HomeAcademics & ActivitiesHomework

Coping with homework horrors

7 helpful tips for tackling homework with a minimum of tears.

By GreatSchools Staff

Even if your child is an excellent student, you can't assume that he will always dutifully do his homework. One day he might eagerly attend to his schoolwork, and the next he might be distracted by sports and games. Here are some helpful tips for taming wandering minds during those times when academic enthusiasm lags:

Set aside a regular time and location for study. Give homework its own special time and place, and if your child is in middle or high school, let her set her own schedule.

Take it step by step. Children may get overwhelmed by the amount of homework they have to do. Encourage your child to calmly figure out what needs to be done and how much time it will take, and then create a plan. Help your child break each assignment down into manageable steps.

Provide a quiet, well-lit environment. It's best to do homework in a room that has good lighting and is relatively quiet. This reduces distractions and helps kids to maintain their concentration. For more tips, check out this video by the K5, which provides online resources for parents of elementary-school-age children.

Allow time for some after-school fun. Students need to take a break from academics. A healthy balance between work and free time will not only contribute to better performance, but will also help your child develop valuable time-management skills.

Help out. You shouldn't have to do your child's homework or reteach the material covered in class, but you can help out by showing an interest, making yourself available as a resource and by encouraging independent problem solving. For example, if your child is doing a project on presidential elections, point out related articles that you've come across in the newspaper.

Praise a job well done. Kids, no matter their age, need to know that they are doing a good job. Be vocal about their successes and encourage them to keep up the good work (especially as the year draws to an end and a tendency toward laziness may settle in). A little praise will go a long way in building confidence and healthy study habits.

Share concerns with the teacher. If at any point in the year your child seems to be losing motivation and you've exhausted all attempts to reinvigorate him, share your concerns with the teacher. You'll want to determine if the problem is the quantity of homework, the assignment itself or your child's attitude toward school. An open dialogue with the teacher can prevent minor issues from developing into potentially serious problems.

Comments from readers

"The Homework/Grade connection As a private tutor, parents often ask me why some adolescents are resistant to homework. Actually, resistant is not an adequate word; refusal is better. Children of all ages tend to dislike homework, but it’s the teenagers who determinedly refuse to comply with homework demands. Many of my clients are homework avoiders and need to be taught the secret of high school success – suck up and deal! High school is only four years long (at least for most). While this is an eternity for 14 and 15 year olds, they can be trained to see the light at the end of the tunnel – the rest of their lives. Only in high school are people shuffled from class to class, shifting their thinking from one subject to another unrelated subject for six to seven hours a day. Only in high school is the “productive work� done at home and not at the workplace. Students face demands for time consuming essays, research projects, and math problems as well as studying for tests/quizzes from several unrelated topics (English, Algebra, US History, Biology, and World Language). Most of these assignments are to be completed at home without the help and support of the teacher and often with little academic support from parents. A student may be confused or not understand the homework assignment. When the teacher did these problems on the board, it looked so easy…. I followed the lecture, but I don’t understand the textbook…. How do I start a research paper?..... In high school, a student can be expected to complete homework from four or five different subjects every night. Each teacher believes his/her homework is the most important and, consequently, students are expected to spend at least 2 hours a day completing assignments. Except for teaching, what profession demands at least 2 hours of work to be completed daily after putting in a full day? Many adults are workaholics; do we really want that for our children? There is a more compelling reason I am against homework. I am a fervent advocate for quality family time. Time with family should be just that – time spent with family. Not time arguing about whether homework is completed, disciplining children because of “progress reports� from school that focus on unfinished assignments rather than progress achieved by the student. Homework is an issue with which parents and teens struggle, often heatedly. Who wants to be hassled about work from the people we live with and love and support? If homework is as important as some teachers believe, then it is their responsibility to relate that message to the students and their responsibility to set up a school system of appropriate consequences for completing and not completing homework. Outside of class assignments set up by the school environment should be dealt with within the school environment, not at home. Academically, homework can have a negative impact on a student’s understanding of subject material. The best example I can think of is math. Consider the following scenario which happens daily in our public schools: The Algebra lesson is on combining like terms in an equation. The teacher demonstrates, on the board, how to distinguish between like and unlike terms. Every so often, he/she faces the class to be sure they are engaged in the lesson and taking notes. He even throws in a few jokes to keep their attention. The class ends in 45 minutes and the teacher tells the students to complete a certain page for homework. Hours later, the student sits down to complete the math homework. She has her notes out and remembers how easy it was during class. However, she begins to combine terms that are not alike and completes the homework in record time. Homework done! Comprehension of the material: None. In class the next day, this student shows the teacher her completed assignmen! t. Great! She has a check for completing homework – the teacher does not realize the student missed the entire concept. Then, when the student fails the quiz, the teacher is perplexed because the educator simply modeled how to simplify the problem, but did not check understanding with each student. Homework actually reinforced in this student’s mind the incorrect information. Now let’s take this same situation and see it from another student’s perspective. This student leaves the same classroom understanding the concept of like terms. He, however, does not complete the homework, but earns an A on the quiz. What does he deserve as a grade? Some teachers argue that he does not earn an A because he did not turn in the homework. My question to those teachers is – Is the quiz a way for you to determine understanding of a concept? If the answer is yes, then why is the grade lowered due to a lack of homework? If homework is provided as a means to understand and practice new concepts, and a student understands the concepts without doing the homework, why is he/she punished? In his book, The Homework Myth, Alfie Kohn says, (in reference to homework) : “it’s also possible to directly challenge the claim that if children aren’t doing their homework, their minds aren’t engaged.� I believe parents need to be the catalyst for changing the homework policy in schools. I advise the parents of my clients, when teachers and/or administers give them a list of missing homework assignments, to calmly say, “OK.� The end. Acknowledge the message but do not feed into trying to “fix� this school problem at home. If it is important, the school must take full responsibility of dealing with students who do not complete homework. After all, it’s school work, not home work. "
"The video about getting kids to do their homework was very helpful. Incorporating quiet reading time with your child while they do their homework is a great idea! "
"I am a 14 year old high school student, and any article about homework interests me. This, and another article about how much homework we have are amazingly true. The teachers have double standards for different classes, like the integrated class has no homework, but the algebra class brings hoe 50 problems a night! That's so not fair, I think you should have kids and teens write articles about what bothers them!"
"Suggestion on comment from 2/15/2008 concerning turning in homework. My ADHD child has trouble turning in homework. To make sure it gets to school, he must pack it before he can check it off his list (before bedtime). Have a clip on alarm on his bag that goes off about the same time he should be turning in homework. Try to get one that when the alarm is turned off, it is automatically ready to go off the next day."
"I'm having trouble with my very bright son with ADD turning in homework. We spend time completing it and the next day when I ask if he turned it in he tells me he 'forgot'. I've tried a variety of ideas to get him to remember to turn things in but still he's failing two classes because he's missing so many assignments we've done because they are still in his folder. Any suggestions on how I can get him to turn things in?"
"Kids do do too much seat work and not enough hands on but look at the testing. The kids are taught what is mandated and if tests are not passed funding could be cut. We should look not only at the teachers but also at the government."
"I read your link on the homework dilema and it gave me new insight as to how to deal with homework however I would like to add an argument. While we should not have to be 'homework police' in my experience sometimes it is nessesary because teachers do not have the time to do individual hands on teaching and if ones child is behind it can get out of hand."
"My daughter is sometimes will get fed up with her work as they are too much for the day and she is tired as she has work very hard during school time...."
"I also have a 16 year old daughter that can't or won't do homework. She passes all tests but fails the class due to homework. I have also contacted teachers and counselors and no one seems to know the answer. I think if I knew what my daughter's homework assignments were, I could see that they were done. But the teachers just don't seem to have the time or an effective way of communicating this information. FRUSTRATED"
"I have a 19 year old son and a 15 year old daughter. My son seemed to have a small amount of homework all through school which was fine. He is in college now and still has homework that is manageable. My daughter on the other hand seems to have way too much homework. She is in school from 7:30am till 2:35pm (7 hours). When she gets home about 3:00pm she takes a break, has a snack and watches one TV show. After that, the homework starts. Usually she has at least 4 subjects of homework, each taking 1/2hr to 1 hour. That is a minumin of 2 hours, which is very rare. The homework doesn't get done until about 11:00pm, with taking a break for dinner and shower (that's on a good night). In the fall she was involved in a sport which required 2 hours everyday after school for practice and game days were longer. This caused her to be either behind in homework or stay up till 12:00 or 1:00. Now she doesn't want to do any sports or join any clubs. She was a kid who loved school and now h! ates going. If it weren't for all the homework there would be a lot more involvement in sports and clubs which would make school a little more fun. Weekends are spent trying to catch up or jump ahead so that the week might not be so tough. One of your articles said to talk to the teachers about getting extra time. This is fine except 2 things: either they get less credit for turning it in late or they get behind the rest of the class and can't keep up in class the next day. I do understand that some classes need to have review time after school, but most don't. Sometimes I think the teachers just give out assignments so that they don't have to help them in class with it. These kids are also required to take classes like Tolerance & Tech & Career, but why do they have to have homework in them? I also know that if you try to talk with the school and get them help, the answer is to move the child into a slower class. This to me is not an option because it will lower their self esteem. If they are capable of doing the work, but get too tired from staying up all night doing homework, it is not fair for them to have to fall back. Every year we hear from the administration and the teachers that they are preparing these kids for the next level. Why do they have to suffer now just because they are going to suffer later? Why does a Junior High student have to stay up all night doing homework - to teach them to stay up all night in High School doing homework - to teach them to stay up all night in college doing homework. The final level, college, may or may not be a lot of homework. Usually in college they are taking less classes, so the homework might be the same in each class, but there are less of them. If what you say about 10 minutes per grade is true, then 9th grade should have about 90 minutes. I find that to be a very rare night, even for the smartest students. I hope that there is a solution in sight. Either shorten the school day, or cut back on the homework. Our kids need to have time to be kids before it is too late."
"I found links of this site to be very useful. I am a student, and I do receive quite a bit of homework. I think it was lessened though, because of all the complaints and such. I think you should talk more about time management and procrastination, which was my main problem. Thank you so much for putting this site together, it really helped me understand how to arrange my situation as a student. I think I will change the way I messed up for a few years. Thanks again!"
"Ok, how do you handle a sub who has come into a 3rd grade class to cover for a teacher on maternity leave for the remainder of the school year and this sub does not 'grade' homework because he believes that it would be unfair to 'grade' it due to the fact that parents may help some and not others....therefore, in my opinion, how can he tell if these kids are learning what they need to be learning, correcting what they have missed and stay on track? I graded my son's 'homework' from last week and when I found one paper with 5 wrong answers, I was NOT happy about this...and it is only October!!"
"I'm already having homework horrors and my kids are not even in kindergarten yet. I have 4 year old twin boys who will be starting kindergarten in the fall of '07' and they throw fits when it comes to learning how to write their names or anything of that sort and it has me worried, stressed and, irritated about the whole thing. So I'm looking for ways to excite them about learning."
"My 16 year old son also has difficulty with homework assignments in high school. He either won't ask for help from the teachers because they don't seem to have time to help, or doesn't see the need for doing the homework because he gets good grades on the tests. Since the grading schedule is geared toward students who do average on tests and turn in all their homework, he is not getting good grades. If they get A's on all the test and don't do any homework, they get F's or at best D's. It seems ridiculous to fail a child because he didn't do enough homework or projects even though he passed all the tests. I've talked to all his teachers and couselors and there is nothing anyone can or will do."
"this is the best thing that has helped me in years to get my childs attitude turned around thank you alot for everythign you have dont to help. we love you for helping"
"My 15 year old son refuses to bring home homework and is doing poorly in school. What can I do?"
"I think this article is very helpful because some parents help too much then theres parents that dont help their kids enough, this proves that parents should set time aside for their kids no matter what age or grade they may be in. We as parents need to be there no matter what they may or may not need help with, If parents show their kids that they are Willing to set aside any time for them no matter if its homework,peer pressures,stress,bullies or anything else they may need help with, then the children will be more willing to learn, and be more open minded and will be successful in life. BUT always remember that humans are not pefect and children are human too so do not expect 'perfect', NOBODYS perfect. So never push children too hard"
"Parents do have solutions to homework conflicts. Sometimes parents and teachers disagree vehemently regarding what is best for children, but it is important to remember that both of you have your child's interests at heart. One thing that teachers sometimes have a hard time remembering is that, though we have a lot of information and often quite a bit of experience, we will never really know or be privileged to love your child like you do. Parents on the other hand, get mighty worked up and often call the school or arrive at appointments with their minds made up that the teacher is just plain wrong. The truth is, educators do not stand to gain anything from becoming your adversary. We know we need your help and we want to help your child. If homework is causing tears and taking hours then something is wrong. Your child's teacher needs to know right away. If you do not get a remedy when you talk to the classroom teacher, then take it to the next level immediately. It is your ! child's right to be provided with homework he or she can complete successfully. "
"Our son spends 2 nights per week travelling to a remote tutoring facility an hour away trying to get his reading up to the level they say he needs to be. He spends 2 hours/week at a math tutor. Aside from the immense cost, he has absolutely no time for extracirricular activities. So far he has not become too unhappy about the work, but with up to 1-2 hours of homework per day in 2nd grade, how can in not wear him down? We have shared our concerns with the teacher, but like most people these days, we can't find a good one to save our life. Gestapo is the only word that comes to mind. They are even enforcing specific methods of addition (the use of partial sums), rather than the age-old carrying the one to the tens place method. There was even a letter in his folder to all parents 'NOT' to use any other method for our child to add. He doesn't get it at all (it is more work and more confusing for even the parents), and can add just fine with the traditional method, so w! hy do the teachers have so much authority they can tell your child how to solve a problem?"
"I don't know if anyone else has come across this problem......when I have a question for the teacher and I send a note with my daughter, instead of writing a reply, she answers her in the class and my daughter gets embarassed in front of the whole class .She is in gifted class and got an 'F' on a class test......she has always been an honor student and she felt so discouraged, although I agree she didn't follow the instructions regarding a particular question, it was odd to see a 'F', should I have asked her teacher to reconsider her grade , sometimes I feel the teacher might get offended and just keep quiet! "
"Great source of information. I have a question regarding how to determine how much is to much homework? Is there a state standard or rule? How would you best approach the teacher if you feel homework is excessive."
"On the article Solutions to the homework dilemma , i agree with that article . I have a son who has stuggled in school all his life , and he is 14 years old now , and i am being told that i need to make sure he brings his homework home and do it and turn it in , well i am not his school teacher i am his mother the teacher of life itself , i know he needs to do his homework and i want him to and he does now after he has had to spend in school suspension for not doing it . But his school told me i have to make sure he does it and if not its my fault for him failing , well i beleive since he has struggled and i have done what i can do from home that its the teachers and the schools responibity to make sure he gets the extra care and help he needs not discipline discipline only hurts when a child has ADHD as he does . Its so nice to read something that doesnt make us parents out to be the bad guy thank you so much . If you can can somone please help with with the problem i have ! . "
"Thank you for your assistance. I am creating a parent workshop on 'homework' and I found this site to be very informative. "
"Dear Illinois 08/30/2004 I disagree with your remarks to New York, “By the way, the schools' reference to a need for a male authority figure were not appropriate, just offensive. That does not take into account that there are many different types of families. More specific methods of backing the mother, instead of replacing her with a male authority figure would have made a big difference.' Because boys do need good male role models. How else will they learn to be good men? In todays world there has been an effort to down play the role of both parents in a child’s life. But children need both of their parents. And when one or the other are not present for what ever reason this does impact the child often for the negative. So I don’t think that the school was being offensive. I think they were speaking to something they identified as a need in this child’s life. And a good male authority figure will not undermine the mother’s authority but support and reenforce her as head of her family. Often times parents are not supported by outside authorities. But a good support network for her if she is a single parent would be a good, even crucial both her and her son."
"New York, I think your strategy is great if the child is not fighting every reasonable effort that you make. I finally got mine to concede to being dropped off for early morning study hall several mornings a week. That way, evenings are not spent chasing him all over the house and community at large. I am hoping that his teachers, unlike the previous year, will allow me to receive a weekly email that states whether or not he has blown off homework assignments. If he did, he gets to miss football practise. Those type of accomodations involving increased communication are included in Section 504. Why can't they do that, regardless? Even if he simply finds a way out of my attempts at consequences, the coach can refuse to let him play (this is not a school function). Until recently, I did not know that the coaches would do this. By the way, I received none of these enormously helpful ideas from the school. Their approach was to escalate the punishments fr! om academic to behavioral until the kid is banished from school, and the parent is so humiliated that they can never set foot in the building again. The specifics to dealing with the power struggles between myself and the child were far more helpful. By the way, the schools' reference to a need for a male authority figure were not appropriate, just offensive. That does not take into account that there are many different types of families. More specific methods of backing the mother, instead of replacing her with a male authority figure would have made a big difference. "
"I too have had these very same struggles with my middle school student. As an educator myself, I can tell you that there are no easy answers. Keep trying to do your best to communicate with your child's teachers. Some of your frustration may be that your child only seems to have an excessive amount of homework. When you look into it with more scrutiny, you will find that they were given time in class to complete major chunks of it, but chose to use this time to socialize-a valuable thing to them. I have had a great deal of my own frustrations with my son's school that the teacher's often do not respond to my email requests. If and when they do, the information is so vague it is of no value what-so-ever. All of us should encourage our children's schools to use the powerful technology they have at the ready, and place all assignments on websites and mass emailing to all of the students and parents. I want and try to get involved, but am not allowed to in a school ! that is very adult-centered. "
"I think the amount of homework’s are given from 2nd grade to 8th grade. My oldest daughter is attending Lodi Middle School 8th grade. She gets almost all A's. She now has cheer practice 3 days a week. She comes home from school at 3:00 and does homework until she leaves at 5:30. Then comes home at 8:30 and works until 10:00 to finish. At first I thought my daughter might beI slow or just not up to the grade level. Her grades proved me wrong. I have heard over and over from other parents with kids going to numerous other grade schools and middle schools and they all say the same thing. The kids have so much homework that they have almost no time for anything else. Not to mention the parents having worked all day then have to help there children all night. I have also witnessed to many kids hurry through there homework just to be done. Be it right or wrong. As important homework is. Free time can be more important depending what is done with it. Children need interaction with there friends so they learn social skills as well as creative skills. If our kids loose to much creative play time we might just become like the Japanese culture of all work and no play. As we all know products that come from Japan are not new ideas but rather ideas that are improved on. And what about that quality time with parents and children that we here so much about. Were does that fit in. Signed concerned parent "
"Dear Oklahoma, I know that homework can have a big impact on grades. The biggest thing that I see is that you do not take the initiative to check your childs homewrok. My philosophy is that a child is only going to try what they know that they can get away with. I keep an open dialogue with my childs teacher and actually check assignments. I Leave no room for my child to lie about homework. By checking, I can ensure that the job gets done. Hopefully as he gets older, the responsibility will be automatic. I can already see a big improvement from last year in his initiative. Only because I stressed the priority of work vs play. He is fifth grade right now. It is early in the year, but it is off to a great start. You mentioned that you use positive reinforcement regularly. Maybe it is time that your child gets a taste of the other end of the spectrum. It seems she has gotten out of hand because she doesn't suffer any consequences as a result of her failure to meet your standards. If you do not set a clear cut standard then she will continue to do whatever she wants. I hope that my comments are not too harsh. I've been in your shoes. This strtegy worked for me. Try it and see. The key is consistency. Try it for at least one month. it may be a strain at first but stick to your guns if you want change. "
"My child is not having any trouble understanding her work,she just won't do it. My husband and I have tried everything that we can think of to help her get back on track. She used to get straight A's, but this year things changed. Nothing at home has changed,so we're at a loss. My question is, how do you get your child to stop being lazy? I know that Jr. High is different for her and that her hormones are going haywire, but she may very well flunk the 7th grade if something doesn't change. The work comes easy for her&so do the tests. She knows how to study. She gets lots of positive reinforcment for things done well. When she comes & tells me that her homework is done, I believe her. She almost always lies. I love her very much , she is a loving & caring girl who has goals & dreams. We refused to let her give up on herself. My husband says the last resort is to send her away to private school. I want my baby here with me, but I also want her to succeed & I want her to want to succeed. How do I do that? "