“Aww, Ma. Do I hafta? We just did all this stuff in school today,” 8-year old Adam complained. “Can we just skip homework tonight? I promise I’ll to all of it tomorrow night.” Mom raised her eyebrows, looking skeptical of Adam’s assurances.
This kind of parent-child exchange is typical of what is frustratingly referred to as “the homework wars.” Almost all families with school-aged children have some version of this. Doing homework becomes a nightly battle, a test of wills with your otherwise wonderful, loving youngster. It is a test of wills, an opportunity to set healthy boundaries with your child, and a pathway to successful academics.
In my book, Teachable Moments: Building Blocks of Christian Parenting, I caution that children will always test the limits. This is not because they want to be free of them. It’s to be sure that they are there. What child says, “Oh boy. I have lots of homework tonight. I can’t wait to get started and practice what I’ve learned today in school.” Shall we say…not many.
In this test of wills, your child wants you to set the firm boundary. The answer to his question, “Do I hafta?” is a resounding “yes.” However, the wars ramp up when each side digs in for battle. Do you want to avoid the homework wars? Then don’t engage. Doing the homework is not an option. How your child does it is negotiable.
Have this discussion outside of homework time. Engage your child in a curious discovery of what works best for him. Decide on a designated homework spot, e.g., desk in his room, kitchen table. Talk about the time that works best for him, e.g., right after getting home from school, after dinner. For elementary school-aged students, sit beside your child and coach/tutor as needed, but without doing any of it for him. For middle school students, be in the proximity of where they are doing homework. Be available. Encourage with “how’s it going in there?” For high schoolers, encourage their good work habits. Where low or failing grades are the outcome, homework time becomes study time to bring the grades up.
When the process is well-defined, put it into place for a short period of time, a week or two, with reward or consequence in place for after the time frame is over. Revise as needed, but be firm with your limits. You can survive the homework wars by negotiating a peace treaty that involves your child successfully getting his homework finished.