Pre-teens and homework: how to survive

Child doing homework
Struggling to get your KS2 child to focus on their homework? We reveal the strategies that could take the stress out of homework time.
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Take one KS2 child, a helping of homework and a dollop of pre-pubescent hormones, and you have a recipe for tension and trauma. As most parents of pre-teens will know, getting your child to do their homework can be a painful experience – but it’s something that can’t be ignored.

‘Homework for children in Years 5 and 6 is important for two main reasons,’ says Anastasia de Waal, a former primary school teacher and chair of the charity Family Lives. ‘Not only does it consolidate what they are learning at school, but it also gets them into a study routine that will serve them well when they start secondary school and have to cope with a heavier homework load.’ So how can you help your child to tackle their daily tasks without it ending in tears (yours and theirs)?

Set up a routine

How many times has your child said, ‘I’ll do it later,’ only to then have a meltdown when homework can’t be put off any longer? ‘Flashpoints often occur when you’re trying to tackle homework at the wrong time – for instance, if you’ve left it too late and are trying to squeeze it in before bed,’ explains Anastasia.

The key to avoiding this is to have a set period each day when homework is done. ‘If it’s part of the daily routine, it becomes something that is expected, and it doesn’t fall by the wayside,’ Anastasia says. Let your child be involved in deciding when to fit it into the routine: some might like to get it out of the way as soon as they get home, while others prefer to have some downtime first and come back to it later.

Don’t tackle it hungry

You probably don’t function too well when you’re hungry and thirsty, and your child is no different. Trying to make them do their homework when they’re feeling below par is bound to lead to confrontation, so give them time to sit down and have a snack and drink when they get home from school before they’re expected to tackle their work.

Talk about it

Children do better at school if they’re able to talk to their parents about what they’re learning, and this applies to homework, too. Although you shouldn’t need to hold your child’s hand through every homework task, it’s important to show an interest. ‘Before they get started, have a chat about what they’ve been doing at school and how their homework will consolidate that,’ Anastasia advises. ‘This helps them feel that you’re interested, and also keeps you in the loop in case they’re struggling with something.’

It’s a good idea to keep checking back in with your child while they’re working. ‘Some children, left on their own, will sit there doing nothing, so popping in and out lets you keep an eye on what’s going on,’ Anastasia says. It also means they can ask any questions without being too reliant on your help.

Have a good work station

One of the biggest challenges for children from poorer homes is not having a suitable place to do homework, and even if space isn’t an issue, many children end up trying to do their homework in suboptimal conditions – for example, in front of the TV or with a depleted pencil case. ‘Make sure your child has somewhere suitable to work, with a clear work surface and all the equipment they need,’ says Anastasia. ‘They don’t necessarily have to be on their own – some children work better if a sibling is doing their homework at the table next to them – but it’s not fair to expect them to work around distractions like the TV or someone playing a video game.’

Set challenges

If your child is prone to wailing that their homework is going to take forever and there won’t be any time to watch TV/play on the computer/read, try turning this around. ‘Children don’t always realise that homework is set to build on what they’ve already learned at school,’ Anastasia explains. ‘They expect it to be difficult, rather than going over something they’ve already done. Explain to them that it’s a chance to show off what they’ve been learning, and set them a challenge, like, “Do you think you can do this in 20 minutes?”’ Set the kitchen timer and see if they can do it.

Be a good motivator

It’s tempting to promise your child an hour on the computer if they get their homework done, but rewarding them could be counterproductive. ‘This sets up the belief that homework is a bad thing that has to be rewarded, and also creates problems for the teenage years, when your rewards won’t work any more,’ Anastasia says.

Instead of promising a tangible reward, use different incentives. ‘It’s surprisingly effective to tell your child how pleased and proud you are to see them getting on with their homework,’ says Anastasia. ‘By all means, let them have their computer time afterwards, but only because that’s the normal daily routine – not because it’s a reward.’

Get school onside

If you’ve tried the ideas above and homework time is still a trauma, talk to your child’s teacher. Okay, so no one likes to admit that they’re having trouble motivating their child, but teachers have heard it all before. ‘The beauty of homework at primary school is that it’s not statutory, so teachers should be very willing to discuss how it could be easier on your child,’ Anastasia adds. ‘They will be all too pleased to see you there as an engaged and interested parent who wants to make life better for your child.’