7 Strategies for Helping Kids with Homework
Kids have more homework today than ever before. They’re under a lot of pressure to succeed and get into a top college. The result is that many kids today are as stressed as adults.1
If arguments about homework are common in your otherwise happy home, or you’re a busy parent struggling to help your kids with homework, there are solutions. Nagging rarely works and can end up frustrating your kids. Coaching kids and cheering them on is a better strategy.
Whether it falls primarily on you or your full-time nanny to help your kids with homework, here are some teacher-approved tips for easing their homework stress.
1: Get to know your kids’ teachers. Attend parent-teacher conferences and other events and get to know your child’s teachers. Ask about their homework policies and what they’re looking for with more creative subjects like writing and the arts. The more you understand each teacher’s expectations, the better equipped you’ll be to help your kids.
2: Create a designated homework area. It can be a corner of the living room, the dining room table, a den, or even a finished basement. The goal is to choose a quiet, distraction-free space where your child can concentrate—especially if there are other young kids in the house. Supply the space with all the things your child will need for homework—pencils, pens, colored markers, scissors, construction paper, lined paper, a calculator, ruler, laptop/tablet, etc. If you have a plan to use a common area like the dining room table, keep your child’s supplies tucked away neatly in a portable bin while not in use.
3: Schedule homework time. An “as long as it gets done before bed” homework policy can lead to procrastination and sloppy work. Better to work with your kids on creating a homework schedule. If, like most kids, they have after-school activities like sports practice or dance class, create a schedule for each day of the week. Some kids need a break after school to decompress before starting homework. Others feel energized when they get home and want to start on it right away. It’s important to accommodate your child’s needs—it will help them do their best work.
4: Hold kids accountable for doing their own work. Don’t fall into the trap of picking up the slack for your kids when it comes to homework. If your child is genuinely struggling with a subject, tutoring can help, but doing your child’s homework for them is a bad idea. On heavy homework nights or when they have a big project due, make a plan. Break up homework time into manageable chunks, and make sure your child takes a break at least once an hour.
5: Motivate and encourage them. Be your kid’s homework ally. Give them frequent encouragement, check completed homework, and make time to help them. Ask them about their assignments, quizzes, and exams, and offer to help in any areas where they feel unsure.
6: Get them extra help if they need it. Some kids struggle with a particular subject. Math is a common one. Your child may simply have trouble grasping the concepts, despite their best efforts. This can lead to feelings of frustration and inadequacy. If they’re continuously struggling, consider hiring a tutor and investigate no-cost afterschool programs. Also, look for signs of a learning problem or attention disorder. Your child’s teacher is a great resource—ask about their observations.
7: Keep distractions to a minimum. Digital devices are killing the attention spans of kids and adults alike. Technology may even make kids more prone to symptoms of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).2 Homework time should be distraction-free—that means no smartphones, TV, social media, texting, or unnecessary internet browsing. They can check in with their friends during breaks.
The jury’s still out on homework incentives. Some argue that rewards can erode a child’s innate drive to do things on their own and might even make kids callous and manipulative; others say using rewards—when appropriate—can be an effective tool.3
Some children are motivated by grades and don’t require a lot of nudging. For others, getting through homework is a personal (and family) battle. For the latter group, offering incentives could be effective.
There are two types of incentives: simple and elaborate.
- Simple incentives: These are simple, fun activities when they finish their homework—things like watching a movie, going out for ice cream, or playing video games. Having something to look forward to can be a motivating incentive. It’s especially effective with younger kids.
- Elaborate incentives: More complex incentive systems require some thought and planning. An elaborate incentive system can include a “points” structure to purchase privileges and rewards. It may be a tiered system that delivers points based on the difficulty of the task. It’s important to get your child’s input on what kind of rewards motivate them. The system is more likely to be effective if your child is involved in the decision-making process.
In the process of creating an incentive system, you should identify existing problems (e.g., putting off doing homework, rushing through assignments), set goals, and decide on rewards and penalties (e.g., loss of a certain privilege).
Rewards don’t always hold their allure for long, so be prepared to tweak them as needed. If your child is racking up more penalties than rewards, you may need to change the structure of the system. Consult with a school counselor or child psychologist for advice on whether homework incentives are appropriate for your child.
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