How to combat your kids’ common complaints about homework

It seems to me that over the years, kids are getting more homework. It’s not uncommon for first graders to come home with homework. And every year afterward, the amount of homework increases, proportionate to the child’s age and stage.

A rule of thumb for most teachers is 10 minutes per night for each grade, depending on what the teacher is working on in class. Some kids breeze through homework time. They don’t mind doing 25 math problems, reading a chapter in a book or writing an essay. They’re motivated by getting good grades and praise from teachers and parents.

But many children struggle. Some kids procrastinate — “Not now, later!” Others are tired at the end of a long day — they just want to veg out in front of the TV or play video games. Some children want to shoot hoops, ride bikes or do anything but their homework. Many of these kids aren’t motivated by a teacher or parental praise or by grades.

And, we’ve raised a generation of consumers. Kids today are critical consumers of everything — where to eat, what to wear, the newest gadgets or where to go. They approach school in the same way. Why should I do this boring, tedious, busy work? What’s in it for me? Their parents never even thought to question the whys of homework. They just did it.

Here are some common complaints and their antidotes.

“Homework is boring.” Fair enough — mostly, it is. But remember, the purpose of homework is to help kids consolidate what they’ve learned in school into long-term memory. And, in fact, there are many boring tasks that are part of adulthood. Learning how to approach low-interest tasks is an important preparation for adult life.

“I’m too busy.” That’s a fact. Kids today are so programmed with activities and entertainment that homework can be an afterthought. I spoke to a high school student who spent three hours a day practicing with her soccer team; she was pretty exhausted by the time she got home.

Schedule a time, every day for your child to do homework. Make sure that they have some mental energy left over when they tackle their homework. If you can’t be there, text them and make sure they’re on the job.

“My homework never ends!” Why does homework drag on all night? Make sure there are no distractions — TV, computer and cell phone are turned off. Playtime happens after homework is done. That creates an incentive for actually finishing it.

Kids will fight you on this one. “I need to relax first!” they’ll say. Keeping a tight structure that is consistent and predictable goes a long way.

“I don’t have any homework. I did it all at school.” Trust your kids — and verify. Children have a way of bending the truth when it comes to homework. With computerization at schools, it is becoming increasingly easy for parents to verify the truth and sometimes hold their kid’s feet to the homework fire.

“I have no clue how to do this homework!” I remember when my little one had a big assignment, she would clutch over the enormity of the task. After she had a thunderstorm, we would help her break it down into small, manageable tasks, and it started to look doable to her. Once she got started and could see how it would work out, the sun would come out.

Sometimes it may be necessary to discuss your child’s homework with her teacher. Or, in the later grades, have your teen talk to their teacher. There may be after-school help. When my daughter was having trouble with advanced math, I couldn’t help her. We hired a college student to tutor her, and after a couple of months, she figured it out.

I know — what happened to the “good old days” when kids didn’t require their parent’s involvement in their homework? For one, schoolwork is more complex today. And, like it or not, parents are expected to be more involved.

Paul Schoenfeld is a clinical psychologist at The Everett Clinic. His Family Talk blog can be found at www. healthwellness-library.html.

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