Strategies to Get Homework Done
The homework nightmare: it occurs when students become easily frustrated, feel stressed out, and begin to panic about their homework. It can impact any type of student, from the perfectionist to the procrastinator, and it turns daily homework into a battleground between parents and children.
Frustration with homework is incredibly common especially when students have ADHD. The good news is that there are lots of things parents can do to make a positive difference, reduce frustration, and improve homework completion. Keep reading to learn our top six tips on how to reduce homework battles and keep your child calm and focused.
Consider Time Tracking Apps
Forest is an app that helps students stay away from their phones and focus on their work. Here’s how it works: when you want to concentrate, you can plant a seed in Forest. Over the next half hour, this small seed will grow into a large tree; however, if you can’t resist the temptation to watch a YouTube video or play a game on your phone, your lovely little tree will wither away. Every day you will tend to a forest filled with trees (hopefully not too many withered branches). Each tree represents 30 minutes that you have been focused on homework and not playing on your phone. It’s a novel way to help kids beat phone addiction, often a real problem for those with ADHD.
This free computer-based software tracks how you spend your time on the computer and sends you weekly summaries along with a productivity score. So often, students with ADHD don’t realize how much time they’re spending on sites such as YouTube. They’re often stunned to discover that non-homework browsing eats up much of their time. But the software has an even more helpful feature. It will allow you to block certain applications or sites that the user deems “distractible” (e.g. Facebook and Twitter). But beware, this software is for your child to develop greater self-awareness of computer usage; it’s not intended to be installed without your child’s knowledge.
SelfControl is an IOS app that lets you block your own access to distracting websites, email, and anything else on the Internet. All you need to do is set a period of time for which to block, add the sites to your blacklist, and click “start.” This app doesn’t mess around. By blacklisting sites students know will distract them from their school work, they can get those mundane assignments done by working diligently until the time expires. Even if they restart their computer or delete the application, they are still unable to access the blacklisted sites. According to my 17-year old (he’s the one who told me about this app) and his friends, SelfControl is their go-to app when they need to focus. The bad news is that it’s only available on Mac. PC users can check out Freedom, a similar application.
Nag No More
Have you turned into the parent you never thought you’d be? Do you end up redirecting your child an endless amount of times to get her to simply finish one assignment and move on to the next? If you feel like the only way your child can focus and finish is with your constant reminders, try a different method. Ask your child how many reminders she’ll need to stay on task in order to finish an assignment. If she says she’ll need two reminders, then stick to that number. When she’s off track, state that you are giving a friendly reminder and then walk away. At any point when you see that she’s doing the right thing, praise her diligence. By giving warnings and positively reinforcing on-task be¬havior, constant reminders will be gone for good.
Check for Completion, Not Quality
I was recently speaking with a mom who said, “Nothing drives me more insane than looking at my son’s homework and seeing chicken scratch all over the page. It’s like he has no pride in his work. I keep telling him he has to redo it, but he doesn’t want to. He just doesn’t care.” This mom was not alone. Parents and children often don’t see eye-to-eye on the quality of homework, and this can lead to a big blow out or power struggle.
Rather than arguing with your child over the quality of the work he’s producing, only hold him accountable for completing the homework thoroughly. Leave the quality check up to the teacher. While this can be very uncomfortable for most parents, it eliminates a power struggle and allows the teacher to be responsible for monitoring quality control. Often times, the teacher will intervene and provide your child with feedback. If you still feel that the work isn’t up to standard, contact the teacher directly and ask for her thoughts. Say, “I just want to make sure this work is in line with your standards and expectations.”
Help the Right Way
When completing homework, students with ADHD can struggle in two main areas: sustaining focus and understanding the content. Focus aside, it’s common for kids to get “stuck” from time to time. As parents, we have three choices when we realize that our children are struggling, for example, to understand how to solve a math problem:
• Choice 1: Show your child exactly how to solve the problem.
• Choice 2: Leave the struggle up to your child. After all, it’s his homework, not yours.
• Choice 3: Ask if there are similar problems in his notes or if there’s an example in the book.
Choice 1 almost never works because kids predictably say, “That’s not how my teacher does it.” This approach puts the ownership on you as the parent, not the child.
Choice 2 can sometimes work, but not if the student is feeling so dejected that no matter what he does, he cannot work his way out of the bind. In this situation, most kids with ADHD will give up instead of persevering.
Choice 3 is the best option because you’re encouraging good study skills. Whenever students can help themselves by using past examples to figure out a current problem, they’re practicing good homework habits. These skills don’t just help in the moment, but they’re the foundation for self-reliance in later years as well.
It’s my hope that with one or two of these suggestions, you can detach yourself from the role of “homework police.” Remember that change takes time. Look for improvement, not perfection. In fact, to ensure a positive relationship with your child, your new definition of success may simply be “improvement.”
Ann K. Dolin, M. Ed., is the founder and president of Educational Connections and is the author of Homework Made Simple: Tips, Tools and Solutions for Stress-Free Homework.