Handling Sticky School Situations

Homework is Too Hard

Q: My 7-year-old son has been getting elaborate, time-consuming homework assignments that are impossible for him to do on his own. What should I do?

A: Before you assume your son's load is too heavy, make sure he's doing homework in a quiet spot, without a TV blaring, and that he doesn't leave homework for the very last minute, says Harris Cooper, Ph.D., a professor of psychological sciences at the University of Missouri in Columbia and a leading authority on homework. Also, expect to be involved. "Parents should never do their children's homework, but they should always be there to help their kids seek the answers to the problems," says Janine Bempechat, author of Getting Our Kids Back on Track: Educating Children for the Future. Your support will also show your son that you think school is important, she adds.

If your child is still struggling, ask other parents if their kids are having problems. If others are, you should join together to meet with the teacher and principal. School districts set their own policies but tend to be responsive to parents. You might want to point out that a common formula is to give 10 minutes of homework a night for a first-grader, adding 10 minutes for each grade level.

If you find that your son is the only one having trouble, talk with his teacher about how to help him. Perhaps she could have him do just 10 of the 20 homework problems, for instance. But recognize that in the long run, he'll be better off if he learns how to handle his assignments: Most experts believe homework in the early years helps kids develop skills they'll need to excel later.

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