By Amy Smith
Is there a daily struggle in your household as your child plows through (or perhaps tries to avoid) a daunting pile of homework assignments? A child who struggles to focus may find this a stressful and intimidating part of the day, but it doesn’t have to be. With a few smart strategies, you can turn homework into a manageable and even enjoyable part of your child’s school-day routine.
Take a Breather First
Don’t start harping on homework as soon as your child steps off the bus. He’s had a long, busy day already. He may be tired, hungry, or just not in the mood for more studying. Make that first hour after school an oasis of relaxation. Offer healthful snack options, encourage him to head outside for a bike ride, or just let him kick off his shoes and kick back on the couch. A break from the schedule, hurrying, and the demands of academic work will leave him feeling refreshed and ready for a solid chunk of study time later.
Set a Regular Homework Time
Establish a certain time of day as “homework time” every day. For example, let your child know that 4 p.m. is studying time. Set a timer, and when it goes off gently but firmly remind her that it’s time to get down to business. If you are consistent with this reminder, she will accept the transition to homework as a normal part of every school day.
Make a Special Space
Is your child trying to write a research paper at the dining room table, between dirty breakfast dishes and his little brother’s toys? It’s well known that concentration and focus are easier in a tidy environment. Make a dedicated space for your child to do homework. This doesn’t need to be complicated or fancy. Just set aside part of the kitchen counter or put a small desk in one corner of the living room. Add pens, pencils, erasers, a stack of fresh paper and any other supplies he might need. A poster with helpful math reminders, writing tips or inspirational quotes can make the space more personal and help keep him focused on studying.
Keep Things Quiet During Homework Time
If you have pets or other children in the house, this may take some extra planning on your part, but it’s worth the effort to make a quiet, studious environment at homework time. Peaceful surroundings and an absence of interruptions will help your child give her full attention to the task at hand, rather than having to refocus after many distractions. Provide quiet occupations for other children, put the dog out in the yard, turn off the TV, and remember not to interrupt your child with questions or conversation when she’s working.
Break it Down, Start Easy
A little planning can go a long way towards making homework seem manageable to your child. You can accomplish this by helping your child to write down each assignment, on paper or on a whiteboard. Then ask him to work through the assignments from easiest to hardest. As he quickly finishes the easier tasks and crosses them off the list, he gets a feeling of accomplishment and the satisfaction of seeing his workload growing smaller. One or two difficult projects will seem much more doable after he has knocked out everything else on the list.
Provide Praise – And Rewards
Whether it’s securing a promotion at work or a winning a championship in the local soccer league, everyone enjoys being recognized for his or her accomplishments. Your child is no different. She loves to hear your honest praise when she finishes a homework assignment. Even if she has made mistakes, find the parts she did right and praise those before pointing out anything that needs correction. For a child who struggles with focus and attention, the seemingly simple act of finishing a paper deserves praise. And for exceptional work or dedication, consider rewarding your child with something she enjoys: a movie night with you, a special dessert, an outing with friends or some extra spending money next time you go shopping together.
Press the Reset Button
When homework is finished, have your child gather his books and papers neatly and pack them up for the next school day. Don’t let homework drag on interminably. Studies show that doing homework for too long each day can be counter-productive for learning, so encourage your child to finish up and then go do something fun. If he enjoys playing outside, shoo him out the door. If he likes to help with cooking dinner, invite him into the kitchen to prepare something delicious alongside you. Playing with younger siblings or taking the dog for a walk can also be great ways to relax from the intensity of focusing on homework.
If your child has worked diligently in a neat space, at a regular time, with minimal distractions, he should still have time left for fun in the evening. Timely praise from you and a shift back to relaxing, non-academic activity after homework time will help keep your child from feeling stressed and burned out. Instead, he may come to enjoy the quiet, focused time in his personalized study space.