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The Homework Battle Goes on.....or Does It??

iStock_000003891502XSmallIt is the time of year when that dreaded word "HOMEWORK" becomes a daily battle with parents - or does it? Depending on the age of your children it can cause a lot of problems, drama and opportunities for your child to engage you in power struggles. Truthfully, a lot of how your child reacts comes directly from how you approach the subject and how "little" you participate. Yep, you heard me right! I have a few observations and tips that I think are worth passing on about how we handle homework at our house as well as how this is such a key element to the development of your child.

Set aside regular time for homework. This concept is one I believe to be the biggest set-ups for success you can give your child. When our kids were younger, we set aside regular time each day to work on homework; same time, rarely exceptions. This is how habits are developed. With a first grader, you probably won't have homework everyday - no problem. We decided to have other ideas for "homework" so that we could keep the consistency with the regular time and develop the habit. You can be creative with other fun ideas...... maybe flashcards, word puzzles, writing a letter to a grandparent or spelling with scrabble tiles filled in on those days. Just 15 minutes a day. This time becomes part of the routine and is not questioned by the child when you just state it as such, not a choice. (Enforcing that is a whole different blog post, watch for it!)

You need to give all the responsibility to your child. At some point you will decide it is time to help your child learn to manage their own time and responsibilities. It can be a gradual process, but one you continue to move toward where your child is completely responsible for their homework getting done & getting turned in by the due date. This year has been the transition year for our youngest. The homework packet is given on a Thursday and he has a week to complete it. We have found that completing the bulk of this packet over the weekend works best for everyone. During the week we are busy with other activities that often really make it hard to complete the work AND for the BEST work to be done. We are "passing that baton" here though, by giving him a choice. He is set to do a certain amount each session, but he can work ahead if he wants and then he knows he will have less to do when the days are busier. When he has chosen to do "just enough" he then lives through the consequence of that decision, less time on school nights for other fun things. As a mom, there would be nothing I could ever say to make this point to him - it is so much more effective for him to make the choice and live with his decision.

Allow your child to figure out answers to their dilemma. When your child makes the choice to complain, not do his best work, or "dilly-dally" during homework time and runs out of time to finish, don't take on that problem for them. Allow your child to figure out how they are going to make it all happen. For example: some days homework is more of a battle than others. Some days he wants to work, other days he wastes time complaining and trying to engage others in his misery. When time has run out and he has to move on to other tasks, he gets to decide where to fit in the additional time to finish his work by the due date. Often he has to get up early and work before school. Again, there is nothing I could say, no threat I could give that would make such an impact of him having to get up at 6:15 AM to finish his work because he didn't use his time wisely.

The homework is not truly about the work , rather the process. At this age, the idea of doing work at home is more about your child learning to make decisions, budget their time and experience the outcome of their decisions. As your child gets older it is more about what the actual assignment is. This whole idea of helping your child become responsible for their work and time management is one lesson that often is missed by parents when they think of the homework. It is a great tool to build that characteristic of being self-directed and learning consequences for their choices. This leads into my next thought.

Promote self-directed behavior. At the time you feel your child is ready for a challenge you can take away the "set time" to do homework and let them be the judge of when and how to get their homework done. This idea has worked so well in our home I wish more parents gave it a shot. Instead of having the policy that homework has to be done before __________ is done, we have allowed our older children to decide when and how they will accomplish what they need to do. They get this privilege until they mess it up. If they have a late assignment or their grades start turning the wrong direction then we get to come back into the picture and "parent" them until they can prove that they are responsible to manage their own time again. Let me just say, we have never had to intervene with taking this privilege back. They have learned their own lessons though - being up until 2 AM on a Sunday night because they forgot about an assignment, or up till 11 PM on a school night because they chose to watch TV rather than do their work. Those consequences again speak much louder to them than anything I could say.

Encourage effort. Instead of telling your child how smart they are when you are reviewing their work, try encouraging their effort. "Wow, this must have been really difficult - but you stuck with it and completed a tough task." This focuses on their effort, their perseverance and persistence. This type of encouragement has proven to be more effective for developing a willingness to try even more difficult tasks, which is something that is a given for your child. They will always be forging ahead in new, more difficult territory.

I will leave you with this final thought. Yes, these techniques work great in our home and I think in 98% of other homes they would be just as effective - but consistency and allowing consequences is the key. If you step in and try to stay involved these techniques will not be very effective. I would love to hear your thoughts, your own homework tips and even results after you have tried some of what I have provided here. As parents, we need to remember that we don't need to take on more than we really need to, your kids are much more capable than even you may realize!

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