Homework without tears (I mean YOU, mom)

Last week’s Mindful Monday post was all about creating new school-year routines (as well as re-claiming some of the ones that worked best for us last year.) This week’s is nagging less. And the more I think about it, the more I realize that those two things go hand-in-hand.

Routines make me feel more present, calm, and tuned-in; so I nag less because I can be more proactive and head problems off before they become Problems with a capital P. I am also more likely to pick up on the nuances of why one of the kids didn’t do what I asked (was I unclear in my directions? Were they engaged in something else? Do they just need a reminder – with no huffing and puffing, puh-lease?)

When routines become habit, activities that might once have seemed time-consuming or stressful just start to feel like…no big deal. Just one week into our Lunch Box Challenge, for example, I’m amazed at how not hard it is to pack a lunch every night…simply because I’m setting aside a regular, reliable time to do it. When the kids know what to expect and when, there’s less feet-dragging, negotiating, stalling, and resistance in general, so less “need” to nag.

One place I’m working on this especially hard right now is establishing a new homework routine at our house. Since we have a whole houseful of school-going kids this year, it’s going to take some trial and error to figure out how to make homework time go smoothly. But I know in the end it’s going to be totally worth the effort I put in up front – because once we hit on a routine that works, there will be that much less whining, nagging, and all-around griping.

While thinking on homework I remembered that I wrote a post last year about how we had changed our old and totally dysfunctional homework routine (which basically consisted of my putting it off until the last possible minute, then wanting to cry from exhaustion and frustration over my son’s Everyday Math workbook.) Since things have changed a lot for us this year, with one more kid in middle school, our high-school niece living with us, and another kid in the school mix (yes, kindergarteners do have homework…) I thought it would be a nice reminder for me to re-publish some of the ideas I wrote in that post. I hope it helps some of you, too.

If you find yourself wanting to cry, pull out your hair, or whap your kid over the head with a pencil during homework time, think critically about all the factors that add to your stress: what time of day is it when you do the homework? Is anyone hungry or tired? Do you feel rushed? Do you have trouble tracking down the necessary supplies? Does it feel chaotic, with the phone ringing constantly, other kids needing your attention, a pot boiling over on the stove and the dog whining at the door?

After taking a few moments to consider why your current set-up isn’t working for you, you can start thinking of ways to replace that habit with a new ritual. For example:

  • If it’s stressful because multiple kids are asking for help at the same time, could you tag-team with your spouse? Each of you could choose the child or children you work best with, then create a special time and place to work. If you’re single or your partner isn’t available in the afternoons or evenings, maybe you could assign each child a ‘study hall’–their special time slot to sit at the table all alone and get your full attention. Other kids can be quieted with a special activity, game or TV show.
  • If it’s stressful because you can’t ever find the supplies you need, can you clear off space in a central location and create a special supply station? Your new ritual could include cleaning a place at the table, pulling out a few sharpened pencils and some fresh paper, putting on calming music and sitting down ready to work.
  • If it’s stressful because there’s no time to get it done and you always have to rush, could you scale back other evening activities? Maybe the ritual you need is a peaceful, quiet evening that makes it easy to attend to things at home.
  • If it’s stressful because you’re tired and cranky by homework time, could you do it early in the afternoon, or in the morning when you’re both fresher and the house is quieter? Maybe your new ritual could be cleaning out the backpack the minute the kids get home from school and tackling homework then. Or perhaps you could get up a half-hour early with the child who has the largest load and enjoy a cup of tea or coffee in the quiet while your child works.
  • If it’s stressful because your child stalls, whines, or complains, maybe you could make doing homework a special time–pour a cup of cocoa, make some popcorn, and sit down together to chat for a few minutes before pulling out the books.

If you don’t have school-aged kids yet, use this list as an example of how many possible solutions you might be able to find to help re-frame any frustrating situation. Routines shouldn’t make you feel burdened or obligated – they should allow you to simplify your life by doing things in a way that is easier, makes more sense, or gives you more satisfaction. 

Do you need homework help? Or is there some other frustrating, stressy experience you keep having over and over? Instead of ramming your head against the proverbial wall, can you analyze why your current tactics aren’t working – and come up  with some ways you can use routine and ritual to replace your current “habit” with a more satisfying, more effective, or easier experience?


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