Sue Scheff: Homework Wars

The first semester of school is here, homework (for some) kids and parents can become a tense time of the evening.  Take the time to get parenting tips to avoid these homework wars!

“You come home from school – you do homework first, then you have free time.” 

– Darlene Duvall, a mother

For years, parent surveys showed that lots of moms and dads worried that their children were overloaded with too much homework. But that may be changing. A new study from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln reports that most parents believe the amount of homework these days is just about right. Of course, that doesn’t mean their kids see it that way.

When 16-year-old Christian and 10-year-old Christopher arrive home from school, the rule is homework comes first. “We tried it other ways, and they ended up not getting their homework done,” explains the boys’ mother, Darlene Duvall.

Homework is first, but there’s no yelling and no pestering from mom or dad.

“They let me do what I have to do to finish my homework. They won’t beat down on me, be like, ‘you gotta do your homework, you gotta do your homework,’” Christian says.

It’s a kind of freedom that teaches responsibility. But what if your child abuses the freedom?

“Then the parent says OK, you said I could trust you to do this on your own, to leave you alone, and you’ve messed up. Now, it’s not going to be that way anymore,” says Bob Macris, a high school curriculum director.

Macris says parents should start by telling their children they can’t play until the homework is done. Then, check their work and ask questions. “Do they really understand? You know Johnny, you wrote this down. What exactly does this mean?” Macris says.

The problem is, sometimes that just starts a fight.

“The time to take a second look at homework is when a child and a parent get to a level when they really are just yelling and screaming at each other and not communicating,” Macris advises.

If that happens, the key is to find someone else to whom your child will listen: the other parent, an older sibling or maybe a tutor.

“And the kids will feel a lot better about it, and so will the parent. But the parents should still follow up and make sure that the kid is doing what he or she is supposed to be doing,” Macris says.

Tips for Parents
What should you do if your child hates homework and doesn’t complete assignments on time or at all? The U.S. Department of Education has some advice. The department’s National Parent Information Network (NPIN) suggests that parents call someone at school when homework problems arise. Everyone needs to work together – the school, teachers, parents and the student – to solve the problems. If your child refuses to do assignments, call his or her teacher. If you and your child can’t understand the homework instructions, call the teacher. The teacher may also be able to help you get your child organized to do the homework. The NPIN says different homework problems require different solutions:

■Does your child have a hard time finishing assignments on time? Maybe he or she has poor study skills and needs help getting organized.
■Is the homework too difficult? Maybe your child has fallen behind and needs special help from a teacher or tutor.
■Is your child bored with the homework? Maybe it’s too easy and your child needs extra assignments that give more challenge.
The NPIN suggests asking your child these questions to combat any problems about homework that may arise:

■What’s your assignment today?
■Is the assignment clear? (If not, suggest calling the school’s homework hotline or a classmate.)
■Do you need special resources (a trip to the library or access to a computer)?
■Do you need special supplies (graph paper, poster board, etc.)?
■Have you started today’s assignment? Have you completed it?
■Is it a long-term assignment (a term paper or science project)?
■For a major project, would it be helpful to write out the steps or make a schedule?
■Would a practice test be useful?
What kind of “homework help” should parents give their children? The Chicago Public Schools offers this advice:

■Encouragement: Give your child praise for efforts and for completing assignments.
■Availability: Encourage your child to do the work independently, but be available for assistance.
■Scheduling: Establish a set time to do homework each day. You may want to use a calendar to keep track of assignments and due dates.
■Space: Provide a space for homework, stocked with the necessary supplies, such as pencils, pens, paper, dictionaries, a computer and other reference materials.
■Discipline: Help your child focus on homework by removing distractions, such as television, radio, telephone and interruptions from siblings and friends.
■Modeling: Consider doing some of your work, such as paying bills or writing letters, during your child’s homework time.
■Support: Talk to your child about difficulties with homework. Be willing to talk to your child’s teacher to resolve problems in a positive manner.
■Involvement: Familiarize yourself with the teacher’s homework policy. Make sure that you and your child understand the teacher’s expectations. At the beginning of the year, you may want to ask your child’s teacher these questions – What kinds of assignments will you give? How often do you give homework? How much time are the students expected to spend on them? What type of involvement do you expect from parents?

■Chicago Public Schools
■National Parent Information Network