Kenneth Barish Ph.D.

Battles Over Homework: Advice For Parents

Guidelines for helping children develop self-discipline with their homework..

Posted September 5, 2012 | Reviewed by Lybi Ma

I would like to offer some advice about one of the most frequent problems presented to me in over 30 years of clinical practice: battles over homework. I have half-jokingly told many parents that if the schools of New York State no longer required homework, our children’s education would suffer (slightly). But, as a child psychologist, I would be out of business.

Many parents accept this conflict with their children as an unavoidable consequence of responsible parenting . These battles, however, rarely result in improved learning or performance in school. More often than not, battles over homework lead to vicious cycles of nagging by parents and avoidance or refusal by children, with no improvement in a child’s school performance. And certainly no progress toward what should be our ultimate goals : helping children enjoy learning and develop age-appropriate discipline and independence with respect to their schoolwork.

Before I present a plan for reducing battles over homework, it is important to begin with this essential reminder:

The solution to the problem of homework always begins with an accurate diagnosis and a recognition of the demands placed on your child. Parents should never assume that a child who resists doing homework is “lazy.”

Every child whose parents or teachers report ongoing resistance to completing schoolwork or homework; every child whose performance in school is below expectations based on his parents’ or teachers’ intuitive assessment of his intellectual potential; and every child who, over an extended period of time, complains that he “hates school” or “hates reading,” should be evaluated for the presence of an attention or learning disorder.

These children are not lazy. Your child may be anxious, frustrated, discouraged, distracted, or angry—but this is not laziness. I frequently explain to parents that, as a psychologist, the word lazy is not in my dictionary. Lazy, at best, is a description, not an explanation.

For children with learning difficulties, doing their homework is like running with a sprained ankle: It is possible, although painful, and he will look for ways to avoid or postpone this painful and discouraging task.

A Homework Plan

Homework, like any constructive activity, involves moments of frustration, discouragement, and anxiety . If you begin with some appreciation of your child’s frustration and discouragement, you will be better able to put in place a structure that helps him learn to work through his frustration—to develop increments of frustration tolerance and self-discipline.

I offer families who struggle with this problem a Homework Plan:

  • Set aside a specified, and limited, time for homework. Establish, early in the evening, a homework hour.
  • For most children, immediately after school is not the best time for homework. This is a time for sports, for music and drama, and free play.
  • During the homework hour, all electronics are turned off—for the entire family.
  • Work is done in a communal place, at the kitchen or dining room table. Contrary to older conventional wisdom , most elementary school children are able to work more much effectively in a common area, with an adult and even other children present, than in the “quiet” of their rooms.
  • Parents may do their own ”homework” during this time, but they are present and continually available to help, to offer encouragement, and to answer children’s questions. Your goal is to create, to the extent possible, a library atmosphere in your home, again, for a specified and limited period of time. Ideally, therefore, parents should not make or receive telephone calls during this hour. And when homework is done, there is time for play.
  • Begin with a reasonable, a doable, amount of time set aside for homework. If your child is unable to work for 20 minutes, begin with 10 minutes. Then try 15 minutes in the next week. Acknowledge every increment of effort, however small.
  • Be positive and give frequent encouragement. Make note of every improvement, not every mistake.
  • Be generous with your praise. Praise their effort, not their innate ability. But do not be afraid of praise.
  • Anticipate setbacks. After a difficult day, reset for the following day.
  • Give them time. A child’s difficulty completing homework begins as a problem of frustration and discouragement, but it is then complicated by defiant attitudes and feelings of unfairness. A homework plan will begin to reduce these defiant attitudes, but this will not happen overnight.

Most families have found these suggestions helpful, especially for elementary school children. Establishing a homework hour allows parents to move away from a language of threats (“If you don’t__ you won’t be able to__”) to a language of opportunities (“When” or “As soon as” you have finished__ we’ll have a chance to__”).

Of course, for many hurried families, there are complications and potential glitches in implementing any homework plan. It is often difficult, with children’s many activities, to find a consistent time for homework. Some flexibility, some amendments to the plan, may be required. But we should not use the complications of scheduling or other competing demands as an excuse, a reason not to establish the structure of a reasonable homework routine.

parenting homework frustration

Copyright Ken Barish, Ph.D.

See Pride and Joy: A Guide to Understanding Your Child’s Emotions and Solving Family Problems .

Kenneth Barish Ph.D.

Kenneth Barish, Ph.D. , is a clinical associate professor of Psychology at Weill Medical College, Cornell University.

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How to Deal with Homework Frustration As a Parent

Last Updated: June 22, 2022

This article was co-authored by Trudi Griffin, LPC, MS . Trudi Griffin is a Licensed Professional Counselor in Wisconsin specializing in Addictions and Mental Health. She provides therapy to people who struggle with addictions, mental health, and trauma in community health settings and private practice. She received her MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Marquette University in 2011. This article has been viewed 7,532 times.

When your child struggles with their homework, they may become frustrated or upset. In turn, this may cause them to act out, and you may wind up frustrated yourself. Fortunately, there are ways you can help your child calm down when they begin to become agitated. There are also strategies you can use to help them work through challenging assignments, and to help ensure homework sessions go more smoothly moving forward.

Overcoming Homework Frustration Together

Image titled Deal with Homework Frustration As a Parent Step 1

  • Instead of becoming frustrated yourself, try talking to your child calmly. Start with a brief, sympathetic statement. For instance, say “I’m sorry your homework is stressful today,” or “I know it can be frustrating when an assignment is hard to understand.”
  • Then, let your child know that there is more than just one way to accomplish a task and that you will help them to find a way that will work for them. Say something like, “There is a way for you to get this done that will be less frustrating and I will help you figure it out.”

Image titled Deal with Homework Frustration As a Parent Step 2

  • Direct them to breathe in through their nose deeply and slowly for five seconds, and then release slowly through their mouth.
  • If you do lose your temper and shout at your child, apologize to them and remind yourself they need your help.
  • Once everyone is relaxed again, say something like, “Alright let’s have a look at this homework together.”

Image titled Deal with Homework Frustration As a Parent Step 4

  • Listen to your child's response and respond with a way they can handle a similar situation differently in the future.
  • For instance, if they say, "I got mad because it was too hard," point out that they were able to complete the assignment, and had just gotten stuck on one problem. Then say, "Next time, you know you can always ask me or your teacher about parts of your assignment that don't make sense, right?"

Image titled Deal with Homework Frustration As a Parent Step 5

  • Furthermore, anticipate and accept the fact that you will likely have a verbal battle about homework at one point or another.
  • If you find yourself getting frustrated when your child struggles with homework, take a moment afterwards to reflect. In particular, remind yourself that growing up involves plenty of challenges for children, and that your patient support will help them immeasurably. It is very important to work through challenges with your child rather than expecting them to figure it out on their own.

Helping Your Child Work on Their Homework

Image titled Deal with Homework Frustration As a Parent Step 6

  • If they are not clearly able to explain the assignment, look it over yourself and see if it makes sense to you.
  • If you are able to understand the assignment, help them get started - but only enough to ensure they understand what they need to do. Then allow them to finish the assignment themselves.
  • Talk with your child’s teachers about the assignments and encourage your child to talk to their teachers when they don’t understand something. Let your child know that their teachers are there to help them.

Image titled Deal with Homework Frustration As a Parent Step 7

  • For instance, correct your child when they something like, “You’re wrong!” by saying, “It’s okay to think that I’m wrong, but try saying it differently.”
  • Offer them examples too, such as “Mom, I don’t think that’s how I’m supposed to do it.”
  • If your child starts to berate themselves, then correct them. For example, if your child says something like, “I am so stupid! I am never going to understand this!” reframe it by saying, “You are smart and you can figure this out.”

Image titled Deal with Homework Frustration As a Parent Step 8

  • For instance, maybe a grandparent can help more peacefully.
  • Alternatively, consider searching for an older student to help tutor your child after school. Your child’s school may be able to help facilitate this arrangement.

Image titled Deal with Homework Frustration As a Parent Step 9

  • If you think the homework your child is bringing home may be too challenging for them or for students their age, don't hesitate to mention this to their teacher.
  • If your child's teacher is not receptive to your input or does not provide adequate responses to your questions, speak with an administrator at the school about any unresolved concerns you have.

Encouraging Good Homework Habits

Image titled Deal with Homework Frustration As a Parent Step 10

  • A half an hour will often be more than enough for grade school children, while an hour may be better for middle and high school aged kids.
  • Early evening is usually ideal. Avoid asking your child to do their homework right after school, unless this works for them. Some kids do better with homework on an empty stomach, while others may need to eat a meal and wait a bit before they can focus.
  • Make sure to give your child a chance to relax and decompress after school before they get into their homework. For example, you might make your child a snack and let them play a game or play outside for about 30 minutes to an hour before starting their homework.

Image titled Deal with Homework Frustration As a Parent Step 11

  • Avoid watching television or messing around on your phone while your child is working. Not only are these potentially distracting, they may also seem unfair to your child.
  • Set up a workspace for your child that is free of distractions. For example, you could clear the kitchen or dining room table so that your child can complete their homework there.

Image titled Deal with Homework Frustration As a Parent Step 12

  • Favor language that praises their effort, as opposed to their ability. For instance, say things like, “I can see you’re working very hard on your homework. Good job!”

Image titled Deal with Homework Frustration As a Parent Step 14

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parenting homework frustration

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A site for parents actively supporting kids' social and emotional development.


Posted on October 8, 2019 by confidentparentsconfidentkids

Frustrations over Homework? Practice this Coping Strategy…

parenting homework frustration

Research confirms that short breaks help a person’s brain refresh and process. Staring at the page may not produce any new thinking in your child and in fact, staying there when irritated can burn valuable fuel and decrease motivation to put in the hard work necessary to get through the learning process.

But if he walks away, gets some fresh air, or moves a bit, he might feel differently. This small change of scenery can boost thinking skills in powerful ways. He can think more clearly and become a better problem-solver when he returns. He may even gain some new ideas or solutions to his problem removed from the work setting. This functions in the same way that we experience the “shower effect.” Do you get your best ideas in the shower too? Or perhaps your most creative thoughts come when you are driving in the car with no laptop or notepad at the ready? Or maybe when you’ve laid down to go to sleep for the night, your brain starts firing off brilliant thoughts. In order to access our top thinking skills, we require a mental rest. Consider that a short brain break for your child is working with their natural thinking processes to facilitate them, not fight against them.

So although our intention to promote grit and “stick-to-attive-ness” in our children comes from a genuine hope to help them be successful, teaching and promoting brain breaks can help children learn to manage their emotions more effectively while working. And in addition, they may be able to extend their focused attention when they return to work with added motivation from the fuel they’ve gained.

Here are some simple ways to teach, practice, and promote the essential brain break.

Talk about the Brain Break during a regular (non-frustrating) homework time.

Or if homework is consistently frustrating, then pick a non-homework time to talk about how to take brain breaks.

Brainstorm ideas.

See if you can come up with a few ideas together. What can your child do when taking a brain break? You might ask: “ What makes you feel better or gives you comfort when you’re feeling frustrated? ” You can share some restorative ideas like walking outside and breathing in the fresh air, doing some jumping jacks or a yoga pose, getting a drink of water, or visiting a favorite stuffed friend. For young children, imitate your favorite animal. Hop like a bunny or jump from limb to limb like a squirrel. For older children, listen to your favorite song or play on a musical instrument. Have your child write or draw their ideas. Keep that paper in your homework location so that when it’s needed, you can remind your child to take a look at what ideas she’s had and pick one. Daniel Goleman’s book entitled “ Focus; The Hidden Driver of Excellence ” recommends getting outside in nature as one of the most restorative (and just stepping outside your front door counts!). He also writes that checking email, surfing the web, or playing video games are not restorative so avoid those when you are generating brain break ideas.

Discuss school brain breaks.

Yes, brain breaks are key at school too. But does your child’s teacher offer them? Even if they do, they are likely structured breaks for all students and may not serve your own child’s needs at the moment she has them. Help her learn self-management skills by figuring out what she can do in the midst of frustrating moments when she is sitting at her desk completing a worksheet or taking a test. Because mindfulness simply means becoming aware of your body and your thoughts and feelings (and holding compassion for those feelings – not judgement), it can be done anywhere. Your child could count to ten slowly while breathing deeply. Your child could tap each finger on her page individually while breathing noticing the touching sensation. She could wiggle each toe in her shoes noticing how that feels. These pauses can help her bring her focus back to her work.

Set a timer.

Brain breaks should not be long. After all, your child has work to accomplish and especially on school nights, time is limited. So allow enough time to move away and change the perspective but not so much time that your child gets involved in another activity. One to three minutes could be enough to accomplish that goal. Also, put your child in charge of the timer. You don’t want to be the one managing this break. Give your child that responsibility.

Do a dry run.

Practice is important before using it. Include deep breathing in your practice. For young children, try out hot chocolate breathing or teddy bear breathing to practice this important part of the break. For older children, you can merely count to ten while breathing or exaggerate the sound of your deep breathing together. Call “ brain break. ” Move away from work, breathe deeply, and try out your child’s idea for one restorative practice. This practice will ensure that she is well-rehearsed and can call upon that memory when she’s feeling frustrated and taken over by her flight or fight survival brain.

Notice, remind, and reinforce through reflection.

After you’ve generated ideas and practiced, then notice when you see your child getting frustrated. You might say, “ I notice you have a frustrated look on your face. Would a brain break help ?” Then after she does a brain break and her homework is complete, reflect. “ Did that help you and how did it help you? ” in order to maximize her learning.

For parents, teaching and promoting brain breaks with your child can serve as a helpful reminder to us. Yes, we also require brain breaks as we deal with a myriad of responsibilities and attempt to use focused attention with our child, as well as our work, as well as our household and social responsibilities. If you notice you are feeling overloaded with it all, how can you incorporate brain breaks into your own day to help you become more effective? I think I’ll take one…right now.

For Educators, check out this great article on Edutopia on how to incorporate brain breaks and other focusing activities into your daily classroom routines.

Brain Breaks and Focused Attention Practices


Goleman, D. (2013). Focus; The hidden driven of excellence . NY: Harper Collins.

Kim et al. (2018). Daily micro-breaks and job performance: General work engagement as a cross-level moderator. Journal of Applied Psychology. 103 (7) 772-786.

Originally published on February 17, 2019.

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Category: Building a Positive Family Environment Tags: brain breaks , Coping skills , Dealing with big feelings , frustrating homework , homework frustrations , learning challenges , Self-management , upset during homework

11 Comments on “Frustrations over Homework? Practice this Coping Strategy…”

Thanks for your share. There are as many ways to learn as there are people. Since college, I found methods for learning that reduced after school study time from 20 hours to nearly none. As a teacher, I shared some of these ideas, but encouraged the kids to find what works for them. They could use what I shared, try it, but find what works for them. Here’s what I shared: As the teacher lectures, read the book/text (splitting attention for high functioning students), or read the book soon after the lecture (which I gave time). I would take notes as the teacher talked, but also summarize paragraphs as I read (like one or two phrases each). I also got into the habit of drawing pictures to explain each page (main point). Now, this sounds complex, but it isn’t, all happening at the same time. She lectures, I’m reading and listening: listening for the main points. As I’m reading, I’m summarizing paragraphs and drawing pictures so I can visualize what is happening. At home, all I do is read the notes and look at the pictures, while it’s fresh, to review. Never had to study for tests except to review the notes and think about them. The students who understood this improved in grades. I taught them to learn through understanding, not memorization. Understand and all the pieces fit. Some kids used aspects of this, borrowing, but including their own ideas. The main thing is to understand as you go.

Wow! Thank you sincerely for sharing how you study and advise others! This is so excellent. I really appreciate how you incorporate multiple ways of grappling with the material as you are learning it – summarizing, drawing pictures. These are terrific study methods. I think this is a blog article of the future since very few schools actually take the time to teach study skills. Are you a parent too? My criteria for writing an guest article is that you are a parent (of an 0-18 year old in your household) and have experience/expertise in child development or social and emotional development. If you are interested and fit that criteria, I hope you’ll email me at confidentparentsconfidentk[email protected] . Thanks for the excellent comment! Best, Jennifer

You’re not going to beleive me when I explain. I was married once, but no children. However, as a teacher, I gathered that if I didn’t have my own children, the work of teaching would be worth the time. But, I think, my friends and family would tell you they think I’m unusual. I’m not. I simply wanted to understand learning and how best to learn, since I hated school while growing up and looked for easier ways. I’ll share something, and people can read my site for other articles (Those articles aren’t the most popular, because writing seems to block the communication that happens in person.). This was when I trained a horse. I had learned some riding in college, then helped people learn beginning riding in summer camp. But I had never trained a horse. **One day, while at work, a friend told me of another friend who was looking for someone to train his 2/3 year old thoroughbred horse. It had never been trained, never been saddled: basically, it was a pet. So, I told him I could train the horse. He didn’t ask if I had ever trained a horse, just if I could. Of course I could. Had no idea what was going to happen. I read one book on the horse whisperer and one magazine about horse training tips. I thought about horses. I knew I liked them, been around them while learning riding, so I figured all would be good. Then, I thought about what training might look like, visualized lessons, wrote down ideas, then went one step at a time. Met the horse, with the owner. Got to know the horse. Two weeks later, we could walk, trot, cantor, gallop, walk backwards, and open gates while sitting on the horse. But we were a partnership. I just listened to what the horse was telling me. This isn’t hard. It’s just all too many of us have been educated out of our common sense. We’ve lost that innate knowing that children have. When I teach, I try to support what children already have, teaching them to trust themselves, but they must do the work. Hope this helps.

Oh my goodness! I love it! I love your example of training a horse and how you learned what you could be then and then deep dove into a partnership of learning with the horse. That’s beautiful! That is how we all learn, isn’t it? It’s just that we adults seem to run into many fears and barriers as we attempt to let go of some of the control while we allow for our learning partner to try and take chances and experiment. It’s a dance for sure. I also love that you hated school but loved figuring out how learning takes place and how you could do it in a way that your students actually derived joy from the experience. Just wonderful! Thank you for writing! You have a whole lot of wisdom to share! Glad you are blogging about it! Please keep in touch. Best, Jennifer

By the way, Jennifer, you’re one of the reasons I keep trying to encourage others to see how easy learning is.

Thank for that comment! I appreciate it. I too am a student of learning and think we can gain a whole lot from learning from our children!

Good ideas. L,M >

Hi Jennifer, Brain break tricks you shared are really helpful for parents , teachers and students as well. Not every time one can go for vacation or on a trip. Many parents feel helpless when they see kids struggling with their work. I am sure if they document such tips and tricks and go through it every if and then, then it would be more helpful for them. ‘Deep breath’ technique is really wonderful for elders as well, it calms and fresh you up with in minutes. School and tuition teachers also need to learn and use such tactics to involve kids in better way. Thanks for sharing.

Zayden, I agree! Breaks and teaching coping strategies can be such empowering tools for parents as they support learning at home. Appreciate your feedback! 🙂 Jennifer

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  3. 3 Ways to Deal with Homework Frustration As a Parent

    1 Acknowledge your child’s frustration. At one point or another, every child becomes frustrated with their homework. At times, they may explode with anger, or become extremely sad or anxious. Keep in mind that your child needs your support, as their behavior likely reflects a feeling of helplessness that they are unable to fully process.

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