I face a daily battle with my daughter over homework

Huge focus on homework at primary school level can be counterproductive and damaging

Question: My daughter started first class in primary school this year and homework has become a real battle with her. She usually refuses point-blank to do it when she comes in and I have to spend the rest of the evening cajoling and coaxing her to do it. We eventually get it done, but it is taking far too long and sometimes ruins the evening.

I have an older son and he does his homework no bother, just gets it out of the way when he comes in. The funny thing is that my daughter can easily do the homework (eg sums and writing sentences etc), but she makes such a deal of it. The teachers have always reported her as bright and well able in the class so I don’t think there are any academic problems. I’ve tried changing the routine of when she does it and letting her try it after dinner but that can be even worse as she is tired then.

What would you suggest?

Answer: Unfortunately, your question is a common one. Many parents I work with, end up in homework battles with their young children every evening. These are good parents who want to do the best for their children and who see doing homework as a key part of parenting. The problem is that the battles around homework are counter-productive and likely to be damaging if they happen often.


The truth about homework

While often a central part of the day in most homes, there is little evidence that formal homework for primary school children increases their academic performance or educational outcomes. However, there is a lot of evidence that homework battles and stress round homework have many negative outcomes for children in that it can cause a dislike of learning and schoolwork and put considerable stress on the parent-child relationship – put simply it can ruin many evenings in the family home.

The importance of reading at home

The exception is reading. Reading at home with your children has many positive educational outcomes (backed up by many studies) and this should be the main home learning priority rather formal rote homework. Indeed, integrating a relaxing reading time into the daily routine such as around bedtime is often a special way of spending time and connecting with your child.

So if homework is not linked to educational outcomes in primary schools, why all the emphasis on it?

This is a complicated question. Despite the research there is often a shared expectation between teachers and parents about formal homework. Sometimes it is the way the teacher communicates to the parents about what the child is covering in the school curricula ( when this can be done without having to be repeated in homework). Sometimes, it is out of a desire for parents to get involved in their child’s learning. Parent involvement in education is important but can be done more effectively by simply reviewing the school day with their children without a long time in formal homework.

Many schools do adopt more creative homework policies and recommend more creative and flexible learning at home. Indeed, many of the Scandanavian countries who have the best educational outcomes, abandon formal homework in primary school and encourage play-based and fun learning at home.

Take a step back from homework

So given the above research, it is important that you take a step back from the stressful homework pattern you have got caught into. You want to break this negative pattern and reintroduce some fun learning at home. You can do this by setting a time limit on homework ( e.g. 20 minutes) and not worrying if it is complete or not – let the teacher deal with this the next day. You can also talk to the teacher and explain what is happening at home and get his/ her support around this. Many teachers are open to to a more flexible child centred approach to homework. Please see some of my other homework articles on irishtimes.com on setting up learning routines at home.

Focus on playtime

As a parent the important priority is to have a daily fun time connecting with your child. This has the most benefit for children ( and parents) in terms of their well-being and it is also the time when they are most likely to learn new things. In the Parents Plus Programmes we recommend parents set aside a daily play time, when they can be fully present for their children. The key is to follow what your child loves to do and engage in enjoyable ( non-screen) activities. These playtimes can involve just about anything, whether this is drawing, lego, playing games, baking together and includes outdoor activities such as skipping, football, creating adventures or doing a nature walk together. Ironically, it is during these fun times that children are most likely to learn and expand their mind, not to mention all the emotional benefits for the both of you.

Focus on reading and fun learning

As mentioned above, reading at home has enormous benefits for children and this is something to integrate into your day. Schools will have books you can read together as part of shared reading but also you may wish to set up a bedtime reading time ( if you have not done this already). The key is to find books that your child wants to read – they don’t have to be formal ‘learning books’ and books about their favourite movie characters or sports magazines are all great. Make a regular visit to the library and let your daughter pick out books she loves.

– John Sharry is founder of the Parents Plus Charity and an adjunct professor at the UCD School of Psychology. He has published 14 books, including 'Positive Parenting: Bringing up responsible, well-behaved and happy children'. He will deliver a number of parenting workshops in Dublin, Cork and Galway in November, 2018 and January, 2019. See solutiontalk.ie for details