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Three Key Steps for Reducing Homework Stress

Updated: Oct 22, 2023

Among the most compelling arguments against the assigning of homework is that the doing of homework is profoundly disruptive for families.

Homework often dominates the few evening hours children and parents get to share on weekdays and has the potential to derail family activities on weekends. As many of you can, unfortunately, attest to, the challenge of juggling an ever-increasing homework load with athletics, theater, and other commitments is a set up for stress-filled family dynamics.

Of even greater concern is that homework has been shown to have markedly negative impacts on the mental, emotional, and physical health of students, which detracts from their ability to perform their best as learners both during and after school hours.

Clearly, homework completion is fraught on some level for all students and families; however, for students and families who struggle with executive functioning, the process of tackling homework can be completely overwhelming.

Three decades of working with my students and fifteen years of supporting my own three kids have convinced me that, whether they have innately strong or weak executive functioning skills, young people need adult support to master the process of doing their homework well.

And while it is the job of teachers to prepare students during school hours with the content and skill-based tools to complete the tasks that are assigned, the active engagement of parents and caregivers at home is key to deflating student and family stress around homework completion.

So how can you support your child and regain some degree of sanity in your family, at least in regard to homework, in just three straightforward, if not exactly simple, steps?

To begin, help your child set up a consistent, non-negotiable workplace in a shared space at home like the living room, dining room, or kitchen. In my next post, I will provide detailed instructions about how to create that workspace, but if you’d like to get a head start, you can find more information about that process in my article entitled, “Homework: To Help or not to Help? (I have the answer!)”

The second step is to create a consistent routine around homework. A few questions to consider:

  • Does your child benefit from a break between school and starting homework, or do they work more efficiently if they jump right into their assignments when they get home?

  • Do they work better after or while eating a snack?

  • Does getting exercise before doing homework improve their ability to focus on schoolwork? (If so, they might choose to do an after school sport if that is an available option.)

  • Does your child benefit from movement breaks between each assignment or at regular intervals throughout their nightly homework routine?

You may need to experiment a bit to determine the homework routine that works best for your child; however, once your family has figured it out, you will need to work together to accomplish the truly hard part: sticking to it!

The third and final step may seem unlikely to you if you have a high schooler, but my experience has taught me that kids at every grade level benefit from using a checklist to organize their time and materials in a way that enables them to move through nightly homework efficiently, effectively, and eventually, independently.

For this reason, I HIGHLY recommend that you require your child to use a paper planner. I KNOW that many (read: the vast majority) of students will self-report that they “don’t like” paper planners and that paper planners “don’t work for them.” This, as you might already suspect, is generally not the case. Okay, it is probably true that they don’t “like” using a paper planner now, but when they see the benefits of using this system, the buy-in will happen because using a planner really should work for them. If your child’s school does not ask students to keep a paper planner, you will want to inform your child’s teachers about your system.

When your child sits down (at their agreed-upon workspace) to do their homework, they should follow the exact same routine each evening. Because I love a chart, (Who doesn’t?)I created a “Checklist for Homework” that students can follow as they practice and internalize the steps they need to take to get the best homework outcomes. I have included the chart below and encourage you to use it as is or adapt it as needed to reflect your child’s homework process.

As is true when building any new system, you and your child will need to work through these three steps as a team in order to establish, practice, and master the routines that will improve your child’s homework experience and give you the power to reclaim what matters most to the developmental wellbeing of your child: frequent and positive family time.

Author’s note: The real key to reducing homework-induced stress would be for schools to rethink it or get rid of it. As a significant amount of compelling research exists that supports the elimination of homework, schools across the globe are slowly shifting their policies. If you are interested in learning more about the deleterious impacts of homework, The Case Against Homework by Sara Bennett and Nancy Kalish is a great place to start.

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