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Fighting the Homework Battle With Kids

The dreaded homework battle – daughter 1, mom 0. But does it have to be so stressful? Maybe a reframe is in order, a fresh perspective and a new plan. Homework doesn’t need to be a hassle at the end of the day. So much time is spent at the beginning of the school year buying new clothes, books and pencils, that very little time, if any, is spent on setting expectations for schoolwork. Neil McNerney, a licensed counselor, faculty member at Virginia Tech Graduate School of Marriage and Family Therapy and author of "Homework, a Parental Guide to Helping Out Without Freaking Out!" notes, "The more we make homework completion about us, as parents, the more likely we will have problems in the future. Try to communicate a message [to your child] that it is in their best interest to get [homework] done quickly and done well."

Pick Your Battles

Preliminary discussions can be a vital component for letting your child have a say in her own education. It allows both of you to review what expectations you have in regard to the school year. It provides an opportunity to agree on an established time for homework and study. When negotiating on a timetable, Dr. Fran Walfish, a Beverly Hills, Calif.-based child and family psychotherapist and author of "The Self-Aware Parent" suggests that parents "create an open discussion. "Your goal is simply to help your child sit and focus for a short, pleasurable experience doing work."

Being proactive and talking about homework schedules doesn't necessarily guarantee eliminating the odd battle, but it does help set the stage for a more relaxing after-school experience for everyone.

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Age Makes a Difference

The age of your child plays an important role in the amount of time you can reasonably expect her to sit and concentrate on homework. For preschoolers, Dr. Walfish suggests no more than 15 to 20 minutes to complete a project. “It should be fun. I like to call it 'Fun Work' instead of homework.”

For a 7-year-old she says 30 minutes is reasonable. As your daughter gets older, more time needs to be set aside. Each new school year requires a new discussion on expectations. By the time she is in middle school, expect anywhere from one to two hours filled with study and homework. By high school this can doubled, depending on assignments and exams.

A Place of Her Own

For young kids, the kitchen table can serve as an ideal spot for after-supper-homework. (Make sure the mashed potatoes and leftovers are out of the way.) Your close proximity can give a sense of security and structure. As she gets older, with more subjects to work on, more elbow room and space may be needed. She may find her bedroom better suited to study. Wherever the designated spot, ensure it is well-lit and well-supplied with pens, pencils, stapler and paper. And quiet is high on the list – no television, phones, video games or other distractions.

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Strategies and Incentives

“Be positive during homework time, even if your child isn't. Your attitude is a huge motivator, especially with young kids,” McNerney maintains. Dr. Walfish agrees, saying, “Build self-esteem by using words that support and motivate, rather than criticize.”

You can also help your child strategize on which assignments to tackle first, such as the harder one when she is fresh and the easier one when she is starting to tire. Encourage your child to ask questions and reach out to you when the going gets tough. (There’s no guarantee you’ll know the answer, but maybe two heads are better than one.) Suggest breaks, maybe a snack if it’s a long session. Offer incentives such as play time after homework or a weekend outing if it’s been an exceptionally hard week.

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