Whether your child has been at school for two years or 12, homework can be the source of tears. And not just yours. Now that the new term is underway, how can you make your home a tear-free zone?
Let's face it: who enjoys homework? After a long day at school the last thing most children want to do is homework. But it does encourage independent learning, as well as showing what they do and don't understand.
How much homework?
This will vary depending on your child's age: in primary school it may be as little as 30 minutes a week, whereas three hours in years 10 and 11 is not unusual. Expect your year 7 child to have three subjects, around half an hour each.
Every parent I have talked to who has cracked the homework issue believes establishing a routine works best. Your attitude to homework matters enormously; if you have a casual, it doesn't really matter approach, what message does that give your child?
• Psychologists tell us that it takes three weeks to establish a habit. So keep it up for three weeks and it's all so much easier.
• You need to decide what suits your family best, and this often revolves around the time you eat.
• Most children need a break when they walk through the door, so fitting in homework from 4pm-5pm, or 5pm-6pm is one option, with another half hour or more after dinner.
• If you aren't going to be at home when your child comes in, establish expectations of how they should get on with their homework.
One mum told me that her three children, in years 5 to 8, did their homework at the same time: 6pm, television off, no talking, heads down. Older children benefit from having breaks: a 15 minute break every hour is about right.
To help or not?
It's a tricky one. Is there a parent in the country who doesn't feel that the homework they did deserved that A*? Helping your child is only natural. I still have nightmares about helping my son with his electronic project, on the dining room table, at midnight. We got an A grade, by the way. But help - and don't do the work for them.
• If your child doesn't understand something they have been taught, then they have to admit this to their teacher - and ask for help.
• You can write a note explaining that they tried, but the work was just too hard. And there will come a time when, believe me, even you will be stumped by the homework – when you will resort to desperately phoning other parents just to check that yes, this is the way to do calculus. Tell the teacher.
• Discourage your child from lying: leaving the book at home, the dog ate it, they had to go out with you last night so didn't have time. Yawn. Teachers have heard these a million times.
What? No homework?
It's the fourth day this week that your child says they have no homework. How can this be? Well, either it's true, or they have forgotten to write it down.
• Most schools have a homework timetable - your child should have one.
• Most children in secondary school have a planner or homework diary. Ask to see it.
• If nothing is written down, regularly, either your child is not writing it down, or there is none set. Whichever, get in touch with the school.
Schools are obliged to set homework, and most teachers have stern reminders about setting it because - believe it or not- they aren't so keen on it either! It needs chasing up, marking and then they have to sit in detention with the ones who haven't done it. It's not surprising that some teachers wriggle out of it just as much as their pupils. So if you see a blank homework diary, talk to the school. You might like to talk to other parents first though, to establish if it's the same for them.
Not doing homework can be a sign of more serious lack of motivation. If your child - especially if at secondary school - is consistently in trouble for not doing homework, you need to talk to the school (or they might ask to see you anyway) before the next parents' night.
When children don't do homework, it's usually because they are turned-off school and learning. There could be all sorts of reasons for this:
• They are in the wrong set - and the work is too hard or too easy.
They have been absent due to illness and fallen behind.
• They could be friends with other children who are not interested in learning; peer pressure is very powerful.
Most schools and teachers will do all they can to support your child, and you, but you need to have a conversation with them and work together.
Don't let homework become an issue. Establish expectations and a routine, and don't be afraid to ask for help if your child is struggling.
Glynis Kozma is the author of Secondary School: A Parents' Guide