Is homework a battle in your home? If you find that it has become a nightly battle or that your child or teen has lost interest in school; then it may be time to try a different approach. I will admit I sympathize with teens trying to become independent when often the adults around them are inadvertently taking away their sense of control. If you find that you are constantly asking them if their homework is done or suggesting ways for them to get it done then here are five tips to take you from homework enforcer to homework coach. Remember the role of a good coach is to encourage problem solving skills, develop independence and provide support when needed.
- The first and most important step is to realize whether or not you are enabling your child/teen to feel helpless. If you are constantly reminding them to do their homework, get ready for school, pack their backpack, or go to bed why would they need to remember? The same thing applies if you are solving their problems for them or designing their notebook your way. All of these things take the pressure off of your teen and puts it on you. You’ll need to work together to figure out how much your teen can do independently and what he or she might need a little support for. I know it is often easier to keep track of it yourself, but teaching your teen to problem solve, keep track of assignments and get their work done independently are all skills they need to develop for a successful life.
- Ask questions that begin with the word, “what” rather than “did” or “is”. Questions that require a simple yes or no answer will only get you the one word answer. Ask a question that requires them to answer in a sentence that gives you some real information. For example, “What homework do you have left to do?” This sounds less judgmental and requires more than a one word answer to reply. Good coaches ask higher level questions that need explanations, rather than simple one word replies.
- Start with the end in mind, is a term that Stephen Covey used but is helpful for those having trouble with completing homework. Help your child visualize what that assignment or project looks like when it is completed. Then you can guide them to work backwards to include all the steps necessary to get it to that point. You can also help “backwards plan” long term projects with specific dates to work on the pieces of the project. If necessary, create the plan together and then have certain check ins rather than always asking if it is done.
- Discuss with your child/teen what kind of an environment is best for them to work in. Do they like it quiet and away from the rest of the family or do they like to be where the action is? Many younger students don’t like to be alone in their rooms, for them it is easier to work in the kitchen or close by. Use a trifold foam board to create a distraction free zone and keep the TV and radio off and let them use their own music with ear buds. I have read that music can “satisfy” the hungry ADHD brain by providing enough stimulation to help it relax. This is done by listening to the same playlist every day during homework time. It is not picking each song but pressing play once and letting the same music play lightly in the background for about 30-45 minutes. That is long enough to get some work done. Have them take a short break and then get back to their homework and play that list of songs again.
- Make sure your children have some “down” time. Everyone is entitled to relax after a long day. In fact, research says that having some down time after working, helps the brain to process what was just learned. Many students are not getting the 8-9 hours of sleep they need to do their best. Those with ADHD will benefit from designing a “routine” for sleep. Start with shutting down electronics at least 30 minutes before bed (the blue light stimulates serotonin the wake up hormone), dim the lights (good for increasing melatonin the sleep hormone) and relax. Add in the other bedtime get ready tasks and aim to have them in bed around the same time each night. Aim for at least 8 hours but 9 is ideal.
Parents, you are your child/teen’s life line.They may continue to need your support throughout school but as they enter middle and high school, it is time for them to develop their problem solving skills. That means they don’t need you to solve their problems or challenges for them but to work with them to come up with solutions together. Stay calm. When stressed, cortisol, the stress hormone, is released into the body and it can literally shut down the brain making it nearly impossible to think. Students cannot force their stressed brain to think at that point and it is best to take a break and go do something active. Exercise increases the level of dopamine and other neurotransmitters (good chemicals) in the brain that can help get them back on track. If the situation gets too stressful, it is best to just walk away. Homework is homework….let the teacher deal with it.
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