Whose Homework Is It?

By Cheryl Feuer Gedzelman, MA

What happens during homework time at your house? Do you have to nag Jimmy to do his homework? Do you have to check to see if he did it properly? Do you check and approve, only to find out later that he never wrote down part of it in the first place? Is homework a constant source of frustration for you?

The first thing to remember is that homework is not your job; it’s your child’s job. You worked all day, cooked dinner, and took Jimmy back and forth to football practice. No wonder you resent having to be responsible for homework as well. It is important to teach your child responsibility and reward him accordingly. Praise him for being responsible. Be impressed with the work he does. Give him other responsibilities as well, such as doing dishes or taking care of his little sister. If he proves to be responsible, reward him with privileges, such as a night out to the movies.

But do not give your child too much responsibility. Although homework is her job, Tiffany still may need some help now and then. Many parents expect their children to do their homework right after school, while the parents are still at work. The problems with this arrangement are:
1. Tiffany may find a part she does not understand and have no one there to help her.
2. She may become sidetracked and end up doing something else.
3. Her best friend may call, interrupting everything.

Even though children need responsibility, not all of them are mature enough to impose their own discipline. I recommend having a set homework time every day at a time when a parent or other adult is there to help if needed. Children should do homework in a quiet place with no other people in the same room unless the other people are working, too. While some children claim to work better with music, most people can actually concentrate better without it. While your child is working, someone else can field phone calls; calls may be returned after homework time.

How can you help your child with homework? First of all, remember, it is not your job.
You are available only if needed. You want your child to be mostly independent. If asked for help, do not give away the answer. Ask Michael to read the directions again. Ask him what he thinks the teacher is asking for. Give hints. Make him work. In this way, he will learn to think for himself, and it will not be particularly convenient to ask you about every little thing.

Should you check your child’s homework? At the beginning of the year, yes. With your child, set standards for acceptable quality and neatness. Then assess the situation. If Patty consistently seems to be completing homework neatly and completely, then stop checking. If she rushes through it to finish early, insist that it be done properly. If this becomes too much of a battle, make homework time a set amount of time, allowing about 20 minutes more than she usually takes. If she insists that she finished, tell her that she could use the rest of the time to read or study. She probably will realize that she might as well take her time and do a good job.

If homework is consistently a battle despite taking the measures above, write and sign a contract with your child. If he does all his homework for a week, he will get some special treat, such as a dinner at his favorite restaurant. If he does not do his homework properly, he loses privileges, like going out to play or watching TV. It is his choice, and you are providing motivators. The advantage is that that you do not have to nag.

If the reward system does not work and homework is still not completed, there might be other reasons. Children with attention problems, such as Attention Deficit Disorder, may have difficulty organizing their time, and setting and implementing plans for completing homework efficiently. Many children with organizational difficulties also neglect writing down all their assignments completely and forget to bring home necessary books. In this case, it is important to gain cooperation from the teacher. Many students with ADD have a whole extra set of text books at home. Another homework interference is a learning disability or a gap in skills. If these are possibilities for your child, speak to the teacher(s) about potential interventions.

Many parents try to help their children with homework. This is successful for some families, but for other families, emotional relationships interfere. “Mom, I’m not dumb, you know!” In this case, a tutor might be the answer. Again, a tutor is not there to do Sandra’s homework for her. A tutor can answer questions, help teach areas of difficulty, and teach study and homework skills that will help Sandra work more efficiently.

Most importantly, do not wait too long before checking on the homework situation. If your child falls too far behind with homework assignments, he may just give up. Then the battle will become too large. Based on previous school years, you know your child and you will probably recognize patterns of behavior and warning signs. Trust your judgment. Be proactive. It will be worthwhile in the long run.

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