“I hear you”
“I know. After sitting in class all day, probably the last thing you feel like doing is sitting down again and working on 10 long division problems.” This is the empathetic way Adele Faber, author of How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk, suggests wading into a conversation about hateful homework. But then, she says, explain the problem and talk through solutions: “The problem is your teacher insists that everyone get more practice. So what would make it easier for you? Divide up the work? Do five problems before supper and five after? Or would you rather play first, and tackle them all at once?”
“We’re in this together”
“Often times, parents go negative,” observes America’s Supernanny Deborah Tillman. “The child says, ‘I’m not doing my homework!’ The parent says, ‘Yes you are doing your homework!’ Then it’s back-and-forth and arguing.”
Tillman says you want to motivate your child, but you also want to make sure they understand that you’re not going to engage in a battle over homework.
“What I do is: homework time for the whole family. Everybody’s going to do something. I put all the children at the table: a preschooler, an eleventh grader, a middle schooler. Everybody’s doing homework at homework time. Then it’s a lot easier because they feel like they’re not alone.”
“How about a snack?”
Especially when a child is having trouble with it, homework is often difficult or boring, says Christine Carter, child development expert and author of Raising Happiness. And homework time often takes place when kids are wiped out and grumpy. “You have to do homework at the end of the day when all of your self-control is depleted or your willpower is depleted. So it’s asking something very difficult of children, especially younger ones,” she says. “To reinstate that self-control, your blood sugar level needs to be rising.”
So when kids say they hate homework, Carter says, “You can say, well you’re going to hate it a little bit less if you have a snack.” Offer something that’s protein-rich, and don’t forget to hydrate with a big glass of water. Blood sugar and humor restored, homework will go a little easier.
“Tell it to the teacher”
When kids complain they have too homework, they often have a point, says Madeline Levine, psychologist and author of The Price of Privilege. Once kids are a little older, they can start learning to advocate for themselves and talking to their teacher about the workload. This teaches them something important, too — how to communicate about something that isn’t working for them. “Because they’re going to go out to work and they’ll have to talk to their boss or their college roommate or their spouse,” Levine says.
“Just (don’t) do it”
Never worry about whether homework will affect grades when your child is young; instead, try to preserve your child’s childhood and family harmony, says Sara Bennett, author of The Case Against Homework. “There is still no proven correlation between homework and academic achievement at the elementary school level; even after that, the correlation is negligible.”
For younger children, 5 to 6, who say they don’t want to do their homework, Bennett says, “I would just put the homework away.”
“It’s not worth fighting over,” she explains. “Then I would say something simple to the teacher about why the child isn’t doing the homework along the lines of, ‘My child was really tired. I understand there’s no real reason for giving homework to young children. So I just told him/her to put it away.’ For a child in mid-elementary, if the homework is causing any kind of stress in the family, I would do the exact same thing.”
For an older child, say a middle schooler, Bennett says, it becomes a little trickier. “On the one hand, you want to teach your children to be respectful. On the other hand, you don’t want your children to go through life blindly following orders, nor do you want to have a lot of unnecessary stress. So you have to figure out how to walk that fine line between advocating on your child’s behalf and being decorous.”
We asked the experts how parents should respond when their child vents their rage or frustration over their nightly workload. Here's what they said.