework routine, it is important to consider what impact your attention is having on your son’s behavior. If a battle erupts every time he whines/yells/cries, these behaviors are being reinforced and will likely continue. On the other hand, if, on the rare occasion he does sit down to do some work, you give him a half-hearted “thanks” because doing homework is just what he’s expected to do, then he is probably not going to be motivated to repeat this in the future. While you certainly can’t ignore his refusal to do homework, you can ignore the protests and tantrums, only giving him your attention when he is making an effort to get the work done, no matter how small his progress is. When he whines/yells/cries, you can remind him what he needs to do to get your attention (and a reward), by calmly saying, “When you finish 15 minutes of homework, you will earn 5 minutes of computer time” rather than arguing with him about the value of homework, which is unlikely going to be more enticing than whatever free-time activity homework is taking him away from. One caveat: aggressive behavior that occurs during the homework battle should not be ignored. Use time out or another consequence for any aggressive behavior.
Column written by Dr. Brandi Henson
As a child psychologist located in Acton, Brandi Henson specializes in working with young children who are experiencing social, emotional, and/or behavioral difficulties. Because young children's development is heavily influenced by the parent-child relationship, she emphasizes working with parents when possible. Please contact Dr. Henson to set up an initial appointment to determine the best treatment plan for you and your family.
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