Surviving the Homework Battles

October 22, 2019 | by katie jones backer
sponsored by Billings Catholic Schools

Let’s set the scene. It’s around dinner time, the dog is barking, the laundry isn’t going to fold itself, your spouse is just getting home, and your child is… in meltdown mode over another day’s overwhelming stance on homework. And oh yeah, your dinner timer just went off. Arrgh! This isn’t the time for tears. It’s time to eat, call it a day, and be able to enjoy each other’s company. So often though, school evenings are dominated by backpack explosions and big emotions, you know what I mean, right? Or was that just our house?

As a teacher, I have witnessed student meltdowns and experienced the angst as a parent myself concerning assignments. So, what is it about “homework” that is so daunting for our kids, and what can we can do to help them manage the work whilst gaining responsibility and confidence in completing their assignments both in the classroom and at home?

One practice I have found helpful is to help kids strategize through focus and prioritization. You’re most likely doing this yourself with a “to-do” list at work, weight loss journey, money management, etc. It’s a life skill but a lot of kids don’t automatically know how to do it. These ideas need to be taught and modeled so that children can learn to break down overwhelming workloads into manageable tasks.

When we adopted our daughter, I had no idea what kind of learner she would be. As we got to know her, and I was able to observe her school/home habits, something major stuck out to me. While helping her with her 4th-grade homework, she would become super overwhelmed because she had assignments in three or more subjects. It wasn’t that she didn’t understand her assignments but rather she didn’t know where to begin. She would sit there overwhelmed for hours just looking through all the work she needed to complete, leading to stress, anxiety, self-doubt, apathy, and quite often by the end, a meltdown. 

Did anything get done? No. Then we were left with a cranky kiddo and having to watch her go to class unprepared because she couldn’t handle the pressure of her homework. In short, she was only seeing the BIG problem (as she would call it) of completing her schoolwork. She couldn’t see that by focusing on one thing at a time, and checking it off a list, she could set manageable goals for herself thus completing all her assignments, usually in a timely manner. I realized as a new mom, that this was my responsibility as her parent to help her see this too. To teach her how to manage her responsibilities, stress, and goals. And I did it. (Though it’s been a gradual process and taken a whole lot of parent patience).

Instead of opening every notebook for each class, and becoming overwhelmed looking through it all, I would have her start with one. She would then complete that assignment, close the notebook and set it aside. Open the next notebook, complete that assignment, and set it aside. Close the notebook, etc., etc. Put bluntly: I wanted her to spend less time fretting about everything, and to just get started on one assignment at a time. And would you believe it, it worked!

The thing is, I knew it would ultimately work. I’m an adult, and somewhere along the way my parents, teachers, and educational upbringing taught me this practice. I know how to focus on one task at a time, and then move beyond, instead of getting frazzled trying to do four things at once. Don’t get me wrong, I can multitask with the best of them. Yet we know, if you’re wanting quality work, it’s best to focus, right?

I also know as an adult, say when cleaning my house or at the start of a workday, which items on my “to do” list to prioritize first, and which ones can come later if I run out of time. Therefore, another strategy my daughter (and students) needed to be taught was prioritization. Have you ever had your child complete the cool poster project that’s not due for another three weeks, but not even glance at their Math problems or reading chapters that were due the next day? Yeah. We’ve all been there. And while I get it, the projects are fun, kids oftentimes push the “boring” equations or less than “exciting” vocab sheet off until the end. However, those assignments still need to get done. By prioritizing them—whether “fun” or not—teaches a child self-discipline. I often tell my daughter when she complains about a “boring” task or assignment, “well, then get it done, so you can have fun.” Sitting and complaining about it only draws out the process. So along with helping my daughter focus on one assignment at a time, I also had to help her prioritize which assignments to complete first. We would look at her planner, and if there was a due date listed, then be able to build her “to-do” list in the order that items were due. Gamechanger.

To conclude, I believe you can stave off the homework battles by helping your children learn to focus and prioritize (as well as maintaining healthy communication with your child’s teacher and learning about your child’s in-class efforts—and focus—while at school). Does this mean you’ll never have an after-school meltdown again? Probably not. Even as adults we have our tough, anxiety-ridden days, but we do typically know how to achieve tasks by getting to work and checking items off a list. This is a life-skill, and something that kids can put into practice beyond schoolwork. I hope you can begin to reclaim your peaceful evenings together and your child can grow in confidence and independence as a learner, through focus, prioritization, and managing workloads.

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