If nagging and nightly homework battles are wearing you and your kids down, don’t worry — you’re not alone. Lost on how to help your child with homework? Believe it or not, the best solution is for parents to help less.
Teachers and experts agree parents’ only job is to help kids get started, make sure homework is complete, and communicate with teachers when necessary. That’s it.
“Monitor, but don’t hover or micromanage,” Dr. Cathy Vatterott, Professor of Education, University of Missouri-St. Louis tells Parentology.
So, the next time your child mumbles, grumbles or shouts one of these phrases during homework time, here are tips for stopping procrastination in its tracks.
“I need an eraser, a pencil and…”
Finding supplies shouldn’t feel like a daily scavenger hunt. Keep everything kids might need organized in one place, like a portable caddy, a designated drawer or on their desk. Have them grab what they need before they start.
“This is taking FOREVER!”
Homework shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes per grade level, per night. This recommendation, often called “The 10-minute Rule,” is supported by the National PTA and National Education Association. It means, second-graders, for example, should only spend 20 minutes on homework per night (for all subjects combined).
But the “10-minute rule” is just a guideline.
“You know your child — if it’s a nightly battle, it’s probably too much work,” Vatterott says. “Just because the 10-minute rule says 30 minutes is the maximum for third grade, doesn’t mean your child isn’t burned out before then.”
If homework really is taking too long, causing distress, or interfering with sleep, play or family time, Vatterott recommends talking to the teacher.
“I left my homework at school.”
Do you run back to school and get it? Call another parent and ask them to send a snapshot of the worksheet? Jeanine Bonds, former teacher and mom of a third-grader, says no. Especially for younger kids.
When her son forgets his homework, Bonds tells Parentology she uses it as an opportunity to teach him how to create routines for organization. She asks him what he could do differently to remember to bring it home next time and shows him how to use a checklist to ensure all materials make it into his backpack.
“The early grades,” Bonds says, “are the perfect time for parents to allow their children to ‘fail’ without severe consequences and learn lifelong organizational habits.”
“What’s 12 plus 4?” or “How do you spell cat?”
If your child is constantly asking questions he could probably answer himself, your best bet is to move away. Stay within earshot, but out of sight.
Instead of rushing over to help your child with homework, wait it out for at least two minutes. Tell your child you’ll be there soon, and see what happens. You might be surprised.
When this technique is used in the classroom, more often than not, students figured out a way to get started on their own. This approach gives students time to think and look back at directions or other work on the page.
“I’ll start it in a minute.”
If procrastination is your kid’s game, the first step is figuring out why your child is avoiding homework.
“It’s easy to think the child just doesn’t want to do the task,” Ann Dolin, founder and president of Educational Connections Tutoring and author of Homework Made Simple tells Parentology. “But oftentimes kids feel overwhelmed and underprepared, and they’re not exactly sure how to get started.”
Dolin says parents can help by making sure kids understand the directions, and simply asking: “What might you do first and then second?”
Breaking down homework into smaller tasks can also help. Dolin recommends having kids just write their name and do the first two problems. Then offer them a break if they need one.
If your child just doesn’t want to do their work, Dolin suggests using a timer and setting it for one more minute than their age (11 minutes for a 10-year-old, eight minutes for a seven-year-old). Encourage your child to work as hard as he can until the timer goes off. Then let him decide if he wants to take a break or keep going.
“I can’t do this!”
If your kid thinks the work is hard and feels stuck, they’re not alone.
“This is common, especially when kids are in elementary school,” Dolin says. “And it’s a parent’s natural inclination to want to jump in, save the day and help their child get out of a messy situation.”
But tread lightly. Rather than picking up a pencil and showing them how to complete their homework, Special Education Teacher Melissa Brown says helping kids understand directions is the way to go. “Parents can ask the question or directions in another way to provide clarity.” Brown also suggests having kids rewrite directions in their own words to build self-esteem and still produce some type of work.
Try asking your child to talk about what they remember from class to trigger a memory of how to do the assignment. Or, Dolin suggests asking kids if they have a handout that shows an example the teacher has already created. Encouraging kids to figure things out themselves creates a sense of independence, and that, she says, is the best option when kids are stuck.
How to Help Your Child with Homework: Sources
Dr. Cathy Vatterott, Professor of Education, University of Missouri-St. Louis, and author of Rethinking Homework: Best Practices that Support Diverse Needs
National Education Association
Jeanine Bonds, teacher
Ann Dolin, founder and president of Educational Connections Tutoring and author of Homework Made Simple
Melissa Brown, special education teacher