It’s normal for kids to struggle with their homework

It seems to me that kids are getting more homework. It’s not uncommon for first graders to come home with homework. And every subsequent year 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. They don’t mind doing 25 math problems, reading a chapter in a book, or writing an essay. Even though they know how to do the first math problem on the worksheet, the busy work of the next 24 similar problems doesn’t bother them. They’re motivated by getting good grades and praise from teachers and parents.

But many children struggle. Some kids procrastinate, saying, “Not now, later!” Others are tired at the end of a long day and 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 are not motivated by adult 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 the common complaints and some antidotes.

“Homework is boring.” Fair enough — mostly it is. But remember, the purpose of homework is not just to help kids consolidate what they’ve learned in school into long term memory. It’s also to help children develop effective study skills for the years ahead. In fact, there are many boring tasks that are part of adulthood (housework, laundry, dishes, paying bills, mowing the lawn and dusting are not very interesting). Learning how to approach boring tasks is preparation for adult life. It’s important.

“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 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 assignments. If you can’t be there, text them and make sure they’re on the job.

“My homework never ends!” Why is the homework dragging on all night? Make sure there are no distractions and that the TV, computer and cell phones are in the OFF position. Play time happens AFTER homework is done. That creates an incentive for finishing it. Kids will fight you on this one. “I need to relax first!” they will say. OK, but that shouldn’t take too long. 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 freeze 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.

I know, what happened to the “good old days,” when kids didn’t require their parents’ 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, a part of Optum, where they’re working to create a healthier world for everyone. His Family Talk blog can be found at www.everettclinic.com/health-wellness-library.html.

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