4 Ways to Make Homework Time Less Painful

Improving a Few Important Skills Can Help Change Bad Homework Habits

Published on in Health Tip of the Week

Young girl doing homeworkNearly every parent has experienced the stress of trying to get a child to do their homework. If you’ve found yourself saying these things about your child, you’re not alone:

  • “It’s not unusual for her to forget to bring home the right books and papers to do her assignment.”
  • “Getting him to stop what he’s doing and start homework is a daily struggle.”
  • “She always finds a reason to jump up from the table to get something else she needs in the other room.”
  • “He turns in work late all the time because he didn’t realize when it was due.”

“In some cases, the root of homework troubles is weakness with one or more executive functions,” says Iris Paltin, PhD, Pediatric Neuropsychologist at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “Executive functions are the skills that let us complete daily tasks. Children and teens can work around executive function difficulties with specific interventions that create new habits, overriding a cognitive challenge.”

Here are four methods Dr. Paltin suggests to improve a weak executive function and address common homework challenges.

“It’s not unusual for her to forget to bring home the right books and papers to do an assignment.”

If your child frequently comes home without everything they need for homework and studying, they could be struggling to develop inhibition skills. Inhibition skills would make it easier to stop themselves from running out the door without the things they need.

Try this: Introduce a forced “stop and think” moment.

How to do it: Use a hook or strap that stops your child from grabbing their backpack from a locker or cubby and running out the door. Attach the backpack to the locker or another item that stays at school (maybe backup sneakers or a gym bag). When your child takes their backpack from their locker, their grab-and-go pattern will be interrupted when they have to pause to unhook it. The forced stop will serve as a cue to stop and think, and gather everything they need before going home.

“Getting him to stop what he’s doing and start homework is a daily struggle.”

If your child struggles to start homework, constantly stalls, and is regularly late finishing projects, they may be struggling to develop initiation skills.

Try this: Use a timer.

How to do it: Put the timer beside your child and put five minutes on the clock. Tell them they have five minutes to finish their game, grab a snack or use the bathroom — then it’s time for homework. If you want, you can offer a reward. You might say, “If you start your homework without being asked three nights in a row, we can get an ice cream the third night.” Later, after a pattern of success, you can take away the external reward.

“She always finds a reason to jump up from the table to get something else she needs in the other room.”

If your child is constantly bouncing up from homework to get a snack, pencil or missing book, they may be struggling to develop organizational skills.

Try this: Pack a shower caddy with supplies.

How to do it: A shower caddy can hold all of your child’s usual homework supplies, like sharpened pencils, erasers, markers, pens, colored pencils, a ruler, scissors, tape, a snack, a bottle of water and a calculator (if appropriate). With everything close at hand, your child is less likely to get distracted and more likely to complete the task at hand.

“He turns in work late all the time because he didn’t realize when it was due.”

If it seems your child is never quite sure what they should be working on, how long they have to get an assignment done or what the due date is, they may be struggling to develop organizational skills.

Try this: Teach your child how to use a daily planner.

How to do it: Many children already have a planner, but don’t assume they know how to use it. Sit down with your child and their planner. Show them where and how to write down the due date of a homework assignment, what materials are needed, and how to plan for larger projects that must be completed over multiple days. It’s important for students and parents to check the planner each night. Praise your child for writing down the assignments and instruct them to check off when assignments are completed.

These simple suggestions will have the short-term benefit of easing the stress of homework, but in the long term, your child will strengthen the skills they need to be productive throughout their life.