Student sitting at table, wearing white headphones; she is working on homework from home
Student sitting at table, wearing white headphones; she is working on homework from home.

Homework probably doesn’t crack your child’s top-five things to do after school. (We’re willing to bet it’s some combination of TV, texting, slime-making, eating an entire box of crackers and playing with pets.) Yet take-home assignments are often a necessary part of elementary-school life. Luckily, homework stress doesn’t have to come home with the worksheets.

If you want to cut the tears, there are some easy ways to make things go smoothly. We checked in with an educational expert to determine how to make kids do homework minus the frustration.

1Motivate your child with the story of someone they admire.

“Homework can feel pointless,” admits Vanessa Vakharia, author of Math Hacks and founder of The Math Guru, a math-and-science tutoring company in Toronto. “What really works for kids is to have them realize how exciting it is to learn and get better at something.” She suggests asking your child to research someone they admire—like a musician, athlete or gamer—and discover all the hard work that goes into their success story.

“I like to frame it that way for kids: When they’re doing homework, they’re training their practise muscles—they’re training their brains—to get better at something by repetition,” says Vakharia. “Homework is training for something bigger in life.”

2Develop a kit of coping strategies that reduce homework stress.

Parents often wonder exactly how to help kids with homework. It’s crucial to remember that children can feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of stuff they have to do or by not understanding a concept—just like adults!

Rather than getting stuck and not doing the homework at all, Vakharia recommends creating a “homework emergency kit” of 10 things your child can do to take a short break when their stress levels are high. This coping-strategy tool kit might include taking a trip outside, closing their eyes and taking slow, deep breaths or listening to a favourite song. You can set a timer for five or six minutes, and then it’s time to get back to work. Encourage kids to say, “I’m kind of freaking out right now,” and ask for help rather than keep their emotions bottled up.

3Fuel up with healthy snacks and drinks.

Growing bodies and brains need the right food to succeed. Having a stash of snacks ready to go in the fridge and cupboard, in a container or an extra lunch bag, helps kids make good choices. Cheese and whole-grain crackers, fruits and veggies, nut or seed butter, trail mix and yogurt are healthy after-school go-tos.

You can also make water more exciting by infusing it with fruit or using a fancy straw. Plus, Vakharia is a fan of smoothies (we’ve got a ton of tips for making smoothies healthy and yummy-looking) and kid-friendly herbal teas such as peppermint.

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4Make bedtime and wake-up routines a priority.

Sleep is integral for brain function (it’s one of the most important factors)[1] and good sleep habits come with structure and routine. A sleep schedule doesn’t have to be elaborate, but consistency is key to avoiding sleep deprivation. A soothing snack like warm coconut milk with a dash of vanilla, a bath or shower, comfy PJs, a mellow song and some quiet reading (no screens in the hour or two before bed!) help brains and bodies settle down.

Similarly, a regular wake-up time, with a few moments to take out the dog, enjoy juice in a unique glass and get a bit of protein like nut butter, a poached egg or Greek yogurt sets kids up for success during the day.

5Break up homework time into smaller chunks.

If you want to get kids to do homework without arguing, you need to figure out what time works best for their personalities. Is it better to get it done immediately after school and know that the rest of the evening is free, or would the lull after dinner be the right fit?

Regardless, no one is up for hours of homework. Vakharia likes setting a timer for 10- and 20-minute intervals: 20 for homework, 10 for a break, then repeat as needed. These chunks keep kids from feeling overwhelmed or losing track of time.

6Create a smart homework area (plus, a portable supply bin!).

A quiet spot with good lighting and a container of school supplies like pencils, erasers, rulers and a calculator is ideal for setting up good study habits. Vakharia says that a place that smells good—thanks to a scented candle or a dab of essential oil—is often a big hit with kids, too.

And when children need to do homework at the arena during a sibling’s practice or even in the car, consider assembling a take-along homework bucket or bin that holds supplies, plus a couple of small extras (think a framed family photo, favourite stuffed animal or trophy). It will send the signal that it’s time to focus. “You create the vibe of ‘OK, now this is your office space,’” Vakharia says.

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7Pay attention to milestones and point out progress.

When the completion of homework isn’t acknowledged, it may lead kids to wonder why they bother doing it. To avoid this issue, make sure that kids feel a sense of accomplishment. “They should be applauded for doing a good job and working hard, regardless of the result,” says Vakharia. “It’s really important to find opportunities to show them that their homework made a difference.”

For example, you can point out the positive effects of homework—like how they’ve gotten better at remembering their times tables, how their spelling has improved with practice or how their efforts at research and organizing made a report better.

Finding the right balance can be a little tricky, but it’s worth it to help kids learn the skills to complete homework assignments, stretch their brains and build knowledge. Your smart cookies can do it!

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