Help's Here for Those Homework Demons!
Behaviour expert Dr Pam Spurr offers advice to this nightly stress
Whether your child is seven or 17 they'll have homework. And let's face it, the lure of friends, football, or anything else for that matter, is much stronger than sitting down to study.
I've spoken to countless parents who say getting their child to do homework causes more rows than practically anything. Churning stomachs and sweaty palms at the sight of prep books are common - and that’s the parents!
But there’s no need to fear this nightly event. Follow these nine necessary tips to help banish homework demons with the least possible bother:
1/ Set Your Expectations ‘High Enough’
You probably don't realise that your expectations profoundly effect how your child approaches homework. If you approach their homework with trepidation and anxiety you're likely to get one of two reactions: either they feel anxious about it, too, and start wanting to get out of it. Or they'll know they can ‘play’ on your anxieties because it gives the message that you feel out of control of this area. No matter how you're feeling, show them that your expectations are that they'll get on with it. You can do this by keeping matter-of-fact when getting them down to it and saying positive things like, "That's an interesting topic!" And "This’ll be easier than you think."
2/ Don't ‘Emotionalise’ Their Behaviour
Believe me, children can get upset over their homework. And despite showing them your good expectations, if they start fretting about it don't ‘emotionalise’ this behaviour, i.e., by whipping it up further. It's amazing how you can fuel their negative emotions by pandering to them. What you need to do is keep calm when they're fretting and get very practical. Suggest a 10-minute break in which they can calm down before returning to studying.
3/ Fuel Their Brain Power
Your child will find getting down to homework much easier if they're eating a proper supper. It's tempting to give them a sugary snack and fizzy drink after a long day at school but that's the last thing they need. That gives them an immediate sugar-boost, followed by a ‘crash’, about the time you want them to sit down to prep. Their brain will be sluggish and not up to the job! Opt for healthy snacks and suppers - these can make such a difference. Save the other ‘treats’ in small doses for after prep’s done.
4/ Be Open to Negotiation
Particularly with teenagers be open to negotiating the optimal time for doing their prep. Not only does it show you’re respectful of their point of view, but that you’re fair-minded and supportive. That's a positive starting point! I recall putting this to work when my son was doing A-levels and had a steady girlfriend that he wanted to speak to all evening on the phone. We negotiated that he chatted for a half an hour, followed by prep, and then followed by another half hour on the phone to her. He was happy with the arrangement - which made us happy!
5/ Setting Is Key
Choose a quiet, well-lit place that’s their homework ‘corner’. This means all their paperwork’s kept in one spot so you're not frantically searching for it the next morning. Also it feels like a separate space and doesn't encroach on their bedroom or chill-out area. Many children like doing prep at the kitchen table because they can spread out, but if easily distracted by the kitchen bustle, this should be discouraged as it’s frustrating for you every time they’re distracted.
6/ Time Limited
The amount of time they do prep at one sitting should be governed by their age and ability to focus for a length of time. No good expecting your seven-year-old to sit down for an hour of concentrated study! But with adequate breaks you can expect your 17-year-old to an hour at a stretch.
7/Beware of ‘Future’ Talk
If anything’s going to put off your child - particularly your teenager - from schoolwork it’s going to be a lecture about how their future depends on it. Yes it's tempting, when you want them to do well (and obviously part of that is getting good marks), to spout on that they won't get a good job if they don't knuckle down, etc. But put yourself in their shoes for a minute – they’re not as fully focused on their future as you are plus they view such lecturing with scepticism!
8/ Make It Relevant
It'll take your creative initiative but wherever possible enthuse about their homework and how it’s relevant, say, to clothes shopping (in the case of your teenage daughter’s maths) or to motor racing (in the case of your son's physics) etc. Even a little bit of enthusiasm in the right direction can help motivate them to do their prep.
9/ When You Feel like Pulling Your Hair Out
With the best will in the world there’ll be times your child simply won't get on with what they need to. Instead of getting wound up and pulling your hair out, take a break from thinking about it. Leave the room, put your feet up, and do anything but worry about it! Calm restored, you can go back and get them back on track.
Published in The Express Newspaper