The Homework Wars

How to manage homework meltdowns

Posted Oct 10, 2017

Pixabay/CC0 Public Domain, free image
Source: Pixabay/CC0 Public Domain, free image

For many, summer went too quickly and, for others, school routines couldn’t come soon enough. Either way, school is back in session and for many it means the dreaded homework battles are back on. Most of us don’t know how homework has grown to become such a big part of our kids’ lives, as many parents don’t seem to remember having to do much homework as a child. Why? Because we didn’t have as much homework!

There is a strong and passionate debate about whether or not homework helps kids learn. Experts and parents are also arguing about the right amount of time children should be formally learning versus experiential life learning. While there are proponents on all sides, I can honestly say from my own home life with my kids and the lives of my clients (both students and parents), homework causes a lot of stress for most students and their parents.

Years ago, when my three children were having homework meltdowns in elementary school, I made the mistake of telling them that homework was important for learning and for their future. This not only did not register with them, they didn’t believe me, and it didn’t make sense to them. I can’t blame them. I hated doing homework too. “Why do I need to do more school work after I have spent the whole day at school!?”…“Why do I have to keep doing these math packets over and over when I already know how to do this!?”…“Shouldn’t we have time to do stuff we want too?!” I finally stopped trying to defend the system and started listening to them. When I just parroted back what I was “supposed” to say, I could see I was losing credibility with them. When I listened and validated their feelings, they felt heard. They still hated homework and found/find it mostly a waste of time (compared to what they want to do), but I noticed there was less time spent on the arguing and convincing, and more time spent on the reality—doing it or suffering the consequences.

Everyone who knows me personally or professionally knows I am passionate about teaching the skill of dealing with—and accepting—reality.  Inner peace and harmony comes from accepting “what is”  and depression, anxiety, angst, and even anger come from wanting things to be other than the way they are in this moment.

So where am I going with all of this? 

Homework is the reality, so it is our job as parents to help our kids deal with this reality. My conversations about homework (when there is complaining and avoidance) with my middle-schooler and high-schoolers now go something like this: “So how much do you have?...What do you have to do?...So what happens if you don’t do it?...What is your plan?...Let me know if you need some help…Let me know if you get stuck and could use some ideas.” Instead of battling and investing myself in the outcome, their outcome, I try to detach from the emotion and talk them through their reality. Parents should not be stressing about our child’s science project?!

Homework isn’t going away anytime soon. As parents, we can do our own homework by rethinking the life lessons it can teach us—and our children. 

Here are 5 questions to manage The Homework Wars:

1. Whose homework is it? This may sound obvious but we can get easily sucked into our children’s drama and our own worries about their grades and future.

2. How can I help my child get started? Often children (of all ages) often feel overwhelmed and just need help breaking the tasks down in order to get started.

3. Do I need to provide structure to help my child stay focused and complete the task? We are in a world that promotes multi-tasking. We do it and our kids do it. We often need to find a space and time free of distractions to provide an effective environment.

4. Does my child need help with the subject? If so, how much? If your child is struggling and you can help without too much conflict, then great. If your child continues to struggle despite your help and has more difficulty than you would expect, it may mean that they have a learning issue and need specialized tutoring and identification of a learning issue. If you suspect this, talk to your child’s teacher and school or seek professional help.

5. How can I help my child become more independent (over time)? Our job as parents is to help our kids grow and we need to start wherever they are. Rather than say, “They should be able to do this on their own at this age,” try saying, “How can I help them work more independently” or “How can I foster more confidence than they have now” —meet your child where he or she is now.

If you can follow these rules, I guarantee you’ll receive top marks!