October 18, 2010

Easing Parent-Child Homework Conflict

It's that time of year. School is in full swing, as are homework assignments, projects and tests. As pressure increases, conflicts between parents and children can intensify too. In this entry, I'd like to offer one strategy to deal with this challenge: Consider your child's working style. Will the idea of "getting it over with" motivate your child? Perhaps getting the "worst done first" will convince him/her to tackle the hardest assignment early in the process.

For some students, however, this approach will only increase the child's tendency to avoid homework. If you notice that the most difficult part of homework for your child is getting started, have him/her start with the task that is easiest to approach. This will be the assignment that the child is least likely to avoid. Once the process gets going, it can be much easier to ride the momentum started by a simple worksheet, for example.

Keep in mind that your approach may not work best for your child's studying style. You may prefer to tackle the "worst first," while your child may have trouble getting started and may need to start with the least stressful task. Help you child figure out what works for him/her.

Another question to have your child consider when doing homework is: What do I feel like I could do best right now? Is it a task involving problem solving like math or science? Is it reading a book or writing an essay? Or, perhaps they feel up to memorizing information from a social studies/history class. These tasks all require different types of thinking and varying degrees of focus. Help your child tune into where s/he feels most able to be productive at a given moment in time. Otherwise, it's easy to waste time and get frustrated attempting a task that one "should" do, but doesn't necessarily have the available energy to do.

According to an article that appeared in the Science Times (9/8/10) called “Forget What You Know About Good Study Habits,” Benedict Carey writes: "In recent years, cognitive scientists have shown that a few simple techniques can reliably improve what matters most: how much a student learns from studying. For instance, instead of sticking to one study location, simply alternating the room where a person studies improves retention. So does studying distinct but related skills or concepts in one sitting, rather than focusing intensely on a single thing." So, when studying for a test, one should vary how and where the material is learned. I've known students to sing facts as they learn them. Some like to walk around while they think or say information aloud.

Finally, if students are becoming anxious about tests or grades, show them how little one grade matters in the course of time. It can even be a fun way to demonstrate the concept of averages. If you have nine grades ranging from 76 - 82 with an average or 79 (C+), even a failing grade of 60 will only change the average by 2 points to 77 (still a C+)! It helps to keep the big picture in perspective - for both your child and yourself.