Thanks to Trish for this week’s Homework Help question:
“How do I get my first grader to stop being hysterical at homework time? While the homework only takes the designated 20 minutes, the preceding hysteria, tears, and melodrama takes about 2 hours.”
Oh, Trish. I do know what you’re talking about. My son didn’t start homework until this month, but it’s overwhelming and huge and scary for the kids. And you’re so right; the homework should only take 20 minutes (or less) for a first-grader.
How to calm your child at homework time
Talk to the teacher
Your child’s teacher has no idea what is going on in your home after school, and she won’t know unless you share your concerns with her. Open up a line of communication and let her know how homework is affecting your child. She also sees your child in the classroom and may provide insight on how she responds to classwork. It’s never too soon to bring this to her attention–don’t wait for parent-teacher conferences.
Go by the clock
One of the strategies that I always suggested to my student’s parents was to time homework time. If your school states that homework should take twenty minutes (many schools have guidelines for this), then after 20 minutes of true work time, tell your child that homework time is over and she can stop. If she knows in advance that she’ll get to stop, no matter what, even if she isn’t finished, in 20 minutes, she might find it easier to work through it. At the end of the twenty minutes, sign your name on the assignment with a note that this is where she was at twenty. As your child works more within the time frame, you’ll find that she learns to balance her time and will, eventually, get it done if she is capable.
(Depending on your school policy and your teacher, run this suggestion past the teacher first.)
Separate the homework into small chunks
My son and I started this routine a few weeks ago, and it’s a great strategy for life in general. Each assignment we break up into chunks. For example, if his homework is 15 math problems, we’ll break it into 3 groups of 5. If he needs to read 2 pages, we’ll break them into 2 separate chunks. We then take a scrap of paper and draw a box for each chunk. He completes a chunk, then takes a mini-break where he can grab a snack, run around the house, jump up and down… whatever suits his mood.
This break-taking strategy helps him to get his mind and body moving. And the chunks help him to see just how much he needs to do. A full worksheet can be overwhelming. A bunch of chunks seems manageable. Last night when he’d finished 3 of his 5 chunks, he smiled up at me and said, “wow! These chunks are fast!” But if he’d had a whole sheet, it would have seemed to have taken forever.
I love that some teachers are moving to monthly and weekly calendars rather than each night. Because I’m one who loves routine, I thought that we’d still be doing homework each night, as it’s written on the calendar. But because it was a struggle at our house, we were fighting every afternoon to write a simple sentence. Then a therapist said to me, “Why does he have to do it every night? When you were in high school or college, did you do your homework every night?”
I responded with what I knew best, habit and routine. But she pointed out that habit and routine don’t have to be a habit of doing homework every day. Do you really want a routine of fighting every day?
Um. No. I sure don’t.
So we selected one afternoon a week that will be our homework afternoon. This means that it’s likely we’ll struggle and fight every Tuesday, but only on Tuesdays. We tried this program for the first time last night, breaking the 5 assignments that he had into chunks, as mentioned above. We took breaks, and, of course, homework took a little longer, and we did have a struggle. But both he and I know that we won’t have any homework stress tonight or tomorrow night, so it’s a huge win for us.
If your child’s teacher doesn’t offer weekly or monthly assignments, this may not work for you. But if the stress continues to be a struggle for your and your child, you may want to ask if the teacher could start assigning in large chunks for your child.
My older son likes to get his homework done and move on, but he found that with distractions, he’d become stressed more easily, so we needed to change the atmosphere for him. By moving him from the busy kitchen to the quiet dining room next door, he was far more calm doing his homework and moving on.
Also, see my suggestions for setting the tone for homework.
The good news is that as the school year continues and you find the situation that works best for your child, it will get easier. What’s most important right now is that you and your teacher work together to find a solution that makes homework less stressful.