Even though I am not a fan of homework for children under 5th grade, it seems like it’s here to stay. It can cause great strife in families and often doesn’t allow time for relaxation and fun between parents and children. With that said, here are some thoughts on how to create a home environment with as minimal homework stress as possible.
First, it’s important to discuss who “owns” the problem of getting homework done. Typically problem ownership is determined by who is making a request for something or whose needs are being blocked. When children see homework as their responsibility to finish, parents have little stress because these kids just do their homework. These are the happy parents. Parents who have kids that don’t like homework and who don’t see it as their responsibility to do are the unhappy parents. They are unhappy because the teacher and parents want the homework done and the kids don’t. Thus, there is a conflict of interest. Your children may learn to take responsibility for homework when they are older and maybe they won’t.
When kids don’t take responsibility to get homework done and the adults want it done, then it’s up to the adults to set up an environment where there is a good chance of homework completion. Parents who keep hoping their kids will do it on their own and then complain if they don’t are just creating more conflict in the home.
The best way I know to get kids to do what they don’t want to do, whether it’s chores or homework, is to use the “work before play” model. This works for adults as well. It’s much easier for me to write this article when I know I’ll get relaxation or playtime afterwards.
Start by meeting as a family, maybe dinner time, and saying that the family is going to start using the work before play way of getting things done for everyone. This is expressed in phrases such as after you do your homework then you can watch 30 minutes of TV. After you finish the dishes then you can watch a movie. Everything is set up with after you…(do the work) then you can….. (play).
You’ll need to judge how long work should be before playtime. If your child has 2 hours of homework, that is too long to go before taking a break. A work before play (or break) timing strategy I often use is The Pomodoro Technique. It is a time management method developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980’s. The technique uses a timer to break down work into intervals traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks. These can be between 5 and 8 minutes. These intervals are known as “pomodori”, the plural of the word pomodoro for “tomato”. This method is based on the idea that frequent breaks can improve mental agility.
You can ask for your child’s input as to what activities they can do during the playtime or break time. Remember that you have ownership to make sure the homework gets done so you have the final word on how and when it will be completed.
Do your best to not get angry if your child doesn’t see value in homework. It does not mean she will be a failure in life and that you have failed. Listen to your kid’s resistance to the work then follow up with the after…then… approach. Don’t try moralizing and shaming to get them to comply. Instead, clearly set your expectations and guidelines. This works best with children in elementary school. The older they get with their stronger desire to manage their own lives, even this approach can fail. An idea of what to do in this situation will be covered in another article.
©2014 Cynthia Klein, Bridges 2 Understanding, has been a Certified Parent Educator since 1994. She works with parents and organizations who want more cooperation, mutual respect and understanding between adults and children of all ages. Cynthia presents her expertise through speaking and private parenting coaching sessions. She is a member of the National Speakers Association and writes the Middle School Mom column for the Parenting on the Peninsula magazine. She works with parents of 4 – 25 year-old children. Contact Cynthia at bridges2understa.wpstagecoach.com, cynthia@bridges2understanding,com, or 650. 679.8138 to learn more about creating the relationship you want with your children.