Blog Author: Sara Meghan Walter, PhD, NCC, LPCA
Kids and parents will soon be gearing up for the start of a new school year – a fresh beginning that means learning, back to a routine, and also back to homework! Homework can be stressful for families, and many parents feel like their children’s homework loads can be excessive at times.
How much homework is reasonable?
The National Education Association recommends 10 minutes of homework per grade level per night, so for a sixth grader, for example, about an hour of homework is reasonable. Hopefully the homework your child receives is not boring and repetitive busywork – we don’t want kids to feel discouraged and have the homework result in frustration and disengagement. Also: more homework is not necessarily better. In fact, there is no strong link between the amount of home work and test scores in elementary school. Additionally, research suggests a decrease in performance when homework exceeds 90 minutes in middle school and two hours in high school.
Too much homework can definitely have a negative impact on family life – we can get to the point where most of the interactions parents have with their children are made up of nagging and arguing about homework.
What can I do if I think my child does seem to have too much homework?
If you think your children’s homework load seems unreasonable, do a little detective work before assuming this conclusion is true. Observe your child’s homework schedule for about a week. Is he or she trying to accomplish homework tasks with a lot of environmental distractions, or when child’s tired or hungry? Keep a record - collect some data- for about a week, and look at the actual required tasks, the time actually spent on the task, and what’s going on in the child’s environment. When you have some data, you may be able to pinpoint other problems besides the amount of homework.
If you do believe excessive homework is a problem, do a little research and see if your child’s school or school district has a homework policy. Most schools do not, but if they do, it could help you when you talk with the school. Perhaps you might even like to work with other parents to help draft a policy.
Consult with other parents to see if they have similar concerns, and then talk to your child’s teacher privately in a cooperative way and share your observations and data with him or her. Most teachers want to help and might not be aware that your child is experiencing the homework as excessive.
How much involvement should parents have in the homework process?
A parent’s or caregiver’s responsibility should first be to provide a quiet, designated space for kids to do their homework and to establish rules and expectations as to when homework tasks should be accomplished. I am in favor of giving kids more autonomy over this process as they get older, but this also totally depends on the personality and need for structure, which can be different in every child.
Parents and caregivers should not be watching TV while their kids are doing homework – pick up a book or attend to other quiet tasks.
Resist the temptation to give answers or to do the work for the child. Help him by using guiding questions to help him arrive at the answer or how to find the answer, and help him make sure he understands the directions and what is being asked of him.
Also – don’t use punishment, it’s pretty ineffective. I am more in favor of using the “As soon as you’re done, then you can do XYZ” approach. As hard as it is, let your child experience the consequences of not doing the work. If they don’t finish, they won’t get to do whatever else they want to do, such as enjoying screen time or time with friends. It’s the parent’s responsibility to provide a structure to facilitate the homework completion process and to help with understanding and organization, but you also have to give the ultimate responsibility to the child.
Any advice on how to make sure you’re raising a well-rounded child -- without over-scheduling them? (so they actually have time to do the homework they do have?)
It’s possible that the perception out there among some parents that homework levels are increasing has less to do about the actual homework and more about the fact that we as parents, and consequently also our children, are so often overscheduled. We are more likely to be working longer hours and more likely to be in either a single parent household or in a household where both partners work long hours outside the home, so it feels like there’s more to do and less time to do it.
Most parents are working parents and don’t have the luxury of supervising all of their children’s free time themselves, so parents have to organize activities and supervision. The problem comes in when parents feel pressured to organize their children’s free time with activities that are more about the parent’s anxieties and desires for their kids to get ahead rather than a concern about their child’s interests and well-being. Some parents put way too much emphasis on scrutinizing and evaluating how kids are performing. Enrichment activities, sports – these are all good things, but they have to be balanced with down time where kids can engage in unstructured play and time just hanging out and talking with parents and other family members.
Blog author Sara Meghan Walter, PhD, NCC, LPCA is an outpatient therapist with Wake Counseling & Mediation, PLLC, working with children & parents. Wake Counseling therapists work with children, adults, couples & families, to schedule appointment visit our child counseling page or call 919-647-4600.