The ABCs of Effective Homework Management

Are you ready to extricate yourself from the never-ending, self-defeating, viciously circular trap of participating in your child's homework?

Are you you ready to get out of the homework business? Then read on, because it's as easy as A-B-C.

"A" stands for "all by myself": The child does his homework in a private, personal place, preferably at a desk in his room, rather than in a public, family place such as the kitchen table. This physical arrangement not only helps define homework as the child's responsibility but also helps parents resist the urge to hover. As they say, "Out of sight, out of mind."

Homework done in the kitchen or any other family area quickly becomes a family affair. This virtually guarantees that homework will become a central, if not the central, issue in the family for most of the evening. Homework will command family attention, distract family members from other, more important responsibilities (such as being married), and drain energy from the family that might otherwise be available for more creative, productive pursuits.

The parents' first responsibility is to see that this personal, private homework place is stocked with everything the child needs to do his homework on his own. It should, in other words, be self-contained. There should be an ample supply of paper, pencils and/or pens in sufficient quantity, a ruler, glue, tape and - as they become necessary - a computer and printer. The child should be able, in other words, to do his homework without ever leaving the security of his cozy little homework place.

The parents' second responsibility is to see to it that the child's homework place is comfortable. There should be a comfortable chair, one that provides good support to the lower back, and a desk compatible with the child's height. The child's desk should have its own lamp, preferably one on a "gooseneck" or "swinging arm" so it can be positioned directly over the work being done.

"B" stands for "back off": You, the parent, stay out of the child's homework unless the child asks you to get involved. This means that you do not ask unnecessary questions or do unnecessary things like checking to make sure the child is really doing his homework. Not only don't you offer help, you don't rush to the child's rescue if you hear him pounding his desk in frustration. Remember the value of things learned "the hard way."

Now this is not to say that you shouldn't ever help, because you can, but only if the child asks. This exercises initiative. Likely as not, however, the child will not ask for help from his room nearly as often as he would ask if he was seated at the kitchen table.

If the child asks for help, and the request is legitimate, then parents can, and should, give help. When they do, it should be for only one of two reasons: First, because the child is "stuck" at some point, has given it his all, and truly needs adult guidance to get unstuck. Second, because he has finished his homework, but wants someone to critique (check) it. In either instance, parents should limit their involvement to . . .

* Clarifying or reinterpreting directions;

* Demonstrating or giving an example of a particular procedure;

* Reviewing or checking work for accuracy, clarity and adequacy.

Whatever help is rendered should be brief and encouraging. Parental involvement should rarely last longer than 15 minutes, with the norm being closer to five. If it looks like 15 minutes isn't going to do it, then the parents should consider referring the problem back to the child's teacher - yes, even if that means the child might not complete the work on time.

"C" stands for "call it quits at a reasonable hour": Set an upper time limit on homework. In most instances, the child should be responsible for deciding when to begin, but parents should decide when to call "time." The deadline should be consistent, say 8 o'clock every evening, but can be temporarily suspended for special projects and when the child needs more time to study for major tests. The shortest route to a nightly homework marathon is to tell a child when to begin but not when he must be done. Setting an upper limit teaches time management.

I recently passed my homework management plan on to the parents of a fourth-grade boy who had previously been successful at getting his mother to sit through homework with him nearly every night. Predictably, a homework marathon had developed and was consuming the family's evenings.

Complicating matters was the fact that Darrell had been diagnosed as having a learning disability and spent an hour a day in a special education program. This only served to reinforce his parents' belief that he needed lots of help with his studies. Mom viewed her nightly sacrifice, therefore, as absolutely essential. Persuading these folks to implement the ABCs of my homework management program was no small act of salesmanship.

But they did. They set an upper limit of 8 o'clock and after some initial displays of helplessness, Darrell began doing his homework pretty much on his own, in his room rather than at the kitchen table as before. At 8, whether he was finished or not, his parents made him put his books aside and prepare for his 9 o'clock bedtime. Within several weeks, his teachers reported that Darrell was not only turning in all of his homework and completing more work in school, but also that the quality of his work was improving considerably.

Although Mom was much less involved, she continued the practice of calling out Darrell's spelling words on Thursday night in preparation for Friday's test.

One Thursday night, Darrell started watching television after supper and was still watching at 8 o'clock. Suddenly, realizing what time it was, he panicked. He jumped up, ran to his room, got his spelling book, and asked his mother to give him his practice test. Mom refused, pointing out that homework time was over. Darrell was beside himself and began insisting that he would surely fail the next day's test and that it would be her fault.

"It was hard," she admitted, recounting the incident. "There was a whole hour before his bedtime that I could have helped him, but I didn't."

"So what did he do?" I asked.

"Well," she answered, "the next morning he got up early and studied his words by himself in his room. Then he went to school and used the half-hour between when the bus gets him to school and the first bell to study some more. It was the first time he'd studied them all on his own."

"So how'd he do on the test?" I asked.

"You won't believe this," his mother said, laughing. "He got the first perfect score he'd ever gotten on a spelling test."

In truth, I had no trouble believing it. It never fails: The more responsible a child is for his or her school performance, the better the child does in school.

From "John Rosemond's Fail-Safe Formula for Helping Your Child Succeed in School," Copyright 2014, John Rosemond

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