Ask any parent about homework and the response is inevitably a passionate one. The question of too much or too little almost always comes up. Tears, threats and fits of anger leave most parents wondering whether homework is really preparing their children in any meaningful way, or if it's just added stress and drama for the whole family.
Research corroborates these concerns, and leaves us wondering how to mindfully weigh out out the positive and negative impacts of homework on a child's overall development. Here, we break down how to achieve balance for your children and their academic success.
Don't overdo it
The most conclusive research to date tells us homework is healthiest in moderation; too much may lead to academic stress and potentially to health problems, including sleep deprivation, weight loss, migraines, exhaustion and even ulcers in children.
When does the volume of homework go from positive to destructive? It partly depends upon your child's age and developmental level: while homework for seventh to twelth graders (under two hours) supports a boost in academic performance, middle schoolers benefit from this same amount only marginally.
Most parents of younger children wonder whether the stress of having homework does more harm than good. The most comprehensive research to date tells us it holds little value for those in kindergarten up to grade six. In fact, research suggests parents of younger children should be cautious of the role of homework in their kids' lives.
Essentially, homework is important, but only when your child is developmentally ready, willing and, above all, supported.
Self-regulation has become an educational buzzword, and involves a whole host of skills tied to consciously managing emotions, thought processes and behaviour. It all hinges on a child's developmental capacity and their brain system's maturity.
It turns out that when we focus on supporting self-regulation, children develop the kind of broader based processing tools that set them up for greater homework success.
Teaching children how to navigate distractions, set goals, self reflect, practice personal accountability and manage time are all shown to bolster the learning process. In other words, coaching your child toward personal regulation may be more important than focusing on the homework itself.
Begin with mindfulness
It's never too early to practice mindfulness, and gain the kinds of life tools that protect a child from the impact of stress. A recent study looked at the impact of 12 weeks of mindfulness training with preschoolers, and the results were eye-opening. The training was associated with a whole host of growth factors, including social capability, learning, mental flexibility and patience.
Children aren't the only ones that benefit from the wide-reaching effects of practicing mindfulness. When practiced together with their kids, parents will tell you they feel happier, less stressed and better equipped to manage difficult moments with their children.
There are plenty of helpful mindfulness apps you can use, with instructions as descriptive or as simple as you like. Before your child begins homework, you can simply close your eyes together, breathe low and slow, and ask them to notice the internal movie playing in their mind. Encourage them to let these thoughts and images float through their mind like a leaf on a stream. And for thoughts that keep returning, help to acknowledge them from a place of non-judgment; label them as "thinking."
The act of observing one's own experience from a distance can help you and your child clear away emotional and cognitive distraction, bring them into the present-time moment and help them focus on the task at hand.
Keep it positive
Parents want to maintain a positive vibe with their children, but when it comes to homework, even the calmest of parents can become frustrated. Avoiding conflict and power struggles isn't only important for emotional health; the latest studies show it's intricately linked to learning.
It is not surprising that negative feelings during homework time is shown to discourage effort and negatively affect grades, especially in math. So, take a deep breath, walk away when you need to, and ask what you'd like your child to learn through this process of 'homework'. Your participation matters! Through optimism, encouragement and patience, even homework time can become a way to deepen your relationship with your child.
Make room for sleep
Late night homework marathons, screen time and inconsistent sleep schedules make for more than a cranky morning: sleep deficits can erode your child's capacity to learn. In fact, poor sleep quality goes hand in hand with worse academic performance, especially in key subjects like math and English.
Keep in mind, too, that the more consistent your child's sleep routine, the more resilient they'll be when facing short-term sleep disruption. Students who prioritize homework and other activities over sleep aren't able to bank personal resources in the same way well rested children do: they just can't manage as well after an episodic poor night's sleep.
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Timing matters too. While early bed and wake-up times prove to be more closely connected with academic success than total sleep time, both are equally important. Starting homework early, limiting its duration, leaving plenty of room for downtime and getting to bed early, all give your child the kind of balanced life they need to grow and thrive, academically and emotionally.
At some point homework is an inevitable part of most children's lives, offering an opportunity for expansive growth. There are many ways in which we can transform a seemingly onerous task into a time of connection, problem solving, even joy. You are not only learning about your child's math skills, but discovering how your child learns and grows. A shared experience.
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