Making Homework work for you
Managing homework time to avoid tantrums and tears
In this second of four special blogposts, private tutor Omari Eccleston-Brown shares top tips from his upcoming book ‘The Secret to Happy Homework’ on how parents can use rules and structure to end homework battles.
Many of the parents I work with dread homework time. It has become a constant battle to get their children to sit down and finish it. They’re met with moaning, stalling and arguing and none of their tactics work.
“Omari, you know I manage a team of 30 people at work and I’m really good at it. But trying to get my boys to do their homework is like climbing Everest. I need a glass of wine afterwards—or two!”
I write about Caroline in my book. She was a client I was working with a few years ago. She was a senior lawyer at high pressure law firm in London, but by far the most challenging moment in her day was after school when she had to get her three boys all under 11 to do their homework. When I started working with her she was at the end of her tether and, like so many parents, she moaned about her boys, but really she blamed herself.
But she shouldn’t have. And neither should you. Homework is difficult. It’s a “second shift” for your children and for you. However, there are several things you can do to make managing it smoother, calmer and happier.
What’s the best structure for homework?
It’s true what they say. All children need structure. They just don’t all need the same one. Many of the books and articles you’ll come across, will suggest that there is such a thing as the right structure and make you feel like your job as a good
parent is to find it and then never deviate from it. But that part is neither true nor helpful. In fact, I find it’s often the very reason homework turns sour. There isn’t one magic structure that will work for every child. The same structure might not even work for your different children. Every child is different. So, your only real job is to find a structure that’s going to work for your child or your children. And that might not be the structure that works for Angelica, the darling child in your daughter’s class who can do her homework without any supervision. Or for the mum in the Instagram post you saw, who’s ‘absolutely loving’ home schooling, but whose children don’t have the complex neurodiverse needs yours do. So, avoiding comparisons – as hard as that is – and focussing on your child is the one of the best things you can do for yourself and for them.
In the first blog of this series, I suggested that a great way to find the right time to start homework is to make your child responsible for that decision. For instance, let them know that they have 2.5 hours between getting home and dinner and when they do their homework within that window is their responsibility, but it does have to get done.
When you create your rules around homework think about what would provide workability for the whole family based on your rhythms and what’s most important to you all. For instance, eating dinner together or reading together may be an important value to you and that should be factored into any schedule you make. I give parents the table below as a simple way of helping them make these sorts of decisions. Again, the emphasis here isn’t on finding the right way, but on finding your way. And don’t decide on these rules when you’re actually doing homework and everyone’s stressed. Choose a calm moment, at the weekend, when you can order a takeaway and watch a movie when you’re done. Take the time necessary to get everyone on the same page beforehand and you’ll save yourself a lot of tears later on.
What should I do when my child doesn’t finish their homework?
If they haven’t finished their homework because they’ve been stalling or messing around, then I recommend letting them go to school the next day and face the natural consequence from their teacher for not completing their homework. Most children, especially if they’re young, still care what their teachers think of them, and a couple of times seeing that mum or dad have stopped rescuing them from that will soon motivate them to get it done.
Of course, the other reason your child might not be completing their homework is because it’s too hard or there’s simply too much of it. If that’s the case, it’s still not a bad idea to let them go to school with the unfinished homework, but send a message to their teacher separately explaining that. Remember, homework is meant to be feedback for the teacher about where your child actually is and what they need help with. If they never get accurate feedback, because you always help, the teacher will probably continue setting unrealistic homework, and that will only erode your child’s confidence and keep you stuck by their side.
Should I insist they do their homework to a certain standard?
I’ve had lots of parents admit to me that by the time they’ve managed to get their child to write down three semi-coherent paragraphs of a story, they have no energy left to make them correct all the missed capital letters and full stops. Personally, I think it’s important as a parent to know which battles are worth fighting and to avoid imposing your adult standards on your children (especially if you know you’re a bit of a perfectionist). However, this doesn’t mean that you have to lower your standards or theirs completely. At the beginning of any piece of work discuss what the different stages are with your child. If it’s writing a story then they’re going to be planning, writing and checking. Once they’ve got three or five paragraphs down (or whatever the story requires), even if it’s full of mistakes, congratulate them—they’ve completed the second stage and the hardest part.
Once you recognise that any task is actually made up of different stages, there’s no problem letting your child have you’re OK with them doing half-finished work. Let them have the break, but also ask them when they want to come back to complete the job. Always give them this choice first. Let them take ownership of the process and feel that genuine pride in a job well done. Only if they refuse do you then say, ‘Well, I’d rather not choose for you, because it’s your story and I know you’re responsible enough. But if you don’t choose, that means I’m going to have to choose for you. Are you sure you wouldn’t rather choose yourself?’
By using these Happy Homework strategies, parents can get homework working for them, rather than against them. They create the space for it to become the productive, rich and rewarding experience it genuinely can be.
Omari Eccleston-Brown is the creator of the Happy Homework™ Programme. His book The Secret to Happy Homework: 7 Hidden Laws of Success is released in December 2020.
Read part one in this series, ‘How to motivate your child to do their homework’ here. Part three in this series, ‘Removing the Barriers to Happy Homework’ is available here. In part three, Omari explains how an understanding of Executive Function can quickly identify and correct common learning challenges, resulting in a dramatic increase in your child’s marks and enjoyment of their work.