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Ground rules to avoid bitter homework battles with your child

One of the greatest sources of conflict, frustration, and arguing during the school year is the topic of homework.

As I have worked as a counselor and “coach” with gifted/exceptionally talented children as well as those with learning disabilities, for over a decade, I have noticed that homework battles between parents and their children can be bloody.

My wife and I have a six and eight-year-old, and the battles have already begun!

By regularly rolling up my sleeves with parents and their child or adolescent and hammering out hundreds of strategic homework plans, I have developed a set of guidelines that families report minimize conflict and maximize productivity.

Below is my list of guidelines that I recommend you discuss with any other parent in the picture and then apply with your child or adolescent.

But the goal is not just to have your child or adolescent “comply”, but to have them “buy in”. To do this, you need to talk about the rationale behind each guideline to maximize the chances they see the reasonableness of the guideline. Great parents I know will even develop a “behavioral contract” and they will sign and have their child sign after their child recognizes the reasonableness of the overall set of homework ground rules. You would be amazed at how effective this kind of document can be! No room for cheating.

One of my core assumptions in talking with children and adolescents is all youth want to feel like they are in control of their own life. So, I recommend you talk about each of these ground rules with your child while always coming back to the idea that these ground rules will help them become more independent and thus more in control of their own life. In other words the message you are conveying is: “Help me get off your back by learning good homework completion skills so I can leave you alone and you are more in control of your life”.

>Ground rules for minimizing battles:

During the week, access to technology (Ipad, computer, etc.) is vastly minimized. And if access is given, it is only given AFTER work has been completed.

Specific times are set up and agreed upon by you when your child for when homework is done each day. Predictability increases productivity. Youth really do thrive on schedules, even if they fight against them tooth and nail at times. In fact, a great idea is to have a visual schedule were you have the days of the week across the top of a document and the times of day running down the left-hand margin. Visual weekly schedules are great organizational mechanisms that are effective! It truly helps you in your child remain focused on keeping pace and staying on course.

-Work is done in a completely non-distracting environment. Phones are taken away as well as any other addictive technology. Make sure the environment in which your child does homework is not one where they can sneakily access technology.

Homework can be broken up into work periods, such as one work period before dinner and one after. However, focus on having your child do as much work as possible in one sitting. Depending on their developmental stage, periods of intense and productive focus should be a minimal of 20 minutes (3rd grader) to 45-50 minutes (highschooler). If you’re child is not able to consistently focus and be productive in a non-interrupted way for time periods such as those noted above, that are tied to their age, then there is possibly a focusing problem or the environment is too distracting .

-Homework is not considered done until it is checked. Once it is checked, privileges/play can then be given/allowed.

Your child knows the quality of their work will bring certain kinds of consequences. You must as a parent have a system whereby sloppy or low levels of productivity bring stinging consequences that decreased the frequency of this kind of problematic homework behavior.

On the flip side, work that is done quite well could earn your child certain rewards. However, we never want a child to feel that just because they did their work they should earn a reward, unless there are extenuating circumstances such that tremendous effort must be exerted just for work to be completed. Example: if the child has a medical condition and just getting work done is a major effort and true triumph of will.

If a child reports they need to take a break during their work, minimize the duration of any particular break in the overall frequency of the number of breaks during a work session. Remember, one value of homework is to help your child develop the parts of their brain involved in focusing, judgment, planning, and strategizing. In other words, the frontal lobe, the most human part of the brain. If your child abuses their opportunity to take a break, then I’ve seen some parents effectively let their children know they only have a certain number of breaks during work session and once they take a break they use up a percentage of the overall total breaks they have.

During the homework breaks, do not let your child go to highly stimulating technology that only makes homework seem even duller and less attractive. Rather, they can get up, walk around, get a drink of water, or use the bathroom. Or, they can just rest momentarily. Humans have done this for millions of years without looking at an Ipad, and they can to. Too many parents succumb to the whining of their children who are hooked on technology.

If your child is having problems with a certain homework assignment, cultivate their ability to be resourceful to learn ways to work around the wall they are hitting. Assuming they are struggling is not based in low motivation, talk with them about different ways they can think about the problem at hand. You can always look for supportive resources offered such as by Khan Academy, which I wrote about in my blog: https://www.doctorbrunner.com/accelerate-your-childs-academic-progress-or-solve-learning-problems-with-this-world-class-internet-resource/

-Each week, on Sunday, take a look (with your child, let them lead!) at the next week and decide if on top of the normal homework times, other kinds of work sessions need to be scheduled, such as for special projects or upcoming exams. The older your child is, the more responsibility you want to give them to present you with their ideas on how they’re going to tackle this week’s workload. You want a ritually praised them as they’re showing more and more independence and prudence in scheduling and managing their own time.

The key to minimizing bloody homework battles and bitter struggles is to have a systematic way you approach homework with your child/adolescent, and yet remain adaptive and flexible at times as well. But not so flexible that there is not a recognizable schedule you are, in general, referring to.

Finally, always remember: if your child has special learning problems you may need the help of a tutor or homework coach to help you in the trenches solve extraordinary learning challenges. Never hesitate to consult a credible child expert.

The best parents I work with are proactive, rather than waiting till the problems are piling up and the school is calling them for a parent-teacher conference. Don’t be the parent was caught off guard, but rather, foresee the future by planning ahead. And better yet, teach your child to do this!

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Meet Doctor Brunner

Dr. Thomas (Tom) Brunner is a Tucson based psychologist and published expert who has a 20 year track record of clinical excellence, scientific research, teaching, publications, awards and podcast interviews.  He is the senior author of a psychological measure adapted into 14 languages worldwide, and has written over 250 blogs, many of them have gone viral.  He is revolutionizing the field of career guidance with his fresh and trademarked approach that is spreading like wildfire. Sign up here to be notified of soon to be published book, Find Your Real Me: Career Guidance Making You Truly Free.