Homework Headaches

By Vicky Katz Whitaker

June 5, 2009 5 min read


Tackle tough subjects by making them fun

Vicky Katz Whitaker

Creators News Service

The school day may end in mid-afternoon, but with homework, the learning process can continue right up to suppertime and then some.

Many children have a hard time developing good habits, especially if they dislike a subject. That can lead to failing grades and family arguments that turn the homework process into homework horror for both parent and child. Fortunately, it's fixable, experts say.

Since parents influence on the way children view homework, Emma Kress, a New York City educational consultant, thinks they must adjust their own attitudes. "Your children listen to you more than you probably realize. If you moan about hating homework or grumble about a teacher's stupid assignments, then your kid will too," she said. "If you have work to do when you get home from the office but the first thing you do is kick off your shoes and sit down in front of the TV, then your kid probably will too. I'm not saying you can't do those things ... just be mindful of the messages you're sending."

And, she added, "If you're seeing a pattern to your child's struggles in school across subjects, it might be worth a conversation with the school psychologist."

If children struggle with homework, they either lack skills or motivation, contended Jamie Woolf, a California psychologist and author whose book, "Mom-In Chief: How Wisdom from the Workplace Can Save Your Family From Chaos" ($23, Jossey-Bass), promotes employing workplace techniques for a smoother family life. "Once you diagnose the problem, you will provide the right kind of help, just as good managers do with marginal performers," she said.

Check your child's writing skills, suggested Cris Rowan, a Canadian child development expert focused on the impact of technology overuse on children. A salient feature in children who hate homework, she said, is that they don't know how to print -- a foundation for literacy in all subjects. "Not having a subconscious letter and number production affects every subject and diverts precious brain power away from spelling, sentence production, math, science, etc."

Rowan blames technology overuse (TV, video games, cell phones, internet) for the problem, along with a decline in the amount of time spent teaching young children how to print.

Parents really control the learning environment, noted Eva Patrikakou, director of DePaul University's Special Education for Teachers program in Chicago. "Homework is a form of parental involvement and it should not be done on the fly," she said. "Nor should it be processed in isolation from the school and what the teacher does in the classroom."

Many educators believe that the best way to help a child deal with homework is to provide a work area that is well lit with all supplies available and freedom from distractions. But in her book, "Thinking Organized for Parents and Children" ($15, Thinking Organized), speech and language pathologist and organizational consultant Rhona Gordon argued that it's the kind of noise that can distract a child from doing homework. "Noise means background that masks other sounds, such as classical music or white noise. Sitting in or near the kitchen might provide enough background noise to keep the child engaged," she said.

Because they get lonely, young children especially need a parent nearby, said Pennsylvania child psychologist Dr. Tamar Chansky. "Sit near them and do your reading or catch up on bills or letters. They will gain comfort from your presence but will be working independently."

If a child dislikes a subject, talk about it, urged Laura Olsen, vice president of education for the Kiddie Academy, a network of child day care and education centers across the U.S. "As adults, we are well aware that we are going to have to do things that we would rather not. Explain to your child that you understand she doesn't like a certain subject area, but it is still her responsibility to complete the work. Work together to figure out a good way to get the homework completed, whether that means sitting with her and cheering her on or allowing her to work on it in short amounts of time with many breaks."

Games can also help you accomplish that goal, she added. "Children love to play games. Turning the dreaded homework assignment into an enjoyable game will help your child complete his work without the usual moaning and groaning."

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