How do I stop the nightly homework fights?

Your question

How do I handle the stress and pressure of school homework? My daughter wants to do well and always does her homework, but she gets angry and upset when she asks for help and I try to help her. She starts yelling at me. I get angry and frustrated in return and usually yell at her, stop helping and walk away. What can I do to help ease the tension?

Our answer

Homework is a common struggle for all parents. Every evening at desks, computers and kitchen tables across the country, weary parents pitch into battle over what homework needs to be done, when, how, and how good is good enough? Homework stress can really sour those precious few precious hours with our children between work and bed.

Here are The Positive Parenting Project’s top tips for taking the heat out of homework:

Have a regular routine

Set a regular time for homework. Choose a time that suits your family schedule. Involve your child in deciding when and how long the homework slot should be.

Bear in mind that children need to relax and unwind when they first get home, but try to structure the routine so that children don’t have to interrupt activities they enjoy in order to start homework. And build in some homework-free days each week if possible.

Focus on successes

The best way to motivate children is to focus on the things they do right rather than what they do wrong. Acknowledge and praise when your child settles down to do their homework. Show an interest in their work and praise their efforts.

If they ask for your opinion, or if you are checking their work, focus primarily on providing encouragement for the parts of the work that are correct. If you must make corrections, only point out one or two errors and avoid criticising. Prompt them to self-evaluate their work and to decide what they have done well and what they could improve.

Help them to help themselves

Coach your child to plan tasks and solve problems by themselves rather than giving them the answers. Ask them to make an attempt before you assist, and prompt them to use resources such as dictionaries, reference books and the internet.

Don’t overdo it though. If they can’t find the correct answer with one or two prompts then step in and help. Children get frustrated if every question they ask is knocked back.

Don’t battle

There is absolutely nothing you can do that will force cogent and correct thoughts out of your child’s head and onto a piece of paper. If homework is turning into a fight, you need to call a ceasefire. Continuing to battle will only result in resentment and can turn into a habit.

If your child gets frustrated and angry during homework, calmly acknowledge how they are feeling (I can see you are really frustrated with this homework). If they don’t calm down, suggest a cooling off period (You are too wound up at the moment for me to help you. I’m going to put the dinner on and come back in 15 minutes when you’ve calmed down).

Try not to get frustrated if your child doesn’t understand something after several explanations. Talk back to your own negative thoughts – your child is not doing it deliberately, children all learn different things at different speeds.

Remember you are not the teacher

It is the teacher’s job to evaluate your child’s homework and decide whether it meets the learning objective. If you are concerned about your child’s progress, go and speak to their teacher. If additional support is required, develop a clear plan with the teacher about what needs to be done by whom. Don’t use homework as covert ground to artificially inflate grades by improving your child’s work for them.

If your child genuinely doesn’t understand a task, be wary of showing them how I would do it. In subjects like maths, the strategies taught in today’s classrooms may be very different from those taught 20-30 years ago. You can completely confuse your child (or make them frustrated and angry) if you wade in teaching them how to do long multiplication your way.

Prompt your child to review their learning materials to see if they can remember how to approach the task, or encourage them to seek clarification from the teacher.

If stuck, incentivise

If your child is totally resistant to homework, or it has turned into a source of real resentment and dread, consider using a reward system as a short-term strategy to get things back on track. Agree a system where children can initially earn points for simple steps such as telling you about their homework the day it is set.

Gradually move the goal further away so that points are given for sitting down to do homework at the right time, then for completing half an hour’s work etc. Give points frequently enough that they add up to prizes that will genuinely motivate! Slowly phase out the system once a good homework routine has been established.

Answered by Anita Cleare from Positive Parenting Project.