Frustrated young brother and sister doing homework

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Work Your Way Through a Homework Slump

Getting ahead or falling behind – the right tools can make the difference

It’s not uncommon for kids to lose steam when it comes to keeping up with their homework, so if your child is struggling, don’t despair. A timely intervention can keep your kid on track – in terms of both their interest in school and in their grades – and help increase their success in the classroom.

Why do some kids sail through homework assignments while others stall out? It’s not always for lack of trying. Even the smartest students can trip themselves up when different factors come together to create the perfect storm. To fully understand when and why children hit that speed bump and start to lag, parents must start by “pulling apart the task, the environment in which it has to be done, and the child’s abilities,” advises Richard Guare, Ph.D., co-author of Smart but Scattered: The Revolutionary “Executive Skills” Approach to Helping Kids Reach Their Potential.

Getting your child to do their homework is no different than getting them to clean their room; each requires the same basic skill set, says Guare. The motivation to start the job (without nagging!), a healthy dose of stick-to-it-iveness to see the project through, an ability to plan and prioritize, and a sound respect for organization – these are the building blocks for developing self-sufficiency that translates across the board, from home to school and beyond. Here’s how to encourage it:

Get the momentum going. “There is a big difference between being able to do a task and being able to do that task consistently,” Guare notes. If your child has handled their homework assignments well in the past but is now starting to neglect their work, try to pinpoint the steps that led to their past success so they can repeat them. A technique Guare finds effective in making homework procrastinators more proactive is applying a ratings scale of 1 to 10 to each assignment. “Your child can then decide on the order in which they want to do the projects based on their rating,” he explains. And, Guare adds, you might want to encourage them to build in small breaks for the ones with higher scores, or switch off between easy and difficult tasks.

Give them a hand. In doing so, though, “always place your children in the most active role of the plan,” encourages Rebecca Deurlein, Ed. D., author of Teenagers 101: What a Top Teacher Wishes You Knew About Helping Your Kids Succeed. “Help them find resources to be successful, whether they are supplies, a computer, books or a trip to the library,” she says. Helping your child think through options – such as how to complete problems, how to make schoolwork a priority, how to get it all done – is a way of offering support while ultimately making them responsible for themselves, she says.

Establish and maintain structure. Aside from your emotional support, kids need structure when it comes to tackling their assignments – and even more so when they’ve lost motivation. “Homework should happen in the same place, at the same time, every night,” stresses Ellen Braaten, Ph.D., co-author of Bright Kids Who Can’t Keep Up. If your child tends to get bogged down in a project without any awareness of time, “help them set appropriate and reasonable time limits for getting the homework done,” she says. Realizing they won’t have to stay up all night can alleviate some of the anxiety that makes homework off-putting in the first place. And knowing they’ll spend only a certain amount of time on it can sometimes actually speed up their process, shares Braaten.

Create the right environment. When it comes to their workspace, limit the number of distractions that can impede your child’s concentration. Carving out a quiet area “can increase your child’s ability to focus on work and complete it efficiently,” says Guare. For elementary school-age children, many experts recommend the kitchen, where parents can keep a watchful eye while preparing dinner. “Children work longer when someone is with them offering encouragement or reminding them to stay on task,” he asserts. For teens, a designated workspace of their own choosing (minus the temptation of electronic devices) should be arranged as they best see fit. To facilitate your child’s homework experience, make sure the area they choose is well-lit, and furnished with a comfortable chair and table surface that meets their height requirements, and keep school supplies and materials readily accessible, for efficiency’s sake.

Get them organized. Planning and prioritizing are essential for keeping kids on track with their schoolwork. “Help them come up with a plan as soon as they’re given assignments,” recommends Deurlein. Doing so will enable them to pace themselves “and discover the joy of completing a task early enough to actually have time to improve it.” Have them keep their own personal calendar noting the due dates of all assignments and hold them accountable to it, she adds. Teaching them how to break down large assignments into manageable parts that are then spread out and tackled each night is one way to instill good study habits. “Teach and prod… but never do the work for them,” says Deurlein. “And make sure they know what tools and resources are available to them, such as writing centers, online tutorials, homework helplines, library resources and peer tutors.”