St. Louis Children's Hospital psychologist Russell Hoffmann, PhD, offers this advice to families of teens and young children on adjusting to homework. Whether you have a senior in high school starting an important term paper or a second grader preparing for a spelling test, Dr. Hoffmann says you can help your child develop the necessary skills to succeed in their school work, with plenty of time left for fun.

Get Organized
Pick a homework area in your home that is quiet and has good lighting. Dr. Hoffmann emphasizes that this area should be a toy-free zone. "The goal is to reduce distractions in the child's work space," he says. Removing toys and other clutter from the work area makes room for essential study tools such as a dictionary, pens and pencils, note cards, a ruler, a calculator and paper.

He also advises older children to use a binder with folders for every subject. Organization can be improved even further, he suggests, by encouraging the use of an assignment book or monthly planner. "A planner helps the busy student ensure he has set aside the time he needs to complete long-term assignments, such as term papers," Dr. Hoffmann says.

Make Homework Part of the Family Routine
When possible, children should be encouraged to do their homework at the same time every day. "Turn off the television. Use quiet music or nature sounds to cover other household noise. Let the answering machine take phone calls," Dr. Hoffmann says. Children in the family who have not been assigned homework should honor this time by engaging in quiet activities. "Younger children can draw, listen to a taped story or do a puzzle," he says. "Older children can use the time to read a book, write a letter or start a craft project." He encourages parents to also respect homework time by using it to pay bills, read the paper or finish non-distracting household chores. If no one has any homework to do, the time can be spent for a family activity, such as playing a game, reading together or talking.

Provide Help When Needed
Before children sit down to work independently, Dr. Hoffmann encourages parents to review their assignments. Questions and problems can then be dealt with before frustration develops. "Check back as the children work, providing praise for assignments completed and encouragement about progress," he says. "Offer to quiz them for tests."

Pack It Up
When children are finished with their work, they should return all of their materials to their book bag. "The next morning will go more smoothly without a rush to locate work as they're heading out the door," Dr. Hoffmann says.

When the Work Seems Too Tough
The great thing about homework is that it gives the involved parents a chance to glimpse into their child's ability to grasp subjects. The challenging thing about homework is that it can be a source of frustration and anxiety for a struggling student and a parent who becomes impatient. "The parent-child relationship should always be a safe haven for support and nurturing," says Dr. Hoffmann. "If homework gets in the way of that relationship, parents should step back and talk to the child's teacher." It may be time for extra review with the teacher, a study partner or tutor. "A child who cannot regularly complete homework assignments could have a learning problem that should be assessed by a professional," he says.

The goal is to make sure your child gets the help needed to make school a positive experience.


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