According to Scottsdale Pediatric Behavioral Services owner and clinical director, Dr. Jacob Boney, one of the most common issues that parents struggle with has to do with homework. He routinely hears some version of:
Dr. Jacob, I’m trying to do homework with my child but my kid throws a fit. Has a meltdown or throws a tantrum. It takes like two to three hours a night to do homework with my kid. What am I doing wrong? What should I do instead?
Homework, especially the amount of time that it takes, is a very common concern. Homework can actually start as early as kindergarten and the stress created seems to only be increasing for parents as well as the students themselves. One reason for this may be the fairly prevalent belief that it is the parents’ job to assist the child with the actual assignments. This should never be the goal. It may seem helpful in the moment but will definitely not be beneficial for the child long-term.
Parents Role in the Homework Process
According to Dr. Boney, the parent should focus on the homework process and not the assignments. Children should have the basic knowledge of what they are supposed to be doing and homework should just be a practice and repetition of that. If this is not the case and the child needs more in-depth assistance because they do not understand the material, the parent can help but only occasionally. More than that is an issue that needs to be brought to the teacher.
What the parent should be doing is to help the child learn the component skills involved in doing homework. Basically, these are being able to read and follow directions and place things in order or sequence to plan out the assignment. So, the parent should help with the process, not the assignment, itself.
Homework should not take more than an hour per day, especially for younger children. Sessions that drag out for two to three hours are inefficient. When doing homework requires constant breaks and the need for continual motivation, this can be a red flag that there is a problem and may require consultation with the child’s teacher.
Behavioral Recommendations for Making Homework Time a Smoother Process
- Schedule session when child is most motivated
- Schedule for when tolerance for stress and task demands are highest
- Allow them a break right after getting home from school
- Never do homework for more than an hour (shorter for younger children – adjust as child gets older)
- Create quiet, distraction-free environment
- Limit other types of stimuli
- Remain calm and patient with the child
- Offer as much encouragement as possible
- Minimize your use of words and participation
- Be the example you want your child to emulate
All children get frustrated. The key is to stop the undesirable behaviors and make it clear that all they have to do is ask for a break or for help. If they learn that their words work really well, like “I need a break, Mom” or “I’m really tired”, then they won’t need tantrums or meltdowns.
Use positive reinforcement so that the child is motivated to complete the homework session as quickly and efficiently as possible. Make the most reinforcing part of the child’s day come right after homework. This can be allowing them to do something they really enjoy, like playing video games or watching a special TV show. Plan that portion of the day to come right after homework. Planning a low preferred activity with the high preferred activity can make the child less adverse to the low preferred activity. This is the Premack Principle which states that preferred behaviors, or behaviors with a higher level of intrinsic reinforcement, can be used as rewards, or reinforcements, for less preferred behaviors.
Research has shown that most parents are actually not that effective when it comes to helping their own children with homework. Teachers, tutors and other adults have better results because of the absence of emotional history present in family relationships. Whether the parent opts to help with homework or bring in outside assistance, it is important to understand the goal and the benefits of reinforcing behavior.
Praise the child for being calm and for completing assignments independently. You are going to get the behaviors that you consistently reinforce. So, if you pay attention to calm, independent and responsible types of behaviors, and you make it clear to the child how important that is to you, the child is going to give that to you, consistently.
Utilizing evidence based practices and the scientific principles of Applied Behavior Analysis, the Scottsdale Pediatric Behavioral Services team provides assessment, treatment and consultation for a wide range of behavioral issues. We work with a variety of children, families, schools, hospitals, mental health agencies and local community organizations to provide these services. If you have any questions about how to help your child with the homework process or would like more information about any of the services offered by our team, please feel free to contact us by phone at 480.410.4040, email us at [email protected], or click here for our convenient online form.