How to Help Your Child with Homework

How to Help Your Child with Homework

I did an image search online for “parents and homework” and I laughed out loud when I saw the image above. Isn’t that what homework time looks like at your house — smiling parents high-fiveing their happily engaged kids? Really? Great job! If not, read on…

Here’s what happened to me last night: I got home early, ready to meet my family for some much-deserved sushi. I glanced at the kitchen table before heading out to the restaurant and notice my son Derek’s Weekly Reflection from his teacher on the counter. It said his writing homework was “hasty and skimpy,” and that he failed to explain his reasoning in math. Um, what?

So we get to dinner and I say, “So what’s up with the hasty and skimpy homework?”

Derek says, “I don’t know, I didn’t reread it.”

Hello?! I am a teacher. The consummate constructivist educator. Are you actually my child?

I say to my beautiful son, “Honey, why do you think your teacher wrote that? How do you think this useful feedback could help you grow as a writer?” (I actually said, “Derek, for crying out loud. Come on.”)

Then came the inevitable litany of excuses:

  • Mom, that’s just a notice that she sends to everyone.”
  • “You aren’t supposed to do anything about it.”
  • “Just sign the paper.”
  • Why do I have to redo it?”
  • “Warren and Aiden’s parents NEVER make them redo their work.“You are making NO SENSE.”


The truth is, a child’s homework assignment has the potential to bring the best of us to our knees. Many of us have read the ways to support at home: set up a regular routine and a quiet place to work, get it done early, create a calendar. All great. But what happens when we have done all those things and homework time is still World War III? As parents, we all get frustrated from time to time, and occasionally lose our cool even when we know better. First off, take a deep breath and keep fighting the good fight. And next, here are some tips to help with homework struggles:

Let the Venting Commence

We all need to vent before we can be productive. We all want to be heard and understood, even when we know our feelings are a little out of proportion to the situation. Kids are no different, but oftentimes they can’t express that need. Here are some things you can say during the venting session:

  • “Wow, that’s a lot of work.”
  • “Yes, our schedule was packed this week.”
  • “You sound upset. I would be upset too.”
  • “How can I help?”

Chunk It Out

Sometimes the hardest part is getting started. We all procrastinate when the task just seems too large and insurmountable — take a look at my garage, for instance. This technique is from Ann Dolin, author of Homework Made Simple. She calls it “Five Minutes of Fury.” Basically, set a timer for five minutes, say “Ready, set, go!” and have your child do as much as he can in the time. After that, take a break or keep going. Remember to make sure to check for errors or correct messiness before turning it in.

Let Your Child Be the Teacher

Does this sound familiar?
“Well, what are you supposed to do on this paper?”
“What did your teacher say?”

Just for the record, I’m pretty sure the teacher did not say absolutely nothing. But even in the event that happened, it’s not really productive to dwell there. It’s time to probe a little deeper. A set of prompts could look like this: “Okay, tell me what you do know. What were you doing in math today? Great, how have you been practicing it in class? I know one way to do that, but you probably know a different way. Teach me how to do it.” Often, through these conversations you manage to uncover the real assignment. If that doesn’t work, see the next tip.

Know When to Call It Quits

No educator I know or have ever met wants tears at homework time. If you’ve reached a point of no return, or that point just before you know the tears are coming (yours or your child’s), stop. Congratulate her for her perseverance through something hard. Then send her off to bed and put a sticky note on that piece of paper: “I worked with Luna on her homework for 30 minutes tonight and it was a struggle. Could you please let me know how I can best explain this concept at home? We are happy to work on it again tonight with a little more direction.” For older students, have them write the note instead.

Having a few tips in your pocket can help you and your child reach a detente during homework time, and possibly help him or her develop more self-management skills.

Good luck!

By Audrey Lee, an educator with 20 years of experience and an expert on standards-aligned instruction and blended learning. 

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