Tips for Homework Success

The school year is a busy time for families. The time window from after school to bedtime is short and often filled with sports, activities, dinnertime, and bedtime routines. Adding homework to this busy time can create stress and negative emotions for kids and adults. Creating a routine to reduce the friction occurring at night can improve mood and productivity and be a win for the whole family.

Homework routines can benefit kids—and adults. Considering your child’s age and developmental skills will help you create a realistic plan and know how long they can pay attention without support or a break. Remember that the younger a child is, the harder it will be for them to work independently or without guidance to stay on track.

Fuel for focus. To help maximize your child’s ability to focus, be sure they’ve had a snack at least 20 minutes before homework time. The brain requires energy to perform complex tasks, and what we eat provides that fuel. Avoid sugar and artificial food dyes that can disrupt attentional abilities, and instead, find snacks that contain protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats to give the brain long-lasting fuel that will help to support focus and productivity. A banana with peanut butter, toast with almond butter and honey, or a fruit smoothie are quick and tasty options.

Exercise to wake up the brain. Homework requires focus and effort; a tired or sluggish brain will be less focused and productive. Taking just a few minutes to move is the most straightforward trick to wake the brain up to prepare for being engaged and focused. Teaching your kids that using their muscles wakes up their brains is a lifelong strategy for success. Sprinting up the stairs, jumping rope, or doing a dance party to a favorite song are quick ways to move and energize, signaling the brain to be awake and alert.

Use a visual chart. Creating a visual chart that represents each class in the school day is a way to sit down and review what is to prepare for the next day. Together, create a short list of tasks, and as your child finishes them, let your child check off the completed studies. This trick will help to ensure everything is complete and demonstrates the effectiveness and satisfaction of making and completing a to-do list! Helping kids implement organization strategies from a young age will foster effective routines for later in life.

Work in short blocks of focus. Remember that your ability to pay attention as an adult is much longer than your child’s abilities. Just because you are still focused, does not mean that they can or should be as well. Expecting kids to sit and be effective in their work when you’ve gone beyond their current window of attentional abilities is not realistic. Instead, break the work up into blocks of time. A basic rule of thumb, to set realistic expectations for the amount of time your child should be able to focus, is multiplying their age by two. If your child is ten years old, concentrating for 20 minutes is realistic. If your child is six years old, start with an expectation of 12 minutes of work. Let your child know the expectation before you begin, “We will work for 15 minutes, then take a break. We are done for the evening if you finish all your work in those 15 minutes! If not, we’ll take a short break to exercise to wake the brain back up, then sit down and work for another 15 minutes.”

Let your child choose. Nobody likes being told what to do all the time. Find opportunities to let your child choose some aspect of their homework routine. Whether it is where they will sit to do their work that day or which subject they’d like to start with first, allowing them to decide can provide a greater sense of independence.

If your child continues struggling with homework night after night, this could be a red flag for developmental delays. Immaturity in aspects of development can make paying attention, blocking out distractions, regulating emotions, and retaining information more challenging. Work to create a consistent routine which will help you pinpoint which aspects of homework create heightened challenges. The more you can understand your child’s abilities, the better equipped you will be to support and guide them towards following steps to support their educational journey.

Every school year will have homework upsets and frustrations, but working with your child to create a routine that works best for them and your family may help minimize some of the evening stress.