Homework Issues

While homework sometimes goes smoothly for some children and their parents – it often doesn’t! Homework issues abound, from kids who forget to do their homework, to kids who don’t want to do it, to kids who simply can’t do it. Let’s look at some common homework challenges and their solutions:

Inborn Homework Challenges
Some children are naturals when it comes to homework. They enjoy school work and tend to be independent and mature. They know what their homework is, they bring it home and do it and they take it back to school – all with no or minimal parental supervision. However, there are two other genetic homework profiles to consider: the “average” child and the “organizationally challenged” child. The average child would rather play than do homework. Like the average adult, this youngster tries to avoid unpleasant tasks as long as possible. Parents have to provide encouragement and structure for this kind of child, teaching him or her to settle down to the task and apply appropriate attention and effort. In the younger grades, parents may actually set the homework time and participate in the work itself with some of these youngsters, although some children in this group simply need to be pointed toward their desk. The average child may balk or dawdle, but eventually he or she cooperates and the task is completed. Smart parents try to make the time pass pleasantly with plenty of positive feedback, good humor and maybe even little niceties like milk and cookies. The average child might also benefit from and be receptive to some parental advice when it comes to homework: encouragement to take short breaks, for instance, or reminders to do the work carefully and neatly.

The organizationally challenged child often doesn’t bring his or her homework home. If it is brought home, it is wrinkled, crinkled and half-missing. If it is in one piece, it is too long or too hard or both. If it gets done, it doesn’t make it back to school. No matter how the parent tries to organize this child – providing special notebooks, folders and systems – the same organizational challenges present themselves year after year. This child’s brain is wired for creativity and many other positive attributes, but not for boring, detailed tasks like homework and not for the organizational abilities required to see it through. The wiring – being a built-in feature of this kind of brain – normally affects people throughout their life spans. Although they may eventually learn some tricks to help themselves work around organizational deficits, the best trick in adulthood is to get a good administrative assistant and/or spouse!

Teenagers & Homework
As these three homework “types” move into adolescence, the challenge for parents changes. The “organized and responsible” child never presented a real challenge and that likely remains the same throughout the teenage years. The “average” child who needed some coaxing in the grade school years, is now an adolescent and, like all adolescents, has much less tolerance for coaxing. At this age, a young person has a strong distaste for being told what to do and when and how to do it. If the parent was an unpleasant coaxer earlier on – that is, actually fought with the child over homework – the topic will be even more contentious now. However, even if the parent had been firm and patient in those earlier years, the teenage child now balks at explicit instructions.

What can parents of homework-allergic teens do? First of all, it is necessary to adopt strategies that are appropriate for the second decade. Compliments are welcome throughout the lifespan, so the occasional positive remark offered for responsible behavior can be employed. Too much praise for doing homework at this age is inappropriate, however. It would be the same if your spouse praised you regularly for getting up in the morning – more insulting than helpful! Once the children hit the teen years, the most important strategy is standing back. By that time, you will have expressed your philosophy of life and homework many, many times over. The child knows your views. Now is the time to let the child experience the consequences of not performing well. Here is where it becomes very hard for parents. In the teenage years, children need to deal with their own problems in order to develop the muscles for doing so later in life. Indeed, adversity breeds creativity, ingenuity and other coping skills. It is better to have learning opportunities in the teen years than in the years of adulthood that follow quickly after.

Most important, be aware of the possible consequences of your interventions. While the occasional reminder may be tolerated, many reminders might actually erode your parent-child relationship (and thereby, your overall power to positively influence your children). NEVER use anger. Even if the homework gets done, the personality of the child and your relationship with her may both be damaged as a result of anger. Moreover, academic success achieved this way is normally a temporary exception in the child’s life. Once the child is left to his or her own devices, he or she will regress to the default non-performance position. The most important strategy of all may be to reinforce your child’s natural talents and abilities and focus less on academic performance. Help him or her to find and maximize natural strengths. People normally succeed best in life by utilizing their God-given gifts. Strengthen these and by doing so, you will strengthen your youngster’s self-confidence, self-esteem, positive mood and desire to do his or her best. And that’s the best that you can do.

Parenting Style
Some parenting styles can contribute to homework issues in some children. For instance, when parents provide insufficient supervision for younger children, the kids sometimes figure out how to “work the system.” They learn that they can just show Mom and Dad a little effort and then, with no further reporting obligations, they can get back to their games or computer to have some real fun! Problems like this can be addressed by being more conscientious about checking to see if homework is complete and well done when children are still in grade school.  Close supervision of this kind is not generally appropriate for teens however. That age group must deal with the consequences of their poor study habits (such as low grades or teacher feedback) and make corrections on their own.

Distraction
Sometimes, the learning style of the child affects the way homework is done. For instance, incomplete homework may be due to being too distracted to get the job done successfully. Perhaps your child’s study station is too noisy and busy for him to be able to concentrate for a long period of time. Some children do better with less hustle and bustle around them. If this is the case, try to make the homework location as protected as possible. This can sometimes be accomplished by putting a desk in a quiet part of the house or creating a homemade “study carol” by using cardboard boxes around the desk to block out the sights and sounds around. Of course, some children are distracted not so much by their external environment as by their internal environment – the chatter inside their heads. For instance, a child may start to do his arithmetic and then begin thinking about the numbers in a card trick he learned. This gets him thinking about what happened at recess and reminds him that he has to talk to his friend after school today. His mind flits on and on, from one topic to another and the arithmetic is no longer on the agenda. It’s just the way his brain works, moving from one thing to the next, making it quite challenging to focus on boring tasks like homework. The Bach Flower Remedy Chestnut Bud may help reduce the scattered tendencies when they are caused by an easily-distracted nature. or the Remedy Clematis might help if the child is prone to being “spacey” or engaging in daydreams. (You can find more information on the Bach Flower Remedies online and throughout this site.) If neither help, a professional assessment is in order. Sometimes the cuplrit is ADHD – attention deficit disorder; treatment may involve behavioral modification and/or medication. If your child does get distracted on a regular basis, a professional psycho-educational assessment can help determine the cause of the problem and the most appropriate forms of intervention.

Learning Disabilities or Challenges
Incomplete homework may also be an indication that your child is having problems with the lesson. After all, it’s not unusual for teachers to combine easy and hard questions in the same assignment to both interest and challenge a child. Perhaps your child breezed through the simple problems and then struggled with the more complicated ones. If failing to complete homework is a chronic and recurring issue, then consider the possibility that your child is having some difficulty with the task. If this is the case, an educational assessment may help locate the source of the difficulty. Ask your child’s teacher or pediatrician for a referral to someone who can diagnose a child’s learning problem. Sometimes tutorial services may help the child perform better and parents can arrange this help with or without having the child assessed. However, an assessment can point the way to the best interventions for the particular youngster.

Perfectionism and/or Anxiety
Failure to complete homework may also be a sign of anxiety regarding failure and/or evaluation. Maybe your child is motivated to start assignments, but dreads the idea of you or teachers checking his or her performance. For some kids, it is less threatening to think “I failed because I have incomplete work” than feeling “I failed because I wasn’t good enough.”

If this is the case, do what you can to take some of the pressure off of academics; help your child to relax and enjoy life by focusing on extracurricular activities, hobbies, exercise and relaxation. If these steps don’t help your anxious child to calm down around schoolwork, consider the possibility that the youngster is more anxious than he or she needs to be. Again, professional assessment can help determine whether professional intervention of some kind might be helpful. If home treatment is sufficient, you can offer Bach Flower Remedies (or, try the remedies first and if they seem to help within a few weeks, then further assessment and treatment may be unnecessary. However, if after a few weeks of treatment with Bach Flowers, your child’s anxiety is still interfering with schoolwork, it is likely time for a mental health assessment.) For a child whose self-imposed high standards are interfering with completion of schoolwork, you might try the Bach Larch (for fear of failure) and Rock Water (for perfectionism). Alternatively, an evaluation by a Bach Flower Practitioner can help determine if other remedies may be useful. You can also read up on descriptions of the 38 remedies in books and online and try up to 7 of those you think might be useful. Mix 2 drops of each one in a single 1oz. glass mixing bottle and put 4 drops into liquid (juice, water, milk, chocolate milk, tea, coffee, soda, etc.) 4 times a day until the child no longer seems to be experiencing tension and fear around homework issues.

Assessment and Intervention
As we have seen, many factors can impact on a child’s ability to do homework. If you have done everything you can and your child is still having homework problems, do try to arrange for a psychological assessment to help determine the source of his or her difficulty and to receive remedial recommendations and interventions.

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