by Angela Norton Tyler, Family Homework Answers

If you were to ask most children if they like rules, they would scream "No way!" That's what they are supposed to say, but don't you believe it for one second! Rules and routines make children feel safe. Children like knowing what is expected of them and what is going to happen next. They also like knowing that they can count on the adults in their lives to lovingly enforce those rules and stick to the routines.

In the beginning, your child may fight against homework rules and routines, but you must be strong! Soon, he will accept the rules—and secretly be happy they exist.

Setting basic homework ground rules is crucial, and you want to establish that tone from the beginning with your child. I recommend taking him out of the house and away from the phone and other distractions. Once you have your child's undivided attention, explain why you feel it is necessary to establish homework rules in the first place.

Discuss Homework Issues With Your Child

You might say something like this: "Don't look so worried! You aren't in trouble! The reason I brought you to this coffee shop (or park, or book store) is because I want to talk to you about your homework. I hate to see you so upset every night, and I want to do something about it. The same things come up and nobody knows what to do about them. Like, Monday you and Stephen were working on your science project, which was great, but then your regular homework didn't get finished. You have a lot of projects this year, so we need to figure out how to handle this."

Of course, you will tailor your discussion to your child's age and address his or her specific homework issues. For example, if your son has been having a lot of problems with finishing projects, talk about that. If your child is old enough, share the Homework Personality Quiz you did—or let him take it himself and the two of you can compare answers.

Homework Rules Discussion Starters

Here are some common homework issues and questions:

TIME

  • What time must homework be started?
  • How late is too late to do homework?
  • Are breaks allowed? How many and how long?
  • When must weekend homework be completed—Saturday or Sunday? (Everybody needs a day off!)

PLACE

  • Where can homework be done?
  • Where can it not be done?
  • Can the TV be on while doing homework? (Not recommended!)
  • Can you listen to music (radio, iPod) while doing homework?

PEOPLE

  • Can friends come over to do homework? Which friends?
  • Can you talk on the phone during homework time? (Come on, now!)

PROBLEMS

  • What happens if homework is not completed?
  • What happens if homework is not completed regularly? (Think about new ground rules.)

By the way, most homework problems can be avoided with Homework Sandwiches!

Discuss any and every homework problem your child and family has experienced. Be honest and thorough! Get it all straight now so you don't have to worry about it later. Write down what you and your child decide. Don't make promises or agree to anything that makes you feel uneasy or uncomfortable.

A Word About Rewards

Ordinarily, I do not believe in rewarding children for doing what they are supposed to be doing anyway, including homework. However, if your child has been struggling with doing his homework and then starts doing it without a big hassle—reward him! Let him know that you recognize and appreciate how hard he has been working and that you are proud of him.

You might want to make a simple homework chart and put a sticker or a smiley face on it every day that homework is completed without a fuss (obviously, this is better for younger students). A certain number of stickers earns a special treat. Or, you may tell your child that if he does his homework all week, you will take him out for ice cream or rollerblading. Don't over-reward or put yourself in the position to treat, treat, treat every weekend. I've said it before, but it absolutely bears repeating: Your job is not to bribe your child into doing homework!

3 Things To Remember About Homework Ground Rules

  1. Ground Rules must be short, simple, reasonable, and clearly understood by every member of the household and any regular visitors such as babysitters and Grandma. To avoid disputes, see the next point.
  2. Ground Rules should be posted. Get creative and fancy or keep it simple, but post the Homework Ground Rules so that everybody can see them. I recommend putting a copy on the refrigerator, in your child's homework binder, and in the "homework area" if you have one. You can turn the rules into a contract to make everything nice and "official."
  3. Ground Rules must be enforceable. There is no point in setting rules if nobody is going to follow them! If your child does not do his homework or follow an agreed-upon rule, the consequence must follow. Children are masters at making us feel guilty, but enforcing rules that benefit them is part of our job. Plus, we deserve to have peaceful evenings and weekends, don't we?