Your child’s homework may be just a few math problems and a short reading assignment. But if you have to nag, bribe, and beg her to do it, the conflict can morph into a power struggle. And when you’re embroiled in power struggles night after night, Friday can’t come soon enough. Homework exhaustion can leave the whole family frazzled.

If you’re tired of being a homework cop, you can turn in your badge. There are sound strategies to help you support your child while avoiding the dreaded test of wills.

The most important thing parents can do is remain calm, says Neil McNerney, a Virginia-based counselor and the author of Homework: A Parent’s Guide to Helping Out Without Freaking Out. “As parents, we set the tone by how we interpret [our children’s] actions,” says McNerney, a former school counselor and a father of two.

When a child refuses to do homework, it’s the parent’s reaction that leads to the power struggle. By playing it cool, you can defuse the budding conflict and give your child the power to decide what to do. For example, according to McNerney, when a child says “I’m not doing my homework, and you can’t make me,” you can respond by saying “That’s true, I can’t make you, but here are the consequences.”

“Let your child consider the consequences and then decide if she’s going to do her homework,” McNerney says. It’s OK to let your child show up without the homework done and pay the price at school—and at home, he adds.

Ann Dolin, author of Homework Made Simple: Tips, Tools, and Solutions to Stress-Free Homework, says the key to minimizing homework struggles lies in understanding why your child is having a hard time. Is she easily distracted? Is she confused about the homework? Or is the homework load unreasonable?

“You can have a child who is a good student but who still struggles with homework,” Dolin says. “And the teacher never knows the child is struggling because the parent makes sure the homework gets turned in on time and correctly.”

To ease the stress of homework time, experts suggest three basic steps.

1. Diagnose the Problem

There are a few familiar reasons why kids don’t get their homework done. Experts recommend that parents start by pinpointing the reason the child is having trouble:

The child is overwhelmed with the quantity of homework. It takes hours to complete each night, and mom has to constantly nag to get her to finish.

The child doesn’t understand how to do the work. He can’t do the math problems, or the reading is overwhelming. Parents spend hours trying to address weaknesses and get the homework done.

The child doesn’t have too much homework. She knows how to do it, but she has trouble focusing.

Any of these problems can lead to frustration and conflict.

2. Adjust the Homework Routine

Talk to the teacher about homework overload. As a general rule, kids should spend about 10 minutes per grade per night on homework, exclusive of reading assignments. For example, a 4th grader should spend about 40 minutes a night on homework, on average. If your child is spending far more than that, keep a homework log for a week or two. Share it with your child’s teacher.

“When your child returns to school every day with homework done, the teacher has no idea how long it took to get to that point,” Dolin says, adding that teachers tend to underestimate how long a homework assignment will take.

Compare notes with other families. Check with parents whose kids are in your child’s class and find out how much time they are spending on homework. If other kids are whizzing through, your child might not understand the material or the assignment.

Work with the teacher to help your child address weaknesses. Whether it’s a tutor or extra help at school, kids need to know how to do their assignments. Homework is supposed to be reinforcement of material taught at school.

Find the right homework setting. Not all kids can focus on homework right after finishing a long day at school. Consider giving your child a chance to play and relax before starting homework.

Reconsider the desk. For the easily distracted child, a desk might not be the best place for homework, Dolin says. Some kids focus better when they’re standing up or lying on the floor.

Help control fidgeting. A stress ball or other fidget toy can help your child release excess energy.

Get a timer. For the daydreamer, a timer is a fantastic tool, Dolin says. Young kids can work in five-minute increments, with older kids working for 10 or 20 minutes at a time. Often, the child just needs momentum. Once the first 10-minute block is up, he might hit his stride and keep working. For the child who dreads homework, tell her she has what it takes to get through what Dolin calls the “tolerable 10.” After a few bursts of tolerable 10s, with short breaks in between, her assignment will be finished.

Help make a plan for big assignments. It may be tempting to work in partnership with your child to make sure she ends up with an impressive project. A better way to help is to work with your child to break up the project into manageable tasks. Then, you can step aside and let your child complete the project independently. Just check to make sure each task is completed on time.

3. Adjust Your Response

The role of the parent should be to make sure the child understands what he’s supposed to do. You can check the first math problem or first paragraph of an essay to make sure your child is on the right track. “Then, walk away,” Dolin says.

But that can be so hard to do!

Resist the temptation to help too much. Dolin smiled when she heard about a high-achieving school with this policy: No parent’s pencil should touch the child’s paper. “Homework should be your child’s work,” she says.

Choose the right role for the right circumstances: the supporter, the advice-giver, or the boss. McNerney advises against rushing to be the boss, doling out rewards and punishment. First, try to be the supporter who says “Good job!” “Can I help?” and “I’m sorry you’re getting frustrated.” If that isn’t enough, shift into being an advice-giver, who says things like “Oh, I don’t know, have you thought about going to your teacher’s website for help?” Keep your comments open-ended, giving your child the option of taking your advice or leaving it.

Focus on effort. Instead of praising your child for how smart she is, let her know you’re impressed with how hard she worked, says McNerney. This is especially important if you have more than one child.

Use descriptive praise. Be as specific as you can, McNerney says. For example: “I can see it took a lot of time for you to write these sentences so neatly.”

State your case only once. Don’t repeat yourself when spelling out your expectations and consequences. Keep it clear and simple: “If you don’t do your homework, here are the consequences....” If you nag, you’ll just amp up the power struggle, McNerney says.

Stay close. Once you know that your child knows what to do, leave him to complete his own homework. But let him know you are close by, especially if your child is easily distracted.

Don’t micromanage the outcome. It’s your job to review homework and confirm that your child did it. It’s not your job to make sure it’s perfect, McNerney says. Let the teacher mark up the English paper with a red pen.

Homework has a way of stealing the fun out of family life. By making adjustments in the way you respond to homework struggles, you can restore balance and harmony to your family’s homework routine.

Journalist Patti Ghezzi covered education and schools for 10 years for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She lives in Avondale Estates, Ga., with her family, which includes husband Jason, daughter Celia, and geriatric mutt Albany.