It’s astounding, really, how much parent-child tension can be brought on by a few maths worksheets or reading assignments. Gauging your child’s homework personality, says education expert Ann Dolin, author of Homework Made Simple (Advantage Books), can help get you past the hump.
1. Miss disorganised
This is the child who doesn’t bring the right book home, or does her homework but can’t find it the next day. ‘A lot of parents will see this as something wilful,’ says Dolin. ‘But a lot of times, it’s just that the child’s executive functioning isn’t well developed yet. Accepting that will go a long way.’
Don’t take over, but create space for her to get herself together: a weekly family ‘clean sweep’, for example, during which she empties out her backpack while you tackle the junk drawer. ‘Scattered backpack, scattered mind,’ says Dolin.
2. The rusher
He whips through his homework in record time, scattering easy mistakes and skimping on detail. Check his work? Never! He has places to go. ‘Saying “Slow down!” won’t work,’ says Dolin. Instead, she institutes a set period of Dedicated Homework Time.
‘Tell him, “If you finish, you can work ahead, you can do your reading, you can do maths facts on the computer, but this block is set aside for schoolwork.”’ There’s less incentive to rush – and less friction between the two of you.
3. The procrastinator
She can’t find a pencil; she’s cold; she needs a drink of water. These children are not just avoiding work. ‘Sometimes they feel overwhelmed and underprepared,’ says Dolin. Encourage her to set small goals for herself, allowing a short break after: working through two maths problems, for example, or just the easy ones.
Timers may also help. ‘She can set it and say, “Ten minutes, then I can take a break,”’ says Dolin. Often, once this child gets started, she’ll go on through like a champ.
4. The daydreamer or fidgety child
These children – problems self-explanatory – also do great with a timer. Try breaking up their homework into short segments of no more than 20 minutes and letting them move locations for each. ‘Fidgety kids also often do things that really annoy parents and teachers, like rocking in their chairs or clicking mechanical pencils,’ says Dolin.
‘The instinct is to say, “Stop that!” But allow them to fidget. They need to get that energy out.’
5. Mr frustrated
If reading = rage, or maths = major drama in your house, it’s time to put on the brakes. ‘Nobody can think clearly in the middle of the meltdown,’ says Dolin. ‘That’s when parents need to disengage. Say, “I’m going to go check my e-mail. Come find me when you want to get started again.”’
For round two, resist telling your child how to tackle his problem, advises Dolin. ‘Say, “Do you have an example? Do you have notes on this? Is it on another worksheet?”’ she says. ‘You’re teaching them the skill of independence. The more you hover, the worse the outcome.’