Kids with neuro-developmental problems like learning disorders, ADHD, Asperger Syndrome, and processing disorders often struggle to complete their homework in an organized and timely fashion. Many parents complain that their child struggles with even the simplest homework tasks and that study time is a nightly battle that can take hours. As the school year begins to wind down and the weather gets warmer, exhausted kids who are looking forward to summer break may struggle even more to complete their homework without an argument or meltdown. Multiple factors may be contributing to your child's homework struggles. Find below some common roadblocks to homework success and tips that will help ease the daily battle:
Sensory overload and/or attention issues
If your child has ADHD or sensory processing disorder, it's no secret that normal sounds or movements like a knock at the front door or a sibling playing nearby can inhibit their ability to complete homework. Add in the fact that the child may already be experiencing sensory overload from a stressful day at school, and he or she is sure to run out of steam when it's time to study.
Learning differences and preferences
Even if your child hasn't been diagnosed with a learning disability, he or she may have a processing disorder or learning preference that interferes with his or her ability to complete homework tasks with ease.
Poor Executive Function Skills
Executive function skills are a set of processes that allow people to remember pertinent details and then strategically plan, prioritize, organize, and complete related tasks. If your child has poor executive function skills, it can interfere with his or her ability to follow through.
Create an organizational structure. Make sure your child knows where to write his or her homework assignments each day, and create a process for remembering necessary items and returning homework to school. Consider keeping duplicate tools at home and at school to eliminate the frustration of forgotten items. For example, it may be necessary to keep a separate set of protractors, calculators, and other necessities at school and at home.
Communicate with your child's school. Reach out to your child's teacher to see if he or she has ideas for homework success. If possible, agree on a maximum time the child will spend on homework each night. If your child excels at spelling but needs extra math practice, ask his or her teacher to help you tailor homework assignments to better meet your child's needs.
Minimize distractions. Make sure hunger is not an issue by providing a healthy snack after school, and make sure siblings are ready for quiet time even if they don't have homework to complete. Ensure your child's homework space is free of clutter and contains all items needed to complete the work.
Minimize sensory overload. Give kids who need it get a break after school before beginning homework. For younger kids, swinging is a great way to calm the nervous system and organize the senses. For older kids this may mean quietly completing chores, exercising, or reading. Screen time should not be allowed until after homework is complete.
Set a schedule. Let your child help you decide on a time each day that homework must begin. Depending on after school activities, this schedule may change for different days of the week. Post the schedule to avoid negotiations and confusion later.
Be available. Children with learning and behavioral disorders often need a parent nearby to help them stay focused on the task at hand. Be available for questions, and let your child know you are invested in his or her success.
Give your child some control. Allow children to choose which homework assignment to do first or choose a new quiet workspace. Giving kids some control can help ease their frustration.
Chunk large tasks. If your child has a paper or project due, he or she may be overwhelmed with the size of the task. Help your child break a large task into smaller ones, and add one of the smaller tasks to the daily schedule.
Allow for breaks and movement. Kids with attention and sensory issues may do best if they are allowed to stand, wiggle, and move while they study. They may also benefit from short bursts of studying instead of marathon study sessions. Consider using a timer to ensure a child stays on schedule throughout work time and break time.
Consider your child's learning style. Some children are visual learners and may respond better to charts, graphs, puzzles, and pictures to learn new concepts. For verbal learners, consider having them read passages out loud to help them prepare for a test. Catering homework to your child's learning style may ease frustration.
Reward your child's success. Allow children who successfully complete homework for a week to earn a special privilege. Whether it be extra screen time or a family outing, let your child know you appreciate his or her effort and accomplishments. Verbal praise for a job well done during the week is important as well.
Consider a tutor or homework club. Some children will respond better to an alternative authority figure when completing homework. Additionally, completing homework at your public library or local bookstore may help. Be creative, and consider your child's personality when trying new ideas to ease homework battles.
Seek professional help. If your child has a learning or behavioral disorder that contributes to daily homework battles, we invite to consider The Brain Balance Program.
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For this back-to-school season, I would like to offer some advice about one of the most frequent problems presented to me in over 30 years of clinical practice: battles over homework. I have half-jokingly told many parents that if the schools of New York State no longer required homework, our children’s education would suffer (slightly). But, as a child psychologist, I would be out of business.
Many parents accept this conflict with their children as an unavoidable consequence of responsible parenting. These battles, however, rarely result in improved learning or performance in school. More often than not, battles over homework lead to vicious cycles of nagging by parents and avoidance or refusal by children, with no improvement in a child’s school performance — and certainly no progress toward what should be our ultimate goals: helping children enjoy learning and develop age-appropriate discipline and independence with respect to their schoolwork.
Before I present a plan for reducing battles over homework, it is important to begin with this essential reminder:
The solution to the problem of homework always begins with an accurate diagnosis and a recognition of the demands placed on your child. Parents should never assume that a child who resists doing homework is “lazy.”
Every child whose parents or teachers report ongoing resistance to completing schoolwork or homework; every child whose performance in school is below expectations based on his parents’ or teachers’ intuitive assessment of his intellectual potential; and every child who, over an extended period of time, complains that he “hates school” or “hates reading,” should be evaluated for the presence of an attention or learning disorder.
These children are not lazy. Your child may be anxious, frustrated, discouraged, distracted, or angry — but this is not laziness. I frequently explain to parents that, as a psychologist, the word lazy is not in my dictionary. Lazy, at best, is a description, not an explanation.
For children with learning difficulties, doing their homework is like running with a sprained ankle: It is possible, although painful, and he will look for ways to avoid or postpone this painful and discouraging task.
A Homework Plan
Homework, like any constructive activity, involves moments of frustration, discouragement, and anxiety. If you begin with some appreciation of your child’s frustration and discouragement, you will be better able to put in place a structure that helps him learn to work through his frustration - to develop increments of frustration tolerance and self-discipline.
I offer families who struggle with this problem a Homework Plan:
• Set aside a specified — and limited — time for homework. Establish, early in the evening, a homework hour.
• For most children, immediately after school is not the best time for homework. This is a time for sports, for music and drama, and free play.
• During the homework hour, all electronics are turned off — for the entire family.
• Work is done in a communal place, at the kitchen or dining room table. Contrary to older conventional wisdom, most elementary school children are able to work more much effectively in a common area, with an adult and even other children present, than in the “quiet” of their rooms.
• Parents may do their own ”homework” during this time, but they are present and continually available to help, to offer encouragement, and to answer children’s questions. Your goal is to create, to the extent possible, a library atmosphere in your home, again, for a specified and limited period of time. Ideally, therefore, parents should not make or receive telephone calls during this hour. And when homework is done, there is time for play.
• Begin with a reasonable — a doable — amount of time set aside for homework. If your child is unable to work for 20 minutes, begin with 10 minutes. Then try 15 minutes the next week. Acknowledge every increment of effort, however small.
• Be positive and give frequent encouragement. Make note of every improvement, not every mistake.
• Be generous with your praise. Praise their effort, not their innate ability. But do not be afraid of praise.
• Anticipate setbacks. After a difficult day, reset for the following day.
• Give them time. A child’s difficulty completing homework begins as a problem of frustration and discouragement, but it is then complicated by defiant attitudes and feelings of unfairness. A homework plan will begin to reduce these defiant attitudes, but this will not happen overnight.
Most families have found these suggestions helpful, especially for elementary school children. Establishing a homework hour allows parents to move away from a language of threats (“If you don’t ... you won’t be able to ...”) to a language of opportunities (“When” or “As soon as” you have finished ... we’ll have a chance to ...”).
Of course, for many hurried families, there are complications and potential glitches in implementing any homework plan. It is often difficult, with children’s many activities, to find a consistent time for homework. Some flexibility — some amendments to the plan — may be required. But we should not use the complications of scheduling or other competing demands as an excuse, a reason not to establish the structure of a reasonable homework routine.
Copyright Ken Barish, Ph.D.
Ken Barish is the author of Pride and Joy: A Guide to Understanding Your Child’s Emotions and Solving Family Problems.