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Stop Homework Struggles

Homework tug-of-wars: Find out how to diagnose and defuse homework hassles.
 

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The exasperated sighs of parents everywhere signal the seemingly inevitable homework tug-of-wars. Who hasn't wondered, "Why can't he just sit down and finish his work?" or "Should I remind him again about the science test?" Leapfrogging over homework hurdles can be especially tricky if you live with one of the kids described below.

Remember that homework hassles are often discipline problems in disguise. Defuse the power struggles by following the cardinal rules of discipline in general: set limits that are reasonable — and stick to them when it's realistic.

  • The Perfectionist
    To a certain extent, perfectionists just can't help it: "We all have our temperamental predispositions — ways of relating to the world that are biologically linked — and this is one of them," says Melanie J. Katzman, Ph.D., associate clinical professor of psychology at Weill Cornell Medical School in New York City. "Perfectionism can be a wonderful thing to pass on to your child, so parents shouldn't feel badly about it. But carried to an extreme, it can become debilitating. Perfectionist kids may anticipate that they will never be able to meet their own high standards, so why bother?" To keep your child from getting gridlocked while doing homework, set a realistic example (by handling your own mistakes with composure) and praise effort, not grades. Read more tips for coping with perfectionism.
     
  • The Procrastinator
    The Procrastinator finds 201 things to do before she actually sits down and starts her homework. Often, she waits until the last minute, then rushes through it. Often, the procrastinator will throw you a bone: she'll gladly do her homework, as long as you're right there beside her. That's okay if you're willing, and if your child is young — but eventually, she will need to be more independent.

    The procrastinator procrastinates for myriad reasons: she may be disorganized or have poor study or planning skills, or she may be anxious or angry about something at home or at school, in which case you need to play detective and talk to her, her teacher, or a school psychologist to determine why. To help, work with your child to set goals she can meet and to come up with a mutually agreeable homework schedule. Read more tips for managing a procrastinator.
     
  • The Disorganized Child
    The disorganized child is always "just about" to sit down and start his homework, but then . . . well, something comes up. Since his elaborate, convoluted reasons for his inability to complete his homework often seem so logical, you're thrown off guard. Should you give him the benefit of the doubt? Or is he just taking you down the same old road?

    You could tear all your hair out over the antics of a disorganized child — and he still won't be able to do what he needs to do. Sometimes, the problem may be a learning disability. Sometimes, it's as simple as providing a reasonably quiet, efficient workspace, or teaching him to organize homework materials, allocate time, and gather information. The trouble is, if you're always supplying the information, reminding them to study, or rushing that forgotten paper to school, you undermine the whole purpose of homework. And the disorganized child will never gain the confidence he needs to do things for himself. So try these strategies to address the underlying problem.
     
  • The Underachiever
    Parents of underachievers often hear the lament "I'm dumb" or "It's just too hard" from their perfectly capable kids. And they often hear it around 4th or 5th grade, when the amount of homework intensifies. Students must get used to stashing their gear in a locker, as well as the different styles of different teachers for each subject. To get your underachiever moving, you need to be a cheerleader. Read more tips for overcoming underachievement.

Needless to say, if your child is genuinely unable to do the homework, you, in tandem with his teacher or school psychologist, must figure out why and enlist the help he needs. A learning difficulty or anxiety over problems at home may be affecting schoolwork. Or perhaps the work is below his level and he needs more challenging assignments. By addressing homework problems early, you prevent them from mushrooming.

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