Parenting adolescents is often challenging—particularly at homework time. By following these guidelines, created by a teacher and study skills tutor, homework time can be more productive and less argumentative.
"I hate doing homework!"
"Why won't you let me do it my way?"
"Just get off my back, OK? I said I would get it done!"
When Did Homework Time Get So Bad?
When children first enter school, they almost always enjoy homework. It makes
them feel mature and responsible. They ask for help when they need it, and their
teachers give them another copy if they lose the first one. It's easy to help
kids with their homework in primary school.
In adolescence, though, homework gets harder and more involved. Teachers
expect the kids to be responsible enough to turn assignments in without
reminding, and don't always give out multiple copies. Just when they really
start to need the help of a parent, though, adolescents decide that they don't
want it. Parents recognize that their kids need help, but trying to give help
with schoolwork can turn into a major battle, making everyone in the house
As a teacher, I saw countless cases where students really needed their
parents' help, and parents really wanted to give help, but it always ended up
with people screaming and doors slamming. Following a few rules helped make
homework time more peaceful. I can't promise you warm, fuzzy, picture-perfect
homework times, but I can promise that, if you consistently apply the following
rules, you will effectively help your child develop the skills he or she needs
to do homework well.
Make it Routine
Before you start your new homework-help program, plan a routine that you will
be able to follow every day. Like all children, adolescents do better with a
routine that is predictable. If your twelve-year-old knows that you are going to
ask for his planner at 4:00 every afternoon, he's less likely to start a fight.
When you plan your homework routine, include the following:
Discuss what your child needs to do that day,
Monitor your child's organization,
Ask if there are assignments your child needs extra help with,
Ask what long-term projects or tests are coming up, and
After homework is done, check over it briefly for accuracy and
Before you start applying your new routine, let your child know when you will
start and what you'll be doing. If you think your child will be resistant,
explain that you're doing this to help avoid the fights you usually have. Say
something like, "I know we usually get into fights about homework, and we both
hate having them. Tomorrow we'll start having a quick meeting every day after
school. I'm going to ask you to show me your planner and ask if you need my help
on any assignments, then I'm going to walk away. You can check back when you're
done or if you need help."
Once you've begun a homework routine, try it for two weeks without changes.
It may take you and your adolescent that long to adjust. After you've tried the
routine for two weeks, you'll know if you need to make changes. Maybe you'll
need to monitor organization after the homework is completed, or wait half an
hour to ask if your help is needed. As long as you are consistent, it's OK to
make some adjustments.
The goal of helping your adolescent with homework is not to make sure he or
she gets a good grade on a particular assignment—a better goal is to help your
child learn how to do well on assignments without your help. Keep that goal in
mind as your child works through a difficult task or brings home a low grade on
a report card.
Don't Force Your Help
One of the toughest things in effectively helping children with their
homework is to allow them to do it themselves. As parents, our age and
experience makes us quicker, and it's tempting to take the pencil and say,
"Here. Let me show you." If you are holding the pencil, your child is not
For learning to take place, children need to move through a phase of
cognitive dissonance—they need to be confused before they can figure out a new
concept. In order to help your child learn independently, allow your child the
freedom to work through difficult assignments alone.
If your adolescent is really struggling with an assignment, it is OK to offer
help once or twice. Tell him or her that you see that this assignment may be
harder than the others, and ask if you can help. However your child answers,
respect the answer.
Keep it Organized
While you shouldn't force your help with homework assignments, organization
is one area where you can be more authoritative. Most adolescents are naturally
disorganized, and like to crumple all of their papers and assignments into the
bottom of their backpacks, or shove them in their textbooks. When the teacher
asks them to turn in their homework, they can't find it.
Many schools give students agendas or planners. These are fabulous tools
that, when used consistently by students, parents, and teachers, promote good
study habits and frequent parent/teacher communication. If your school doesn't
distribute planners, buy one for your child and require him or her to record
homework assignments inside. During your homework routine, you'll be able to
quickly see what your child has for homework that day, and your child will be
able to check off completed assignments.
Homework folders are a critical part of good homework organization. Buy a
sturdy, two-pocket folder for your child to keep in his or her backpack at all
times, and label one side "Bring Home," and the other side, "Return to School."
When a teacher gives a homework worksheet or instructs the class to finish an
assignment at home, tell your child to put it straight into the "Bring Home"
side of the folder. When the assignment is finished, it goes into the other
pocket, where it will be easy for your child to access when the teacher collects
homework. Be sure to check this folder every day, and clean it out weekly.
Homework time often turns into a battle when parents expect their adolescents
to do things the way parents would do them. Allowing kids some degree of freedom
will make them feel like they have control.
Let Kids Choose the Time
Many parents feel like kids should do their homework right when they come
home from school, and won't allow leisure time until all of the homework is
done. That works well for some families. Other kids, though, can't sit and focus
on homework until they've given their brains a break. If your child wants to
start homework after an hour of play, or after dinner, that's OK. Work together
to come up with a homework start time that will give your adolescent enough time
to complete all of his or her homework, still getting to bed on time.
Let Kids Choose the Environment
Adolescents often want to do their homework in strange places, like in the
tree house or on the living room floor. If you spent good money on a proper desk
that's not being used, try hard to bite your tongue. Your son or daughter will
work better if he or she is comfortable.
Some children like to drive their parents crazy by listening to music while
they're doing homework. Don't give in to the temptation to require your child to
turn the music off—some children actually work better with music playing. Allow
the music, but not the TV—it's too distracting for any learning style.
No amount of routine or organization will curb homework arguments if the
parents act in negative ways or say negative things. Even if your adolescent is
angry and resentful, stay positive in your words and actions. Children,
including adolescents, are extremely sensitive to negative words, and need your
praise far more than your criticism.
Helpful, positive comments:
I see that you are working really hard on this.
Your teacher wrote a really nice comment here!
Thank you for keeping your backpack organized.
Your math grade is really improving!
You did a great job of getting right to work today.
If you keep studying this hard, you're sure to ace the test.
Unhelpful, negative comments:
If you don't work harder, you'll fail.
This assignment looks terrible. Do it again.
Why can't you do it right the first time?
I'm so sick of telling you the same thing every day!
You never do these problems right.
Sometimes it's hard to put a positive spin on things. When a child brings
home a low grade or you get a phone call from the teacher, it's easy to
criticize. When you talk with your adolescent about tough issues, focus on the
Positive ways to say tough things:
I know you tried hard on this. How can I help you improve your grade?
Your teacher told me that you were not acting like yourself today. What
This test grade is not up to your usual standards. Should we talk about some
different study techniques?
You only have one night to do an entire science project? You'll need to work
very hard to finish. What should you do differently next time?
New habits take at least a few weeks to develop, so don't worry if your
homework overhaul doesn't fix all of your homework problems the first time you
try it. With persistence, though, routine, independence, individuality, and
positivism will make evenings more pleasant and your child a better student.