How to fix homework conflicts

Tips to avoid head-butting over homework

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Kate Quetton’s two daughters bring home stellar report cards — but also drama when it comes to homework. After much protesting, Meg, nine, researched a Saskatchewan town for a grade three travel brochure. Although the template featured dozens of blank lines, Meg wrote a bare minimum of facts, enlarging her printing to fill the space. When Quetton pressed for more detail, Meg flung her book across the room, shouting, “Why would I care about Shaunavon, Saskatchewan, anyway!”

“Her attitude is totally a homework issue,” says the Toronto mom. “When I saw the finished brochure she did in class, it was full of additional information in regular-sized writing.”

In many households, homework is a daily battle dreaded by kids and parents. So call a truce: Model patience and use these expert tips to support your child. After about a month, most kids will be working more independently, with their parents cheering them on. “Self-directed learning builds competence and confidence,” says Deborah Butler, a professor in the faculty of education at the University of British Columbia, who researches students who are struggling with academic work.
Create a routine If you want homework done, schedule time for it — every day. “Consistency is so important,” says Dan Rees, manager of the Police Youth Centre Boys and Girls Club of Ottawa. His staff oversaw 17,000 homework club visits during the past school year. If homework still takes too long, ask yourself if volume is the problem (if so, share concerns with the teacher) or if your child is being actively inefficient — struggling but not accomplishing.

See homework as a puzzle Instead of a sentence he’ll suffer through alone, you need to see homework as something you’ll figure out together. “It’s motivating for kids to work with a parent toward a common goal, and that goal is learning something,” says Butler. Your role? Stop being an authority figure who dictates what to do; instead, imagine yourself beside your child, just like when he learned to ride a bike. You’re there to encourage and support, not steer and pedal.

Offer questions, not answers Get your child to clarify each task by asking a few magic questions: “Let’s see, what are we supposed to be doing?” and “How are we going to do that?” Then echo back: “We have to learn how to solve this math problem; let’s figure this out together.” After the mission’s accomplished, get your child to self-evaluate by saying: “How do you think you did? What helped you do that?” These questions empower kids to take control of their learning, which helps build critical thinking skills and independence, and helps them do better in school.

Work with her temperament Some kids can sit for 90 minutes; yours may need a break after 20. Butler worked with one child whose performance improved if she moved around while considering answers.

Reward and praise Rees’ homework program awards points for daily accomplishments, which may add up to a pizza party or a child seeing his name highlighted on the board. “Praise, praise, praise,” advises Darlene Bereta, a 14-year teaching veteran in Florence, NS. “Not every child can score 100 percent, but if they give it their best, tell them how proud you are.”

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