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Homework Helps: How to Help and When to Create Space


How to Help Children with learning disabilities adapt successfully to schoolJohnny sits at the kitchen table, chewing on the end of his pencil. It's almost 9:00 p.m. and he has been on Problem #7 for the last twenty minutes. You have offered your help, and even a piece of cake if he finishes by 9:15. But he still keeps staring into space, humming the tune of his favorite cartoon. "It's going to be another one of those nights," you sigh. Night after night, it takes Johnny two or three hours to complete his math assignments. Night after night, you get frustrated because Johnny doesn't want you to help. Night after night, his homework ends in a family yelling session. Johnny looks at you with a puzzled expression. "What's three times four?" he asks. You can't believe it! You say, "I told you that answer an hour ago! Why can't you remember?" Catching yourself before you say anything more, you ask yourself, "What is the point of all this homework hassle?"

The Good of Homework

Many parents struggle with the homework that is given to their children. Some parents feel that the kids are given too much homework, or that the assignments are too difficult. Some parents eventually just do their children's homework to avoid the hassle of forcing them to do it. Doing this may make the night more peaceful, but it deprives your child of some vital skills.

The obvious aim of assigning homework is to provide your child with the opportunity to practice and strengthen his academic skills. Homework also equips kids with skills of responsibility, time management, perseverance, self-reliance, initiative, and resourcefulness, says John Rosemond, family psychologist and Director of The Center for Affirmative Parenting in North Carolina. According to Linda Sonna, a clinical psychologist who has worked as a teacher and a counselor, homework offers children a vast amount of skills. She says that homework allows children to practice following directions and encourages them to leap from understanding to applying school lessons. It can also assist children in learning how to research by looking for help in their textbooks or notes. Longer assignments help children learn perseverance. Homework also provides children opportunities to control impulses and gain tolerance for frustration. Homework helps children learn to focus their attention, which improves concentration. Finally, homework teaches a child how to organizational and how to prioritize. A child's self-confidence is increased when a difficult assignment has been completed.

Common Problems

c-plus-school-letter-grade.jpgForgotten assignments. Avoid this by having your child obtain at least three classmate's phone numbers at the beginning of the year. Doing this, claims Sonna, will teach your child responsibility and will
allow you, the parent, to avoid becoming a "homework detective."

Friends wanting to play while your children are doing homework. Avoid this by placing a sticker on the door or simply turning on the porch light as a signal to the neighborhood kids. When they come by, tell them what the light means, and after a couple of failed attempts to play with your kids, declares Sonna, they'll wait until the light is off.

Family fights over doing homework. Placing your child at the kitchen table, and hovering over him while he does his homework, can cause a lot of turmoil in your home. Avoid this by implementing the following homework helps.

Homework Helps

1. Allow for flexibility.

Some children study better immediately after school when the lessons are still fresh in their minds. Others may need a snack and a little recreation in order to concentrate again. Sonna suggests that for "night owls," doing homework after dinner would be the best solution. And for your "early bird," studying early in the morning might be most effective.

2. Create a private and personal space for your child to do her homework.

Rosemond says the area needs to be comfortable and self-contained, meaning the area is well-stocked with necessary supplies, such as paper, pencils, a dictionary, and even a glass of water. This will reduce problems in getting started, will keep parents from hovering, and most of all, will help your child be productive.

3. Help your child only when he asks for it.

But do not run to his every beck and call. If he has a question, make him bring his text and notebook to you. Make your instruction brief and encouraging. If it takes longer than 15 minutes for you to help your child, refer him back to his teacher, says Rosemond. This helps your child learn to be resourceful and to persevere.

4. Limit your child's opportunities for procrastinating by setting a time when homework must be finished.

Tell your child that every night at 8:00, for example, homework must be finished. When she begins her homework is her decision, but it must be completed by 8:00 p.m. You may want to allow extra time to study for exams. Your child will have to determine how much time to allot for her assignments. When the designated time arrives, homework will end. If she protests, Rosemond advises that you simply take away her books and let her finish the next morning. This will strengthen her time management skills.

5. Notify your child a few minutes in advance of what you expect.

Letting your child know that he needs to put away the toys and prepare for his homework will get a much better response than telling him to get started on it immediately, claims Sonna. Using this approach will help your dawdler adjust to the change in activity.

6. Offer rewards that are short term.

While your teenager may think it's great to earn extra money by improving her grades, she can easily lose sight of that long term reward when her boyfriend calls. Make the rewards simple and direct. If your child brings home all of his assignments, give him an extra cookie. Sonna recommends that if he begins his homework with only one reminder, let him watch T.V. for an extra fifteen minutes. This will encourage your child to use initiative.

7. Provide consistency.

Like any ritual, it takes time for homework to become a ritual. Providing your child the same place to do her assignments will reinforce the "homework ritual." Make sure that your child does her homework at the same time every day, adds Sonna. This will add to the stability of the "homework ritual."

8. Resist checking up on your child.

Constantly asking, "Do you need any help?" interrupts more than it helps and may communicate to your child that you think he isn't smart enough to complete the assignment on his own, asserts Rosemond. Letting him do the assignment by himself will build his self-confidence and will teach him self-reliance.

Parents should be consultants, not participants, of homework. Consultants advise, clarify, and demonstrate. Participants involve themselves in the work. As a parent it is vital to remember that your child's homework is your child's. The more responsibility you assume, the less responsibility your child will assume. Some parents don't want to see their child experience the heartache of failure, so they "help" with the difficult assignments. Rosemond cautions, however, that the harder a parent works to protect a child from failure, the more that child will feel and act like a failure. By being a consultant instead of a participant, you will send messages of trust and personal worth to your child and will allow her the freedom to expand her abilities. With increased self-confidence and personal autonomy, your child will complete her homework, putting an end to the hassles.


Rosemond, J. (1990). Ending the homework hassle. Kansas City: Andrews and McNeel.
Sonna, L. (1994). The homework plan: a parent's guide to helping kids excel. New York: Berkeley Books.

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