The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, October 5, 2007


Homework: headache for parents and students?

When you were a kid, did you like doing homework? Was there ever a time you didn't want to do it? The assignment of academic work after putting in six plus hours at school should not be unfamiliar to any of us. Now, it's our kids' turn. Taking time to be empathetic by recalling
Susan Taber

Susan Taber, a learning specialist, coaches a student doing her homework. (Courtesy photo)

how this task was for us may help prevent many tear-filled evenings in the future.

What's the purpose

of homework?

Understanding the purpose of homework is a good start. If we understand it, then we can help our children comprehend why their teachers would give them more to do after the regular school day ends.

First of all, students benefit from follow-through. What they learned that day can be reinforced with additional material once they are at home and able to digest it at their own pace. The practice can help them learn and retain new information, and above all, they can learn to work independently over time. The bottom line is that a reasonable amount of homework is a helpful way to review, digest and learn the day's lessons.

You may, at times, find yourself wondering if your kids are getting too much of a good thing. Some educators, like Dr. Harris Cooper from Duke University, claim that homework has a negative impact on children and their families, causing undue stress in the household. According to Dr. Cooper, family routines and plans can be significantly disrupted by the burdens of homework, leaving little time for quality family bonding. As many of us have directly experienced, homework can sometimes create emotionally charged conflicts between parents and their children. In my practice, I often see students, both younger and older, who procrastinate at homework time or just plain refuse to do it. Needless to say, this is often the source of tremendous strain within families. The end result can be negative student attitudes toward school and learning, which leads to procrastination that causes stress in the family, which leads to tear-filled evenings, which leads to well, you get the picture. It becomes a vicious cycle.

Keeping the peace at homework time

Since homework is most likely here to stay in one form or another, what can parents do to keep the peace at home while ensuring that their kids are getting the work done? Common complaints from parents run the gamut: their children don't remember to bring work or materials to and from home; it takes all night for their kids to complete an assignment; their child isn't doing his or her best work, waits until the last minute, or worse yet, refuses to do the task in the first place; or the student seems unable to work independently, thus, making homework a family affair. Sound familiar?

Carlisle dad Kevin Brown helps his son Griffin with his homework. (Photo by Mollie McPhee)

Actually, you're not alone. These issues are seen across all levels of our society. It does help to remember that behind every negative behavior lurks a potential problem or concern. Awareness of these underlying issues may help to resolve at least a portion of the homework headache. Let's take a closer look by asking ourselves the following questions:

Is it that my child won't do the homework or perhaps can't do the homework?

Tip: If it turns out to be the latter, it might be time to consider getting outside or in-school support for your child. Some common behaviors may be pro-crastination or resistance. A lack of understanding of the assignment or subject, fatigue and disorganization are just a few of the hidden issues behind such behaviors.

Is the setting in which my child does homework well-lit, distraction-free, and/or providing enough work space?

Tip: Consistency and predictability can play important roles in helping a student settle into the mode of doing homework. Some kids actually perform better if they have "productive distracters" such as fiddling with silly putty or a koosh ball and even playing quiet background music on an iPod, which serves as white noise. (My own kids played music for years while they did their homework. It drove me crazy since I personally prefer complete silence to concentrate, but their grades were terrific, and they were making honor roll.)

How organized is my child at the onset of homework? Does he or she know where or how to begin? Does s/he have the proper tools and supplies to do the work?

Tip: Give your kids a jump-start with an assignment by helping them set up an effective approach. This can be accomplished through discussion, helping to visually break down a large assignment, and/or providing easy access to school-related materials and supplies.

It's their homework, not yours

Keeping in mind that this is their homework, not yours, will be the greatest challenge. Of course, we parents have the best of intentions. We all want our kids to do well, and we certainly hate to see them struggle, but involving ourselves too much could lead to learned helplessness or the kids' belief that they cannot succeed without being rescued.

Stand firm in a role of organizer, guide or cheerleader. Let your kids know that you're always available if they have a question or need help getting started. However, let them also know where you've drawn the line with homework completion. (You may wish to inform your child's teacher that this is the arrangement at home.) Your kids may put up a fuss at first, but once they realize that, with your support, they can manage more independently, you and they will be proud of their accomplishments, and the homework headache will, for the most part, finally have some remedies.

Susan Taber is the founder of Learning Strategies Unlimited, a private practice in Carlisle. She coaches students of all ages and adults to improve organization, executive functioning and academic challenges. She supports teachers and administrators by providing professional development workshops on a host of topics. For further information, send an e-mail to

2007 The Carlisle Mosquito