Time (Or Should We Say Homework) Management 101


Editor's note: Homework can bring a lot of stress into a family's evening (or weekend), but it doesn't have to be that way. Get advice on how to build your child's time-management skills, develop other organizational schemes that ease the pain of homework and strike the right balance of parental involvement in your child's assignments.

Child: “I just can’t get this homework done.”

Mom: “But you’ve been working on it now for two hours.”

Child: “I don’t know” (starting to cry). “It’s just too much.”

Mom: “You never had such a problem getting your work done before.”

Child: (Throwing a book on the floor) “I hate this – I just want to go out and play with my friends.”

Sound familiar? Ugh! Sometimes the thought of homework hassles can leave a sense of dread in parents — the fights, the chaos, the begging, and the scrounging for a sharpened pencil! No thanks! But wait: maybe, just maybe, this year, if you do a little homework yourself, you can approach the whole homework scene a little differently.

It may be that an assessment of your child’s time-management skills is in order. These “executive functions” are generally not in-born, and helping a child acquire them may be one of a parent’s most important jobs. When you find yourself engaging in homework wars with your children, it can be comforting to know that you are not alone. After-school assignments can be one of the most common area of conflict between parents and their children.

A personal story

When my formerly very organized son went to his first year of middle school, his homework load increased, and the work got harder. It seemed he was now spending entirely too much time on school work and still was not able to stay on top of it. It was immensely frustrating for him and for the rest of the family.

Ironically, this was also the year he became more independent and fell in love with bike riding. The fall weather was gorgeous, and I was torn between letting him bike ride after school with his friends and making him come right home and get to work. If he didn’t come right home and buckle down, I knew there would not be enough time to complete his homework. But if he didn’t go out and ride his bike, he’d be antsy and not able to get much done anyway. I decided there must be some way to compromise so that he could do both.

Was improving time management the solution to this dilemma? My son agreed to sit down with me and estimate how much time each homework assignment would take. Then we portioned it out throughout the evening, along with after-school fun. He could ride his bike right after school for an allotted time, then do some homework, and then take a dinner break with more time for homework after dinner. Additional breaks could be scheduled in between if needed. Flexibility was key, so the schedule was altered when projects or essays were assigned, when extra time was needed to study for tests or if extracurricular events were on the calendar.

When we made the schedule, it was important to give my son a say in how we went about planning the evening; we brainstormed and then compromised on some things. That way he had a say in the plan.

This turned out to be the ticket to my son’s eventual success in middle school. While this idea worked for my son, it’s important to remember that because each child is unique, the plan will need to be tailored to fit the child. Some children are innately more organized or self-motivated than others, and each child has a distinct method of learning as well as personal feelings about what he wants and what works best for him.

For example, my son was always a very early riser, and he insisted that he could finish some undone homework early in the morning before school if he absolutely could not complete it the night before. While I felt that this plan was risky, I let him try it and it worked for him. He is still successful with it today as a 10th grader. (By the way, this would NEVER work for my daughter, who is not a morning person.)

Time-management tips

Even allowing for an individual plan, there are still some tried-and-true tips that could be helpful to all students who can’t seem to get a handle on this time-management thing. These tips need to be adjusted according to what your child is truly capable of for his age.

  • Address the problem with your child without being judgmental.
  • Brainstorm ideas to make a plan. Remember that what works for you may not work for your child and vice versa.
  • Listen to all ideas, even the ones that are not acceptable to you. For example: If your 8-year-old child says, “I will start my homework at 10:00pm,” listen attentively, but when the time comes to evaluate the items on the brainstormed list, you can tell her that starting so late would not be acceptable to you. Conversely, let your child state during brainstorming which ideas of yours she can or cannot accept. Try to meet in the middle. This lets her know that you value her opinion.
  • Recognize that time management may not be the only issue that is hindering your child’s success; you’ll have to assess other issues in the child’s life, such as not understanding the work, preoccupation with social situations or a learning difficulty.
  • Organizational tips (useful to your child as early as Kindergarten) are also important:
    • Set up a work space where your child can do his homework – this can be someplace as formal as a desk in the child’s room or as informal as a space at the dining room table.
    • Keep all supplies (pencils, pencil sharpeners, paper, etc.) in a convenient location where everyone knows where they are and everyone knows to put things back so they will be there the next time they are needed.
    • Gather any specific items needed before starting an assignment.
    • Have folders/binders for each subject; color-code them (e.g., math folder is red, social studies folder is blue, etc.)
    • (Best for 3rd grade and older) Provide a  notebook for your child to write down all homework, long-term  assignments, dates of upcoming tests, etc.
    • Have your child put all homework and books in his backpack when he is finished with his nightly assignments. Set aside a place to keep projects-in-progress.

Remember that becoming organized is a process; it will not happen overnight. It takes time and patience on your part to encourage your child as he acquires the necessary skills and attitudes.

How involved should you be?

Also consider the balance that parents need to strike between being involved with their children’s schoolwork and taking over responsibility for it. You want to guide your children and help them develop time-management awareness and skills. However, you need to guard against being the ”homework policeman” who is too strict and punitive or who cares more than the child does that the work gets done. Set boundaries for yourself; it is easy to forget that your children’s homework is their work and a reflection of their abilities, not yours. Stay separate, yet available, if your children should have any questions or need help.

What matters most in your children’s lives is that you are interested in them and that they know you are “in their corner." Be a partner in your children’s education; you’ll never regret being there for them as a source of support and guidance.

Claire Gawinowicz is a certified parenting educator for the Center for Parenting Education. This article is reprinted with permission.


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