It’s back-to-school time, and if you’re a parent of a K-12 child, the paperwork and homework has begun!

I had no idea how tedious paperwork could be until I had a school-aged child. And that’s saying a lot, since I’m in the mental health field, where paperwork is abundant. However, the truth of the matter is, though we as parents might dread back-to-school paperwork, now that the school year has started, our kids are faced with even more paperwork—AKA homework.

The Struggle is Real

As I was helping my 6-year-old navigate his homework last night, I noticed my own frustrations creeping up. Let me first say that in addition to being a practicing therapist, I am also a professor at a local college, and I love school and learning. However, my frustrations were still very present in my navigating of the hours from 4–8 PM yesterday.

Let me explain: my kids go to school from 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM, five days a week. That’s a lot of time devoted to learning and socializing. This takes a lot out of a child. And when they come home, there is still a lot to navigate. Many kids have their emotional energy bank drained by 4:00 PM, from having to follow rules, navigate conflict, learn new things, be away from the comforts of home, have social interactions, play, and the list could go on.

I often hear from parents that when their kids get home from school, they frequently have meltdowns or conflicts with other family members. When kids have been holding it together for so many obstacles throughout their day and arrive home hungry and tired, it’s not much of a surprise that they don’t express their feelings in the most productive ways. And then we add homework to the mix, and sometimes they just lose it!

What Homework is Good For

However, before you go and feed all your child’s homework to the dog, let’s balance the frustration with some perspective. The role of homework is for a child to have some practice time to get better at something they learned in school. This is similar to if your child is playing a sport, learning an instrument, or learning to drive. If children only use the material they’re learning in one setting, it will take longer for them to make the progress necessary to really learn the skills.

The frustration that I was experiencing (and maybe you have experienced, too!) came from feeling there’s just not enough time or energy at the end of the night for any of us to learn something new. It didn’t come from feeling that homework serves no purpose.

The benefits of homework are significantly minimized if homework results in power struggles, frustration, or a parent becoming overly involved and doing their child’s work for them. But there are some things parents can do to make these things less likely to happen.

Making Homework Work

Here are some tips to help if you are experiencing homework frustrations with your child:

  1. If your child is learning a new skill, find a space dedicated to practice, give a specific time period for the practice, and support them doing it on their own.
  2. If they have trouble during this practice time, encourage them to ask questions. One of my favorite parts about teaching is when a student comes to me with questions. This is where the learning happens and mastery can begin.
  3. Encourage your child not to get bogged down with getting their homework perfect. Rather, teach your child to focus on areas where they have questions and on learning to ask for help.
  4. Communicate with your child’s teacher. If it feels like there is too much being put on them, clarify the expectations.
  5. One of the best things we can teach our children is balance. Learn when and how to apply a bit of pressure and when to back off a bit and allow them to feel the weight of their own choices.

Trial & Error

It might take some time to figure out which of these tips might be most helpful for you or your child, and you might need to try something a few different ways before you figure out what works. Some kids might concentrate best right after school, and some kids might need a break after school in order to recharge their batteries. Some might work best lying on their stomachs on the living room floor with the noise of family activities going on around them. Others might need to sit in a chair at a desk in their room with the door closed in order to concentrate. Whatever works best for your child, be sure to stick with it once you’ve figured it out. As with most forms of practice, consistency is key.

Knowing your own capacity is also invaluable. If last-minute homework questions just before bedtime drive you crazy, encourage your child to ask you questions earlier in the evening or offer to look over their work in the morning before they head out the door. If you love helping your child with spelling but hate helping with math, keep on top of what’s happening in math class. Know when those big assignments are coming up.

You are an important part of the homework equation for your child, especially in the early years. If you’re willing to try new approaches, make mistakes, and learn from what works and what doesn’t, chances are, your child will be, too. And you’ll both get more out of this necessary practice time.