Is your child, tween, or teen struggling with homework in addition to other challenges, such as bipolar disorder, anxiety, depression, or ADHD? If so, then maybe it’s time to say, “Enough is enough.” In my practice, I often see frazzled children and their frazzled parents, who tell me about their battles to beat the homework blues.

Mom and dad return from a long day at work, and junior comes home from a long day at school, typically followed by some sort of after-school activity that may have added to an already hectic day. Instead of coming home and breathing a sigh of relief as they collapse into their respective lounge chairs and bean bags, they now have the sword of Damocles hanging over them in the form of completing that %$#@*&! homework assignment, not to mention cooking, eating, cleaning up after dinner, doing chores, and getting ready for bed. Ugh!

The parents are frustrated and aggravated, the child hates school, and everyone is exhausted. Mission accomplished? Hardly. Maybe the homework gets done, maybe not. Maybe it’s done well, maybe not. Regardless, the homework and ensuing battles are usually counterproductive. A student who resists isn’t going to learn much, and the next day at school, she’s more likely to be tired and irritable from the previous evening’s battle. That’s not even considering the emotional fallout and the toll it takes on the family.

What to do?

I recommend that homework take a backseat to bedtime. Spend some planned and measured time on the homework and reading and then put it away — yes, even if it’s not done. The solutions offered at school are often about how to make the child do the work — what can be rearranged to make sure it gets done. But this misses the bigger picture. A better approach is to consider modifications so your child can master his homework without extreme distress.

Here are two practical solutions:

  • Reduce the amount of homework — fewer math problems, fewer sentences to write, break up the spelling words over the course of the week, ten minutes of reading instead of 20.
  • Allocate a set amount of time to each subject, and whatever gets done in that time is enough for the night.

While parents are encouraged to be active participants in homework and support it getting done, there’s a point at which it’s okay to shut down the work for the night. It’s okay if it’s not all finished or not all correct. The teacher needs to know where your child is struggling, so she can adjust instruction or alter supports based on your child’s needs.

Less is more

Homework, especially in younger children, but even into high school, needs to be a part of life outside of school, but when it’s hijacking every spare moment it’s counterproductive and harmful. Some children meet the expectations without excessive distress, but many, many kids and families are overwhelmed much of the time with homework demands. We have to expand the discussion to consider solutions that are not just telling the child and family to “Try harder” or “Do more.” We harm our kids and our families this way.

Burnout and alienation from school are huge problems. When we just keep blaming the children and families for not getting homework done and we don’t look at the reality of what we are asking of them, we are setting up children and families to fail.

We’d like to know what you think. Do you think homework is an overwhelming burden or an essential component of education? Have you battled the homework blues? Do you have any suggestions to share? You might just help another frazzled parent become unfrazzled!