Help! My Child’s Homework is Destroying our Family


            Throughout years of working with children and their families, I have heard well-meaning parents make countless complaints about their children’s homework. Grievances such as:

“I don’t understand how to do so much of this, I can’t help my child.”

           ” I  hate when my child has homework, it ruins the entire evening. My son becomes hysterical with               anxiety, especially when I can’t help him,”

           “My son is obsessed with getting good grades. He freaks out if his homework isn’t done perfectly.                He is stuck in his room all weekend doing homework. It limits what we can do as a family.”

            In the last decade, these homework grievances have increased. With mounting financial demands, necessitating full time jobs for both parents, parents have little time or energy to devote the amount of time it takes to tackle their children’s homework.

I often use the phrase, “Parents on Steroidsto describe the incredible amount of time, energy, focus, and planning it takes to raise a child in the twenty-first century. Technology abounds, making it difficult to carve out time for face-to-face interactions with children. Competition is at the highest in this generation as children are expected to excel at academics, sports, and technology.

Parents keep children well planned with activities and educational after-school opportunities to boost scores and athletic or artistic performance. They are highly invested in producing a well rounded, highly educated, and successful child. This results in children having very little free-time to play and explore the outdoors with their imagination. Even their “quiet time” is scheduled, along with other planned activities. Let’s face it, society in general is expecting a lot from these Generation Z children.

Children begin structured learning early on, as pre-schools develop academic kindergarten readiness programs, and kindergarten becomes “the new first grade.” And each successive grade promotes readiness for the next year. It is no wonder that homework has become a focal point of concern for so many parents. Children are expected to catapult their cognitive levels a year ahead, instead of enjoying and nurturing their developmental age.

Standardized testing has been a part of public school education for more than seventy years. In 2001 when George Bush signed No Child Left Behind, standardized tests became a way of hopefully ensuring that all children reach reading and math proficiency. However, this Bill has morphed into a measure for teacher effectiveness and overall school performance. Grants, teacher’s raises, and promotions are awarded to the schools with the best overall performance on standardized tests. With this type of pressure on to perform, teachers often pile on homework in an attempt to boost students’ scores on these tests.

Back in the 1890’s to 1920, there were reformers in the so-called “Progressive Era” that depicted homework as a “sin” that deprived children of their playtime. (It was during this era that women fought for the right to vote.) The Progressives worked hard to modernize and reform schools and they believed that homework was not an essential part of the leaning process.

Today many of the same educational concerns are coming to the forefront. And homework is once again being examined. Researches have studied whether homework is beneficial and their findings may shock you.

Studies show, in the lower grades, children are getting three times as much homework as recommended by the National Educational Program This is causing behavioral, physical, and health problems, as well as emotional stress and anxiety for parents and children. Over the last decade, children as young as nine have seen a nearly forty percent increase in homework. This increase in lower grade homework is generally linked to the push for schools to have high-standardized test scores.

The standard set by the National Education Program states that there be 10 minutes of homework given per grade beginning in first grade. However, even though this standard is set, researchers found the average amount of homework given to children well exceeds this standard. Even kindergarteners were receiving homework and in some schools, first graders were given 28 minutes of homework a night. (CNN report August 12, 2015)

Harris Cooper, a professor of education at Duke University, has recommended that students be given no more than 10 to 15 minutes of homework in the 2nd grade and that this amount increases no more than 10 minutes in each successive grade.

Denise Pope, a Stanford University Education Professor and author of Overloaded and Underprepared: Strategies for Stronger Schools and Healthy, Successful Kids (2015), states that children are overloaded with days as long as adults and burdening children with too much homework is not preparing children for the real tasks of life. Dr. Pope feels that children are overscheduled with after school activities and homework, leaving little time to engage in more collaborative, social, and creative outlets.

Richard Walker, an educational psychologist at Sydney University and his research team found that in countries where more time is spent on homework, students actually scored lower on an international standardized test. Studies have also pointed to the fact that homework bolsters student’s academic performance only during their last three years of high school. In “Reforming Homework: Learning and Policies, 2012), Richard Walker found that teachers typically give take-home assignments that are unhelpful or “busy work”.

Gerald LeTendre of Pennsylvania State University also found that teachers give take-home assignments that are unhelpful and remarked that assigned homework “appeared to be a remedial strategy, and not an advancement strategy. The latter is work that is designed to help children accelerate, improve, or excel. “Remedial homework” on the other hands, is homework that is given as a consequence of not covering topics in class, exercises for students struggling, or a way to supplement poor quality educational settings. It is the remedial type of homework that tends to produce marginally lower test scores compared to children who are not given this type of work.

Gerald LeTendre has been studying trends in education for over a decade and participated in Richard Walker’s international study of homework. Researchers studied 59 countries in this 2007 study. Countries that had top rates in math and science achievement reported homework time as less than the international mean. In Netherlands, nearly one out of five fourth graders reported doing no homework on school nights, even though the Dutch fourth graders put their country in the top ten in terms of average math scores.

These finding clearly suggest that homework is not always associated with high levels of academic achievement as it relates to standardized testing scores. Further many research studies have linked excessive homework to sleep disruption, indicating a negative relationship between the amount of homework and the perceived stress and physical health of children.

It is important to know, however, that other studies do not demonstrate the same concerns about overloading students with homework. Research from Brookings Institute and the Rand Corporation in 2003 analyzed data from a variety of sources and concluded that the majority of U.S. students spend less than an hour a day on homework, regardless of grade level. In the last 20 years, however, these researchers found that homework has increased only in the lower grades.

The amount of responsibility that is incurred by parents to help children with their homework has also increased. Since homework can often be too complex for students to complete by themselves, such difficult tasks require assistance from parents. This comes at a considerable cost to family life. Arguments, temper tantrums, and oppositional behaviors erode quality parent-child time in the evenings and weekends, and diminish overall harmony in the home.

Further, when parents and children conflict over homework, strong negative emotions are created promoting in the child a negative association with academic achievement.

What can be done to counter-act the negative impact of homework in the child and the family? The following are some suggesting that may help decrease the stress that you and your child are experiencing when it comes to homework assignments:

  • Make sure you have open communication with your child’s teacher in order to address homework issues,
  • It is best if your child’s teacher can tailor homework to your child’s individual needs, weighing the child’s age, family situation, and the need for skill development,
  • Remember repetitive practice does not always contribute to new learning. It may help master a skill, but if a child learns a skill, practice can come easily in the school setting. A child should have enough practice at school to learn and master a new concept. Therefore, multiple pages of math equations will not help your child learn the concept if he or she has already mastered the skill. Talk to your child’s teacher if you see this type of repetitive homework,
  • If you feel that your child is receiving too much homework, ask the school if provisions can be made for your child to complete some of this work at school. Remember the guidelines to the amount of homework that a child should be given. If the teacher is unwilling to budge, a meeting with the principal may be needed to address this issue,
  • Regardless of the amount of homework your child has, be diligent to allow your child the freedom to play, even if they can’t finish their homework. Play is the real work of childhood, for in play children can learn to conquer fears, explore their creativity, and express feelings. Play is essential to children and so is their free time. Don’t overschedule your child with activities so that they don’t have time to play,
  • If the homework is too difficult for you and your child to complete, contact the teacher rather than muddling through hours of mental exasperation and fatigue,
  • Make sure that homework is scheduled at a reasonable time and does not begin later in the evening. Children need a rest after seven or so hours at school, so scheduling relaxation time for an hour or so after school is a good idea. However, remember that relaxing with electronics may not be the best way for your child to prepare for homework. Too much screen time will make your child’s brain somewhat sluggish. Outside exercise or imaginative play will help your child better prepare for homework.
  • Scheduling homework while you are preparing dinner is also a recipe for disaster. You will not have the time to devote to your child and the anxiety will mount. If you can, find at least an hour before dinner preparations, or an hour after when you can sit down with your child and do homework. If they don’t need help, sit down next to your child and work on your own unfinished taxes, budgets, or finances. This will model for your child good study habits.
  • Tackling homework in the evening may mean that your child will not have time to unwind and relax before bedtime. Winding down is critical for children to prepare for sleep. Preschoolers need at lest 11-13 hours each night, while school-aged children from six to thirteen should get at lest 9-11 hours of sleep. If homework time is disrupting their sleep, it is counterproductive to learning. Tired and anxious children do not make good students.
  • Remember that your child’s academic success is not linked to the amount of time he or she is doing homework, so allow flexibility in the schedule, and don’t stress about unfinished homework. Teach your child to prioritize the homework and help set reasonable limitations and expectations.
  • Most importantly help your child handle the stress of homework. It is critical that children learn how to deal with their emotions. Help your child find ways of relaxing and renewing energy before, during, and after homework.
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