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Ask an Expert: Getting my child to do homework without a fight.

Q. How can I get my kids to do homework without arguments?

A. Homework can be a drag for a parent as much as it can be for a child or teen. Yet, it can also be a blessing in disguise. Herein lies an opportunity to nurture your child’s curiosity as well as his ability to advocate for himself and manage his/her time. It’s never too late for parents and their child/ren to build new homework habits. Here are some tips:

  • Set a consistent time each day for doing homework (and let Friday be a “day off!”) – and minimize any distractions during that time (turn off the television, unplug the phone, set his I-chat to “away,” etc.)
  • Provide your child with “downtime” that involves movement prior to making her start her homework, such as twenty minutes to swing on monkey bars, ride her bike, rollerblade, play dance-dance-revolution…whatever it is that she likes to do that involves movement. Set a timer. After the designated playtime is homework time. If her schedule does not allow for 20 minutes of movement, then just ask her to do some push-ups, sit-ups, and/or jumping jacks. It’s an essential fact of physiology: a moving body fuels a stagnant brain.
  • Help your child gather all the materials she will need for each of her assignments before starting her work. Everything will be on in one place, leading to fewer distractions and a greater feeling of comfort.
  • Engage your child in an effective questioning exchange. Ask him what he already knows about the topic, what he has worked on thus far in class, and what he predicts he will continue to work on in the particular class. Ask these questions one at a time. Your child’s answers coupled with your genuine curiosity in his responses will help him understand his homework assignments as a lived experience instead of just as a worksheet to fill out or an assignment to check-off a list.
  • Create a homework checklist prior to working on any assignment. That way, your child or teen can think through everything she is supposed to do, and then prioritize what to do first. Let your child decide what to work on first. Also, you may want to encourage him or her to estimate how much time a task will take and to monitor his progress in terms of that estimate. This way, s/he can better learn to be in charge of her own time.
  • Use the homework checklist as a tool for goal setting and self-awareness. When your child or teen completes a task, encourage him to put an X next to that item on the list or, if he prefers, to cross it off the list. This offers a wonderful feeling of satisfaction – and can also be used to show others what he had accomplished.
  • Have a place to put any completed work, and make sure this place is reserved just for completed work (or a completed sub-section of an assignment). Once an assignment is completed, place it into a folder labeled “completed” or “to turn in” – not back into a generic “math folder” or “language arts” folder. This does not only help your child stay organized (especially if he is “that” student who repeatedly forgets to turn in an assignment even though he did it!), but it also serves as a visual reminder that his time was well spent – that he had completed what he set out to complete.

If need be, just come out and say it: “I’d like to have a pleasant night with you tonight. I like being around you. I don’t want to fight about this stuff.” At the same time, you do not need to give up. You may need to do the first two homework problems with your child – just to get him going. That’s OK. You will gradually wean yourself away from that role. Seek teacher support if need be, too.

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