Education, Parenting

Reducing Homework Stress


The most common source of stress for kids and their parents is homework. Some parents tearfully recount how homework chores have disrupted family harmony from after school to bedtime. Consequently, the precious few hours children and parents share together are stressful and negative. Is homework worth it? Do the academic benefits justify the strain on family time, leisure, and sleep?  New research has some answers. In order to be advantageous, the amount of homework assigned should be informed by the student’s age, according to the National Education Association.

Ideal amounts, and in excess

Today homework starts in pre-kindergarten and the work load steadily increases through high school. Despite this practice, the research does not prove the value of homework for very young students.  However, for the youngest scholars, small amounts of school-related work—such as reading or fun projects—can build positive study habits and appropriate parent involvement.

For elementary school students, homework not only contributes to good study habits, it also builds foundation skills that are related to academic success. However, there is a weak correlation between homework and academic achievement in the early grades. Conversely, in secondary school homework is related to academic success. The reason may be that compared to their younger counterparts, secondary school students have better attention spans and study habits, so the payoff is stronger, according to a brief published by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. But the amount of work matters.

Homework before first grade is not recommended. For elementary school students, the 10 minute rule can guide amount of work assigned. Multiply 10 by the grade of the student (10 times one for a first grader is 10 minutes of homework, 20 minutes for a second grader, and so on). For middle school students, however, the benefits of homework begin to decline after 90 minutes. For high school students, homework in excess of two and one half hours becomes counter productive and the positive benefits decline.

Research has shown that too much homework has a negative effect on health (due to sleep deprivation) and emotional well-being. While parents may not decide how much work is assigned, understanding these guidelines can be helpful in moderating their child’s workload and knowing when to say, enough—especially for young students.

Parental involvement

It may come as a relief to beleaguered parents that leaving their children alone at homework time may be the best thing they can do. The most effective way to increase independence and self initiative is to allow students to do their own work. Resist the urge to proof and correct work. Refrain from the fear that poorly completed homework reflects negatively on you rather than the student.

The best ways for parents to be involved are to set time guidelines (set a timer for homework completion), allow natural consequences to occur (if the child doesn’t finish he/she must face the teacher’s wrath), and limit distractions at home. Talking to the student about what they are learning in a relaxed way is a good way to bring the learning to life. Finally, parents can help by being mindful of the amount and type of work demanded of their child and put homework in the appropriate context based on their child’s age.

 by Pat Blackwell, Ph.D.



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