As this blog posts, the yellow school bus convoys are soon to be rolling down the highway and Ring Ring Ring…just like that school is officially back in session!

Last week at my office it was a sad state of affairs in the waiting rooms as I went to retrieve my young clients to begin sessions. Seriously, I think the only news that could have created more silence or more long looking faces would be if Christmas was cancelled this year! Hard as the sweet tots had prayed for it not to return, school was about to begin, and they were not happy.

As we talked about what they dreaded most about returning to school from first graders to college students it was always the same response…HOMEWORK! What I wanted to tell my young friends is that believe it or not their parents may dread homework more than they do!

Perhaps the evenings at your home look like a scene from The Sound of Music with everyone singing happily and smiling over homework but for the rest of us it is probably more like a scene straight out of Deliverance! Here are some common phrases that have been said at various decibel levels in our home over the last ten years regarding homework.

 Did you do your homework? Are you sure? Let me see it… now!

Why didn’t you tell me yesterday when we were at Walmart that you needed a poster board?

No, I do not know what the Square root of 529 is! (Note…I am pretty sure I have NEVER calculated such a thing)

Mom, have you seen my calculator? (which means they have lost MY calculator)

What do you mean you don’t know IF you have homework for that class? Were you at school today?

You need this book by tomorrow! Why am I buying this book? Did they have a fire at the school library?

Write that again, it looks like a serial killer wrote that!

Go ask your Dad… insert eye roll (In which the response would be from the child, “He said to ask you.”)

I am not a mobile craft store… so no, I do not currently have in stock 4 rolls of tape, some glitter glue, and Civil War figurines!

I think you get the point…homework can be stressful on the entire family!

Now before you get too down about the impending homework doom…keep reading. The keys to slaying the homework monster are not as daunting as they may seem. Take stock, executive functioning skills such as: getting organized, resisting impulses, staying focused, using time wisely and planning ahead are not innate skills for most people. They must be taught. The bright side of this is if we teach these skills to our kids while they are young, they will possess them for life.

So here are some pointers on how to keep homework in check this school year…Get ready to suit up for battle!

Organize that Backpack Many parents and teachers have nearly been thrown into cardiac arrest by the simple act of opening a student’s backpack. It is seriously like going on an archaeological dig through the layers of the child’s life. Avoid this by setting up a system from the beginning and enforcing a weekly purging and restocking. Friday afternoons or Sunday evenings are a great time…make it become a habit!

Suspend Technology: Consider having a no video game, TV, technology rule for school nights. This will stop kids from rushing through homework just to get to the technology. Plus it gets rid of extra over stimulation that can impact sleep. If you do allow tech during the week, make it contingent upon the completion of homework and reading time. Obviously it is the “tech age” and many kids (like mine) do most of their work on a computer now. Help them learn to set digital boundaries so they don’t surf the web or waste time on social media. If needed, there are apps available to help them police themselves. 

Create a System: If the teacher requests a certain system of notebooks and folders, help your child label and arrange folders or tabs as requested. If the teacher did not request a certain method, assist your child to plan for each class in an organized manner. Most importantly they should know where homework should be stored for each class. Each night that they do homework it should go into the appropriate folder. Avoid the “I forgot my homework blues” by teaching kids to review their planner and check that the homework is in the correct folder and backpack each night. 

Start with a break: All families have a different rhythm with parent work schedules, activities, and the time families arrive home to do homework. The natural urge of a parent is to want to press kids to get the homework done BUT immediately after school… kids are toast. Allow children to have a snack and get outside if possible. Kids have been cooped up all day and need a chance to relax and recharge. In addition, this will help your child focus more when the time comes for homework. If your child is a part of after school care or activities, time spent there may allow for the break needed before starting on tasks. 

Special Place to Work: Every family has a different amount of space available in their home. Try to find a place that has the least amount of distraction as well as good lighting. Trust me, it is not the size of the space that you have, it is the organization. Any space can work with some creative thought! I grew up sharing a bedroom with my sister in a small mobile home and managed to squeeze out a study space. Also for three years, our small kitchen table was used for meals and as a nursing library while our Mom was in school. Hey, whatever works!

This space should also include items needed for homework such as paper, pens, pencils, crayons, ruler, calculators, etc. The constant need to seek out needed items loses focus and time. If you are limited on space (like my family was), just store  them in a small tote or box and take them to your space each day. If your child needs prompting to stay on task, they might need to be where you can monitor what they are doing. You can have them sit at the kitchen table while you cook dinner or do other tasks. Kids who are more independent may be able to work alone in their room.

Consistent Routine: While it would be ideal to do homework at approximately the same time each day, it is more likely that it will vary day to day. Work to establish homework patterns that become a predictable routine. For example, if your child has sports on Tuesdays and Thursdays then have them get into a routine of doing the bulk of homework on Mondays and Wednesdays.

Eat the Frog First: What? YUCK! Mark Twain is credited for saying that if you eat a live frog each morning, you can then go through the rest of your day knowing that is the worst thing that will happen to you! This translates to homework in this way: do your most dreaded or weakest subjects first. If math is you nemesis, do that first. This allows for the use the best focus time on the most difficult task. Then the rest of your tasks will seem like  a breeze!

Calendars and Lists: By around third grade students should be able to copy down their assignments in an agenda book or planner. Once they come home they can decide what order they want to tackle the assignments and check them off when complete. They can also use their calendar to plan ahead for upcoming tests and projects.

Planning ahead…stop procrastination: A crucial skill for students to learn is how to break down a long term project. If a book report is assigned help your child work backwards from the date the report is due. Using their planner have them write down deadlines to choose the book, how many pages to read per day and the days needed to write the report. 

How to end the rushing through: Let kids know that no matter how much homework they have assigned that the following time ( depends on the age of the child) will be designated homework time. If they do not have assignments that day or finish before the time is up they are to spend the rest of the time reading or reviewing notes for another class.

Celebrate: Praise your child as you see them working to be organized, staying on task, and keeping up with their homework. Use phrases like: “Wow, I see that you are working hard to keep your backpack organized. Good job!” or “I know that reading is not your favorite thing to do but you are really doing well this year at it.” Set up small celebrations like cooking their favorite meal, extra free time, or a family outing to show you see their effort. Remember, positive reinforcement is more likely to influence long term behavior change than negative.

Special notes for Movers and Shakers

Many kids actually NEED to move to enhance learning. This is especially true for kinestheic learners and students with ADHD. Kids do not have to be sitting down to do homework. if they want to stand up and write at the table or walk around while reading aloud…that is fine. Be creative…practice spelling words or math problems outside with sidewalk chalk. Older students can make up a dance or a rap to remember information for a test.

How much is too much homework?

Each school and school system has a homework policy. You can usually locate this on your school’s website. If you feel that your child has too much homework or it is taking longer than it should, first contact your child’s teacher. The teacher can share with you how long he or she feels the work should require and go from there.

How do I know if my child has a learning difference?

Homework should not cause tears and tantrums every day. Resistance to do homework is not always the results of strong will, often it is the sign of frustration from a child struggling with learning differences.  If you have implemented a good routine and homework is still a dreaded task for your child it is time to consult professionals. Start with your child’s teacher who can also bring in other school resource personnel as needed. Don’t wait…the earlier we identify learning differences the better the outcome for students.

Ready…Suit Up…GO!

Now you are ready to slay that awful horrible no good homework monster! I see you with your helmet, shield, breastplate, and sword. Watch out homework monster…consider yourself warned…they are coming for you!

As always, until next time may you be well, may you be loved, and may you know true peace.

Read more about Melissa C. Harrell and her work. Like Resiliency Counseling and Consulting, PLLC

The purpose of this blog is to offer educational information related to mental wellness. Resiliency Counseling & Consulting, PLLC and Melissa Harrell do not offer diagnosis or treatment through this medium. If you feel that you or a family member needs to access mental health services, first contact your primary care physician for assessment and direction in your area. If you need immediate help, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.