Back to School Tip #3: Structure and routine boost homework compliance
Many parents are probably already anticipating homework battles when school resumes, so this might be a good time to think about what routines and rules you will establish about homework.
Have you already considered where your child will do their homework so that they have a quiet area to work with help available and no distractions to interfere? If not, think about it before school resumes. Have you thought about what you will tell your child about taking breaks during homework? If not, talk with your child and come up with a plan for that. Having a routine, structure, and rules is key for many of our children, and as parents, you are the CEO of the Routine, Structure, and Rules Department.
If you are parenting a child with ADHD, you may be particularly interested in the results of a new study on improving homework completion in students with ADHD. The study confirms what many of us have been advising parents for years: support, structure, routine, and a simple re-arrangement of motivation can often promote dramatic results.
George Kapalka, PhD, associate professor and interim chair of the department of psychological counseling at Monmouth University in West Long Branch, N.J. presented a study at the meetings of the American Psychological Association in San Diego this week. According to a report by Kathleen Doheny of WebMD News, the study participants were 39 boys with combined-type ADHD, aged 6-10, and their teachers, who had agreed to participate in the study. There were four elements to the program. Study participants:
- Showed their teacher their homework journal, in which everything was written down about assignments, before going home.
- Were required to start homework within an hour after school dismissal time and to work in a quiet setting.
- Were not allowed to watch television or play video games until homework was done.
- Were not allowed to watch TV or use the computer for a day if they didn’t bring home the journal or forgot anything for the day’s homework assignments.
After a few weeks, the students were reassessed on a variety of measures. Dr. Kapalka reported a 50% decrease in homework problems as the result of the intervention, which is a fairly hefty response.
Based on my experience, I would suggest modifying the first step in the program to ensure that the student has not only recorded everything but that he has also packed up all necessary materials to complete the assignments.
As Richard Ferman, MD, a psychiatrist, commented to WebMD in reviewing the program, the biggest challenge is often that the parents have difficulty sticking to the rules. Some parents give in and allow the child to go on the computer or video games before homework is fully completed because they are worn down from the battles, nagging, or meltdowns. As I often say, you can fight the little fight now or fight the bigger fight later. Once you’ve established the rules, stick to them. Yes, you may go through a few very rough days or weeks but if you calmly stick to the expectations and rules, most children with ADHD will learn the new routine and comply with it.
Suppose your child says, “C’mon, Mom, I really really want to watch this show and then I’ll do my homework right after — I promise.” Be prepared: tell your child that you will tape the show for them and they can watch it as soon as they have completed their homework. Of course, there needs to be some quality expectation because we don’t want them just trying 1 out of 15 problems or scribbling down anything so that they can say that they’re done.
Remember that you are not withholding the TV, or computer, or video games as a punishment. You are withholding them because they are a distraction that interferes with your child’s ability to complete their work. Just as you would not put heroin in front of an addict and expect them not to reach for it, putting other temptations in your child’s path does not help them. As parents, some of your greatest tools are your ability to arrange the environment to support the goals and your ability to motivate your child by arranging the rules in your house.
And one of the easiest and most effective tricks with children who need additional motivation to sit down and do their homework is not to say “No, you can’t watch TV” but to say instead, “Yes, you can watch TV — as soon as you’re done with your work.” More “yes” and fewer “no” responses will probably help reduce emotional outbursts by your child and may help you feel less negative about your parenting. The key thing, though, from the home side of the homework struggle is to set rules that boost motivation for tasks that your child is not motivated to perform and then stick to the rules you’ve set.
For a more detailed discussion of homework issues related to a variety of neurological disorders and tips for helping the student, see the “Homework Issues” chapter in my book, Challenging Kids, Challenged Teachers.