As a lifelong educator, I can honestly say I have mixed feelings about homework, but it is a real fact of life for most, if not all students. Here are a few helpful tips, especially for struggling students on how homework can be helpful, and how families with neurodivergent students can eliminate the proverbial power struggle that can develop while navigating the world of homework.
First, commit to changing your language. Stop asking the question, ”Do you have homework”, and start asking "what will you be working on tonight”? Next, remember to concentrate on those oh-so-important executive functioning skills; the foundation of all things healthy and good. It is so helpful, and dare I say freeing, to view homework as the perfect opportunity to help our kids grow in the areas of working memory, organization, planning/prioritizing, and self-monitoring; instead of viewing HW as one more task to do.
The tricky part is that as parents and educators we tend to assume kids know how, when, and what to do in regards to homework organization and completion. The simple reality is that most kids just don’t know where to start, and they often lack the desire to engage so they tend to avoid the process altogether. Homework is a learned priority that we must help them master.
There are a few things to keep in mind when helping your child or teen prioritize and organize their homework routine. Most importantly, get them involved and ask a few good questions about their classroom routine and expectations. Get their opinion, listen, be open-minded, and then be the enforcing agent that makes it happen consistently. Set the tone and teach by example.
Here are a few things to put in motion for a stress-free and homework friendly home environment.
Priorities + Routine + Predictability = No Power Struggles
Make quiet time and brain growth the priority, not homework or the grade. Let your kids know each day at a certain time, for a certain number of minutes the family has quiet work time. Students can use that time to do homework, read a book, rewrite class notes, do a crossword puzzle, write thank you notes or letters to family members, clean out their backpacks, practice math facts, reorganize their binders …. The list is endless!
If they have been assigned homework, that should be the priority. But, if they have “nothing to do'' they should work quietly at the table on something else. This daily work time should be a non-negotiable time dedicated to independently working on something academic in nature. You will be shocked at how kids will stop saying “I have nothing to do'' and simply default to getting their homework out of the way.
Designated Space + Supplies = Productivity
Work with your child to create a distraction-free work environment and spend time together planning and gathering the materials they want to be readily available in the “family work zone”. This space can be any place but their bedroom (I could write an entire book on why homework should not be done in the child’s bedroom).
If they have traditionally worked on HW in the bedroom in the past, no problem, this is your opportunity to have an open conversation and listen and get their feedback regarding moving HW to a more central area. Be prepared, they won't agree with you, but this will allow you the opportunity to listen and learn more about their thought process. Your job is not to convince them you are right, your job is to listen and learn.
Include them in the process of picking out the space, as well as preparing and organizing the space. Ideas of where the work zone could be include the kitchen, dining room, office, or small corner of the family room (keep the TV off). I have even had families put the work zone in the parent’s bedroom. Keeping HW out of the child’s bedroom helps to set the priority, keeps kids within your eyesight, and reinforces the boundary of not letting screens and digital devices in the bedroom as well.
Effort + Pride = Achievement
Shift your focus from grades to effort! If kids are working, producing, and growing then you are winning no matter what their grade is!!!! I can’t tell you how unproductive and potentially damaging it is, specifically for neurodivergent learners, to tie rewards and celebrations to letter grades and percentages. Try to stop saying things like, “If you get B’s and above you can ….. Bring your grades up to all C’s and we will ____.” The truth is, this is really really really hard to do, especially if you are working from an unmotivated mental space, a place of depression, or experiencing any self-doubt in your own academic skills. If your child is struggling with organization, homework completion, or maybe they are simply unmotivated; it is crucial you help them set goals that are small and easily accomplished. Initial goals for struggling students should be easy to complete and genuinely celebrated when they are accomplished. If we set goals tied to the end of the quarter/semester or even a few weeks away, it is too easy to give up and feel unsuccessful … yet again. Help your kid be successful as soon as possible. Success is contagious and once experienced …. we always want more!!!