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Putting An End To "Homework Refusal": 25 Tips For Parents

Another school year is close at hand, and some parents are already dreading the "do-your-homework" battles!

Kids do not consciously choose to fail, but your daughter refuses to do her homework, which causes her to fail. Why is she sabotaging herself? Demanding that her educators provide you with her homework will not solve this problem. Complaining that the educators won't give you her assignments will have a negative impact on your relationships with these individuals. Her educators are likely to view you as an over-protective "helicopter parent" – and you don't want that identity!

So what can parents do when their child refuses to do homework? Here are some tips:

1. Communicate early on when homework issues arise. The earlier the problem is addressed the more likely it is you will be able to find solutions that work. The rest of the school year can be easier for you and your youngster.

2. Back up your words with action. Be realistic in your expectations. Stick to your demands. However, realize you should only demand things you are willing to follow through with. It may take your youngster several days to realize that you mean business. Say, "You can choose either to do your homework or to lose privileges. You will sit here until all of your homework is done. The choice is yours." For example, you may take away watching television, listening to music, using the telephone or computer.

3. Define a work space. Although a desk is nice, younger kids may do better at the kitchen table, closer to you while you’re preparing dinner. Just make sure it’s clear of clutter, including the daily newspaper, junk mail, or any other distraction. You can also construct a “learning station.” A tri-fold cardboard such as the kind used for science project displays would do the trick. On the right side of the panel, hang a folder for pending homework. On the left side, hang a folder for completed assignments. In the middle, post a list of activities your youngster can enjoy in five-minute breaks after completing a designated amount of work. That could be five minutes of her favorite prerecorded TV show or a chance to roll around on the floor with the dog after she’s worked steadily on her spelling words for 20 minutes. Create a bar graph and post it in the center of the tri-fold learning station. Use it to illustrate to a youngster the progress he’s making on an assignment by coloring in little squares with one of the magic markers. If there are 10 math problems to do that night, make each one a square. Five colored squares later, he’ll get a sense of accomplishment and most likely make it through to the end. Once assembled, this kind of learning station can really help center a youngster who has difficulty completing homework.

4. Do a reduced number of problems. If a youngster works very slowly even while paying attention to the task at hand, he may benefit from doing fewer problems that still cover the concepts.

5. Encourage independence. Moms and dads need to fight the temptation to fill in those last remaining answers themselves just because it’s late and everybody’s tired. Never do for your youngster what your youngster can do for herself. You’re not doing yourself or your youngster any favors by doing the homework for her. She’ll only come to expect it on a regular basis, and you may come to resent your involvement.

6. Getting and staying in touch with educators is important. Send them an introductory email and don’t hesitate to express concerns as the term progresses. If you think homework assignments are too hard or even too easy for your youngster, discuss it with the teacher so adjustments can be made. Encourage your youngster to speak up in class, as well. He needs to ask questions and tell his teacher when he doesn’t understand something.

7. Help kids see how they are benefiting from the homework. Moms and dads can tell their youngster what kind of homework the assignment is. "This looks like some good skill practice" …or, "Wow, you get to explore a whole new topic tonight."

8. Help your child understand that it is okay for some things to be very hard to do. If your child says things like, “I am stupid. I can’t do math” …tell her that she is not allowed to say that any more—and gave her a list of alternatives she can say (e.g., “I am not good at math” …“I hate math” …“I have to work harder at math than anyone else in the world” …“Math is hard for me”).

9. If homework is taking way too much time to do, your youngster’s teacher may need to be involved in helping to problem-solve. Kids who struggle in school may need their homework assignments to be modified in some way.

10. If the problems are the result of absences, your youngster’s teacher may be able to set up a schedule that allows the work to be made up within a reasonable amount of time.

11. If your child is really stumped by an assignment, demystify directions by having him pretend to be the teacher and explain to you how it should be done. This role reversal often yields surprising results as the objective of an assignment suddenly becomes crystal clear.

12. Keep a positive attitude. Kids learn by watching the grown-ups around them. If you have a good attitude (e.g., excitement about the material, enthusiasm about the new skills, etc.), then your attitude will rub off on your kids.

13. Keep communication lines open. Picture a triangle with the sides representing your youngster, the teacher, and you (the parent). We’ll call this configuration a “homework alliance.” In specific terms, it’s the maintenance of good relationships between parent and youngster, parent and teacher, and youngster and teacher. Keeping these three lines of communication open will smooth the whole homework process.

14. Make homework a game. There are plenty of ways to teach various skills using games. For example:
  • Try following homework up with an entertaining game of Scrabble Junior
  • There’s no shortage of fun educational computer software available
  • Hand them a new set of magic markers to liven up an otherwise mundane social studies report
  • Geography games can help commit all those state capitals to memory
  • Flash cards are a reliable and fun way to reinforce sight words and multiplication tables

15. Offer options for how to complete the homework. Many creative kids can demonstrate their knowledge through posters, brochures, or presentation software, and offering these as a choice when appropriate can help resolve at least some of the issues.

16. Point out resources on the Internet or at the library and create checklists for both long- and short-term assignments.

17. Praise your youngster when homework is completed. Say, "You've been getting all of your homework done. You should feel proud of yourself."

18. Schedule time in the day for homework. It helps if everyone in the house is quiet during homework time. The television, video games, telephone, and other distractions should be minimal. Kids should not accept social calls during homework time. Moms and dads can plan time for paying bills, organizing files, folding clothes or something else that is relatively quiet. If there is no time in the day for homework, then consider dropping some extracurricular activities from your youngster’s schedule.

19. Set it to music. Research has shown that music is a great motivator. Children complete more homework with background accompaniment – and kids with ADHD show markedly better performance when they’re listening to music. Since so much of homework is rote or simply completing unfinished class work, music can help relieve the tedium, and in the case of children with ADHD, can even help them focus. But skip tunes with lyrics. It’s best to limit the child’s choices to music that’s mostly instrumental so the words won’t interfere with his/her thoughts.

20. State clearly how you expect homework to be completed. Say, "I expect you to do all of your homework every night.  I will not tolerate your refusing to do your assignments."

21. Use a homework contract. This motivator is a written, signed agreement between you and your youngster that states a reward or a point toward a prize will be earned for each day that homework is brought home and completed.

22. When kids consistently have difficulty with homework, it is important to communicate this concern with your youngster’s teacher. With the teacher’s help you may be able to identify the source of the problem and figure out the best way to address it. Even though these meetings can be uncomfortable, it is best to approach them with a positive attitude while believing the problems can be solved by working together.

23. Your monitoring of homework communicates to your child an interest in what he’s learning, but don’t let homework disputes come between you and your youngster. Consider hiring a tutor if things reach an impasse.

24. Stay the course. Eventually there comes a time when children have to face up to the fact homework is just that—work to be done at home. Nobody likes it, but in reality, everybody gains something. For a teacher, homework extends instructional time. For a mother or father, it provides a window into the classroom. For a youngster, it’s an opportunity to acquire real organizational and study skills that will serve him over a lifetime. This is why it’s so important to maintain a firm, serious attitude about homework. Sure, it’s fun to mix it up with games and even rewards, but ultimately your youngster needs to know that homework has to be done well.

25. Try a number of different approaches to homework. It may take a while before you hit upon the solution that works best for your youngster. Of course, if you suspect a particular problem, always seek advice from an appropriate professional, be it a pediatrician, optometrist, school psychologist, or similar. Homework doesn’t have to be a drag for all concerned. Mix some creative problem solving with a little bit of effort, and your family will reap the benefits.

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