Homework Survival Guide for Parents

Child doing homework

Homework Time: Photo courtesy of woodleywonderworks

If you are like most parents, you have felt the frustration of battling over homework issues with your child. There are several things that you can do to ease the tension over homework and help your child gain the independent skills necessary to be successful. Homework time does not have to be a constant struggle.

Laying the Foundation

Homework provides the best way for you to be involved on a daily basis in your child’s education. Your support and commitment to your child’s success in school is the single- most important factor influencing your child’s performance in school. Research has shown that students who consistently complete their homework assignments perform better academically than those who do not. Helping your child to develop strong homework habits will help him to be more successful in school. Additionally, homework teaches children responsibility that they will need throughout life. So let’s get started!

Set up a Homework Area

As much as your child may like you to believe that she can study while watching TV, this is generally not the case. Children work best when there are fewer distractions. For every interruption, an average child takes two to three minutes to regain focus and concentration. It is important that your child has a location to work free from distractions. Other family members should know that there are no interruptions allowed when your child is working in the designated Homework Area. For a younger child, you may want to set up an area where you are available to help when needed, such as the kitchen table. Older students should be involved in choosing their own location. Creating a Homework Area helps to establish a routine that will improve your child’s attitude towards homework.

Create a Homework Schedule

Many children have very full schedules outside of school. Homework is often crammed in before or after karate, gymnastics, dance classes, music lessons, or church activities. It is important to establish a homework time each night so that homework becomes a scheduled part of your child’s day. Block off a section of time specifically for homework. If your child finishes his homework before the end of that time, he can leave the Homework Area. Your child’s homework schedule does not need to be at the same time each night, but it should be written out so that your child can refer to it and knows your expectations. By scheduling a time for homework, you are communicating with your child that homework is valued and is a priority in your family.

Use a Homework Planner

Most schools have an established agenda or planner to help students track homework assignments. If your child’s school does not have a system in place, you should purchase a planner and teach your child how to use it. A Homework Planner is a valuable tool to help your child stay organized and is a great way for you to see your child’s assignments. If you find that your child is not writing down assignments, or leaving out important information, check with your child’s teacher to see if she can help with this. Most teachers are very willing to support parents in helping them get their children to complete homework assignments.
The Student Planner 2011-2012 School Year Planner Elementary Grades 3-6 8.5″ X 11″Appointment Books & Planners)

Motivate Your Child

Children thrive on praise and are particularly sensitive to praise from their parents. Your words are incredibly powerful in motivating your child and improving his confidence. Noticing your child’s efforts will increase the chances that he will continue with the behaviors that you desire. Comments such as, “Nice job getting right to work!” or “I can see that you are working very hard on your homework. Way to go!” help your child to approach homework with a positive attitude. It is always more meaningful to be specific with your praise and to “catch” your child in the act.


For some children, praise and positive feedback may not be enough to change their attitudes and behaviors regarding homework. If you are noticing that after a few weeks of positive praise, your child is still struggling to complete homework that she is capable of doing, you may want to implement a reward system. Research supports reward systems as a very effective way to shape and change your child’s behavior. Read “Creating a Reward System for Children” for additional information.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much time should my child spend on homework each night?

There is no hard and fast rule on the amount of time students should spend on homework. However, a general guideline is 10 minutes per night for each grade level. Following this guideline, you would expect a typical third grade student to have 30 minutes per night of homework. Many teachers also include daily reading in addition to homework assignments. Generally, the older the child, the more homework you should expect him to have. Talk with your child’s teacher at the beginning of the school year so that you have a good idea about how much homework your child will have each night.

What should I do if my child rushes through homework?

It is a very common problem for children to rush through homework assignments so that they can move on to a more favorable activity. If you find that your child is putting forth minimal effort just to be done with his homework, change the rules of the game. Let your child know that until he demonstrates that he is doing his best work, he will not be able to leave the Homework Area until the scheduled time is up. This takes away the advantage of getting homework done quickly. When your child is finished with his work, you can provide extra practice pages using published workbooks or pages from the internet so that he is working during the entire homework time. Your child will quickly learn that it is best to complete assignments correctly the first time. After your child is consistently putting forth good effort, you can go back to letting him leave the Homework Area when his homework is finished.

What should I do if my child frequently “forgets” to bring home assignments or other necessary materials?

Children who routinely forget to bring home assignments or materials necessary to complete their homework sometimes feel as though they “got off the hook” and outsmarted the system. If children are not held accountable for forgetting things at school, their behavior is reinforced and generally will not change. If your child forgets to bring assignments home, you should respond calmly by saying something like, “That’s too bad that you forgot your math book. Instead of doing your homework from school, now you will have to complete my homework during your homework time.” Give your child practice pages to complete from published workbooks or pages from the internet . The goal is to eliminate any advantage your child has of not bringing homework home. If she knows that she will have to work during the designated homework time, regardless of whether she brings her materials home, it is likely that she will remember to bring her assignments home in the future. Many teachers have web pages that allow you to access your child’s homework online. Make sure that you are aware of any resources your child’s teacher uses so that you can support your child in completing homework assignments.

My child’s homework frequently seems pointless. What should I do?

Homework is a valuable tool in teaching your child responsibility and independence, regardless of how exciting or dull the assignment appears. You should continue to support your child in completing the homework even if you feel the assignment is pointless. Your child will, no doubt, encounter many seemingly “pointless” tasks that he has to do in life. He will learn wonderful skills that will help him throughout his life if he can learn to persevere and complete tasks that he doesn’t want to do. It is important that you do not verbalize your feelings about the homework assignment to your child. If you feel that the issue needs to be addressed, make an appointment to speak privately with your child’s teacher. In the meantime, know that incredibly valuable lessons are learned through “pointless” homework assignments!

What if my child refuses to work during homework time?

You can create an ideal Homework Area, set a fixed homework schedule, provide a planner, and motivate your child…but you cannot MAKE your child pick up the pencil and work. This is the battlefield where many parents feel powerless. If your child refuses to work it is important that you do not engage in conversations with your child that take away your power. Arguing, pleading, and making empty threats do not work. If your child refuses to work, calmly state something like, “Choosing not to do your homework also means that you are choosing not to have any privileges.” All privileges such as the television, computer, video games, phone calls, toys, etc. should be suspended until your child decides to work. If that means that your child sits at the table until bedtime, so be it. This can be tiring for you, but once your child realizes that she will not win, she will generally do her homework.


The only statement you should use with your child until she decides to work is to remind her that she can have her privileges back once she finishes her homework. Do not engage in lengthy conversations with your child and do not provide additional attention to your child. If you are using a reward system, you can also state something like, “I see that you are still deciding not to work. You cannot earn a sticker on your chart unless you get your homework done.” To this statement your child will most likely reply that she doesn’t care. However, if you have set up the reward system with her input, she does care.

Many parents have raised a white flag surrendering during homework battles. Although it takes work on your part to create an environment where homework is viewed as a priority, the rewards are worth it! You are helping your child to learn the skills necessary to be successful in life.

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