The Book Depository - 3 Q & A
Noel Janis-Norton, author of “Calmer, Easier, Happier Homework”
11 February 2013
Q: My daughter says her maths homework is too hard, and she wants me to tell her the answers. How can I help her without doing it for her?
A: When a child wants to be told the answer, it is probably because the parents have done too much for her in the past. We must not fall into the trap of doing our children’s thinking for them. Homework is meant to be done by the child! So whenever you feel the urge to reteach what your child should have learned at school, do the following instead:
- Ask leading questions rather than telling your child. Only when her brain has to come up with a sensible answer is she really learning
- Draw pictures and diagrams, using a minimum of words. If you are talking, it is too easy for children to nod wisely while their attention is drifting away.
- Reflectively Listen * to her frustration and confusion. This will help her to feel heard and is likely to defuse her upset.
- Descriptively Praise * her whenever she is brave and takes a sensible guess. Over time this will lead to increased confidence and motivation.
- Talk your child through several examples. These should all be different from the sums she has to do for homework. That way, once she understands the principle or procedure from your explanation, she will still have to use her own brain to work out the sums she was given for homework.
- Give examples that use much easier numbers so that your child can concentrate solely on the principles and procedures.
* Descriptive Praise & Reflective Listening are two of the strategies that I explain in detail in my new book,
“Calmer, Easier, Happier Homework”.
Q: It’s always a battle getting homework done before bedtime. How can I persuade my son to get started earlier?
A: Parents want to know how to motivate children and teens to take homework seriously. One aspect of this is starting early enough in the evening that their brains are still alert so that they can do their best. One thing parents can do is to make, and then to enforce, a new rule, that homework and revision need to be completed to the parents’ satisfaction before leisure activities can begin, eg:
- Screens of any kind - television, computer, phoning or texting friends
- Playing music
- Going out.
This rule, sometimes called “Worst first”, helps ease children into the habit of earning the goodies in life, rather than expecting instant gratification.
At first, your child may complain bitterly, “But when I come home from school I need to relax. YouTube (or Facebook or computer games) is how I relax!” Certainly children do need to unwind before they plunge into their homework, and it is understandable that they would prefer to do their relaxing in front of a screen. However, this option does not refresh or motivate; in fact, screen time saps enthusiasm for any other activity. So remember that people managed to relax without the help of screens from the dawn of time until only a generation ago!
A healthy snack and an active break is what will relax and refresh your children and teens, increasing the chances of their doing a good job on their homework. An active break could be a short bike ride, a quick game of catch, trampolining, star jumps, etc. This will help to prepare them to do their best on their homework.
Q: My children often complain that homework is “soooo boring”. How can I get them motivated?
A: My book, “Calmer, Easier, Happier Homework” explains how parents can guide children into more enjoyable and productive homework habits. Until that happens you are likely to hear the word ‘boring’ quite a lot at homework time! Often ‘boring’ means that the homework is not entertaining, not particularly interesting, not what children would choose to do if they had a choice.
That is a legitimate feeling, but calling homework ‘boring’ is misleading. When your child says, for example, that maths is boring, the implication is that it is a fact that maths is boring. But it’s simply not true. Some people find maths boring, and some people find maths fascinating. That is true of every school subject.
The word ‘boring’ in relation to homework can mean that it looks confusing or difficult. ‘Boring’ often means that your child has been sitting and listening and writing for hours, and his body is now itching to move and play. So when children say homework is ‘boring’, let’s think about how they may be feeling:
“Maybe it feels like there are too many sums on this page.”
“Probably you’d rather be outside on your skateboard.”
“It’s been a while since you had fractions, so maybe you’re worried you’ve forgotten how to do them.”
I am not suggesting that we correct our children when they use the word ‘boring’. What I am recommending is that we do not use the word ourselves, ever. Let’s set a good example. And let’s remember to listen to the uncomfortable feelings that are often lurking below the surface.