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Mama Drama: Homework H-E-Double Toothpicks!!

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Dear Mama Drama:

My nine- year-old daughter takes an excessive amount of time to do her homework every day. If she would just do the work, she would be done in thirty minutes to an hour. Instead, she whines, complains, cries, fights, distracts herself, etc., for hours on end. By the time she is done we are all angry and exhausted and her self-esteem is in the toilet.

(photo credit)

She does have a significant amount of homework assigned, but it all should be work she is capable of completing on her own.  I know she needs to go out and play, but she spends so much time avoiding her work that she never gets outside.

I am at a loss and hate the way this homework issue is impacting all of us. I don’t want to bother her teachers because they always seem so busy already.

~ Homework Hating Mama

(Send your Mama Drama questions to

Dear Homework Hating:

The homework battle often feels like a big vat of quicksand for parents to fall into.  The more you struggle, the more it sucks you down.  The trick is to remember that you are responsible for providing a place and time for your daughter to do the homework, but the responsibility for completing the homework is hers.

When your daughter is feeling calm and relaxed, take time to talk with her about the homework issue. Does she feel overwhelmed by the amount of homework? Does she feel like she doesn’t have the skills to complete it independently? Is she exhausted from the school day and doesn’t have the energy to do the work? Does she need to eat before she works? Does she need to burn off some energy and play before she works? Are there too many other things going on around her while she is trying to work? Does she want more attention from you and is using this issue to get it? Having her perspective will help you understand how to support her better.

Take action on the things you have control over from this conversation such as changing the family routine, where the homework is done, creating a consistent schedule, adjusting how you respond to her, and giving her positive attention just for being her.

While you are right that teachers are busy, contacting them is a critical step that needs to be taken. If you are not communicating with them, they don’t know how much your daughter is struggling. Let them know the difficulties she is having at home and how she feels about the work. Meet with them and your daughter to create a plan to support her in being successful.

The teachers can provide an understanding about how long this amount of work takes your daughter at school and help her set expectations for how long she should work on it at home.  Based on the information you share, they may decide to modify the homework assignments for her.  They may also want to explore the possibility that other learning difficulties are impacting her ability to complete the work, especially if she is also struggling at school.

Set up a plan to reinforce her for meeting the expectations set. Your initial agreement may be recognizing her for working without all the drama you described even if she doesn’t complete the assignment. You may want to create a sticker chart at home where she works toward a special outing or activity with mom or dad or it may be something she earns at school such as lunch with her teacher or even a “homework holiday” where she has no homework for a day. Let her have input into the “rewards” and focus on ones that involve time and positive attention rather than buying material items.

Be sure to set her up for success by making the initial goals very achievable. As she becomes more successful, you can increase the expectations. Have a contingency plan for what will happen if the homework doesn’t get done as well and have this consequence occur at school.

What tricks, tips, and strategies have work for you and your child? Please share your successes!

Motherhood is an amazing journey that can have its share of Mama Drama. The Mama Drama column runs on Fridays with everyday mothering questions from readers and answers providing strategies to tackle these daily challenges. Send your questions and challenges to, and your Mama Drama could be in next week’s column! Lisa is also available for private consultations. All emails and identifying information will remain confidential.

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  • comment avatar Amber's Crazy Bloggin' Canuck April 15, 2011

    Great advice as always, Lisa. Even in first grade, I am amazed by the amount of homework my daughter already has. For us, the key was figuring when was her best time to do it. Right after school is too soon and she needs time to unwind by having a snack and playing. But if I wait until after dinner, she’s too irritable and tired. Pinning down her best time (about an hour before dinner) has helped us considerably. And my attitude has as well. I used to get frustrated and she sensed that. The calmer I am, the better she does.

  • comment avatar Lisa Vratny-Smith April 15, 2011

    Amber, what great advice from you, too! Finding the time that works best for our kids is a critical piece of the puzzle. Our demeanor about the homework also makes a huge difference in how our kids respond to it.
    I also think understanding why they have homework, to practice and become more fluent in their skills, is helpful some kids. That said, I still struggle at times with the concept of homework as it can feel like a “second shift” for the whole family at times.

  • comment avatar Lori Lavender Luz April 15, 2011

    Great advice, Lisa. I agree with what you and Amber say about needing to be outside (if possible) and playing after a day in school.

    One rule we have recently imposed is that there is no screen time until homework is finished. One of my children responds well to this.

  • comment avatar Jaime Swartzendruber April 15, 2011

    I think we’d have amazing success at our house if every lesson were in the form of a video game. Lexia reading is set up that way and has taken my son from uninterested to chapter books.

  • comment avatar Lisa Vratny-Smith April 15, 2011

    Thanks, Lori, and I also agree about the outside time. Green therapy!

    Screen time can definitely be used as a carrot (Lori) or a teaching tool (Jaime). As you two demonstrate, every child is different and needs different tools to help them find their balance, motivation, and success.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and strategies! 🙂

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