Helpless on Homework? How to Make it Easier

homework help
Image via Katie Hurley

I can't speak for the rest of you, but I know that homework causes a lump in my throat. When my daughter was in kindergarten, I thought it was cute. She came home with very age-appropriate packets of “homework” that were fun and involved a fair amount of coloring. But then she entered first grade, and it was a completely different story.

The cute little packets morphed into rather large packets with lengthy math assignments and spelling homework that required writing the same ten words over and over again. While none of it was too difficult for her to complete, it was just too much. She was tired and wanted to play or draw instead. She was sick of sitting still and wanted to move. She was emotionally exhausted. So we made some changes.

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Sometimes, homework can actually be fun for kids. My daughter completed a science project in just a few days last year because it was fun and engaging. She created an amazing diorama and enjoyed researching her animal, but sometimes homework can be a drag. It's hard to sit and complete more assignments after six hours of sitting and working in the classroom.

Homework can become a significant source of stress for some families. It can lead to exhaustion, arguments, and tears of frustration, and it can overwhelm the whole family.

It took me the better part of first grade to realize that I have to be the voice of reason for my daughter. When the stress became too much to cope with, I reached out to her teacher with my concerns. We put our heads together and made some changes to ease the homework process, and that reduced my daughter's stress.

Teachers don't want young children to cry over their math homework, and they aren't looking for perfection. It's important to dial down homework stress so that the work can actually be meaningful and doesn't zap your child of happiness.

Image via Flickr/ spiritinme

Break it down

I know it seems like the best approach is to have your child sit and focus for a certain amount of time so that he can complete the homework in one sitting, but this doesn't work for many kids. Try to remember that your child spent the entire day sitting and working. It's very frustrating to finally get home only to be told to sit and focus again.

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Break down the homework into ten-minute blocks. When my daughter has long math worksheets, for example, I draw a line down the middle and use a blank paper to cover half of the assignment. She works for ten minutes, takes a ten-minute break, and then returns to her work.

Many kids need frequent breaks during homework to decompress and focus on something else for a while.

homework together
Image via iStock

Choose a time that works for both of you

If you're on your phone or computer when your child is doing homework, you're sending a mixed message. Your child doesn't need you to give step-by-step instructions during homework (she did learn the concept in school, after all), but she does need your support and attention.

Do homework during a time when you can be available for questions or simply to provide moral support as your child learns to work independently. Little conversations about school in between assignments help my daughter remain calm and relaxed while she completes her work. 

Kids Doing Homework
Image via Flickr/ usdagov

Stop over-correcting

Repeat after me: Homework doesn't have to be perfect. There's a lot of pressure in the world of academics right now, even for the youngest learners. For parents, that can mean “helping” to the point of correcting every little mistake until the assignment is perfect.

That kind of pressure causes anxiety for children and can lead to homework-related meltdowns. Also? Your child's teacher won't know where your child is struggling if you spend hours each night perfecting the homework.

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Instead of correcting, try asking your child to teach you. There is a lot of chatter about the new math being taught in public schools right now because it does seem very different from older methods. I find that when I ask my daughter to teach me what she's learned, she can give me very detailed lessons that make perfect sense. Try being the student for a change, and you will truly begin to understand what your child is learning.

Image via iStock

Stay in contact

When my daughter started crying over spelling homework week after week, her teacher said that she could type her spelling words instead of writing them out by hand. This not only dried the tears, but it also gave my daughter an opportunity to work on typing skills.

More often than not, teachers want to help their students thrive. If you share your concerns in a calm and meaningful way, the teacher will likely sit down with you and brainstorm ways to make homework a little less stressful.


Be your child's advocate. Your child will thank you for it.

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Helpless on Homework? How to Make it Easier

Katie Hurley, LCSW is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist and writer in Los Angeles, CA. She is the author of "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" and "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World". She earned her BA in Psychology and Women's Studies from Boston College and her MSW from the University of Pennsylvania. She divides her time between her family, her private practice and her writing. Passionate about he ... More

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