Problems with homework; we considered the setting, the supplies, and use of electronics in our last installment. Let’s now look at the process:
1) Schedule: It’s important, especially for elementary-age students, to have a set time to complete homework. For most students, very soon after school is the ideal time to complete homework; that is, before getting distracted or engaged by another, more interesting activity. Many students benefit from a short snack-time between school and homework. There are some students, however, who actually do complete their homework more easily later, such as before or after dinner. However, despite what many students say, just before bed is not the best time to complete homework.
2) Parent Proximity: How close parents physically locate themselves to their children when homework is being completed is in direct relationship to the child’s age and/or the child’s ability to focus on the tasks at hand. Early elementary children usually perform better with a parent within a few feet. As kids get older, parents can encourage and expect homework to be completed more independently, but there is variation among kids.
Some typically developing children may still need parents to be closer. A very good option to remain nearby, to model homework, and to be able to provide help is by completing household tasks in the vicinity such as straightening things, emptying the dishwasher, making dinner, etc.
Children with ADHD: Here is a big exception to the rule. Kids diagnosed with ADHD, or those who have problems with attention and focus, almost always require parents to be in close proximity for a longer period of development. This is often quite frustrating for parents, but necessary to help the child maintain her or his task focus.
3) Encouragement: Most kids don’t enjoy doing homework; it’s true. Homework, in moderation, however, helps children in a couple of ways. First, it’s hopefully providing practice for skills that have already been taught. Spaced practice is essential for learning. Second, homework helps children develop independent work habits that may generalize into adulthood.
So, some homework is good, but kid’s don’t like to do it; what to do?
It’s okay to provide encouragement and reinforcement to help the child along. The preferred approach to this is to be specific with the encouragement and focus on the process. For example, “You’re really working hard on those problems. Look how many you have completed so far. Keep working hard, and you’ll be finished soon.” While this may feel a bit artificial for some parents…it works. The added benefit for focusing on the effort that the child is putting into the homework is that it will set the stage for more work completion in the future. Saying “good job” feels more natural, but is less effective in the long run.
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