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This article originally appeared in the Oct. 4, 2012, edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

“Homework” is a pretty unpopular word. Few parents look back fondly on nights spent doing homework as children, but it is undeniable that take-home assignments help us learn more than just the school lesson at hand.

Parents can help young students develop good study habits, the ability to follow directions independently and perhaps even an appreciation for homework. Assignments outside of school can help children learn to manage their time. Homework also gives them a sense of pride in a job completed and a work ethic that will follow them beyond their school years and into their career. But how can parents help students who dread doing homework?

Establishing a solid homework routine is a good first step. Many parents have the rule that homework must be completed before children are able to watch TV, play video games or do other fun things. This teaches children the value of putting in the hard work before receiving the rewards.

Parents can help students choose the best location to do their homework regularly. Younger children may focus best doing homework in a communal family space, such as a kitchen or dining room table. When parents are close, they can provide help and encouragement for kids. Older children may prefer to do homework in their own bedrooms, but parents should stop in periodically and help review the homework when it’s completed.

Wherever the child does homework, the space should be well-lit, comfortable and stocked with all the supplies that students may need—pens, paper, dictionary. It should also be free from distractions such as the TV or other family members playing video games. Children often think they can multi-task and watch TV while they do homework, but kids learn best when their attention is focused.

If your child’s homework requires computer access, stress to the child the importance of staying on task. It can be easy to lose a lot of time on the computer surfing social networking sites or chatting with friends, but make it clear that there will be time for that when the child has completed the assignment.

Parents act as teachers for their children, and this is especially true at homework time. You may be tempted to give your child the right answers or complete the assignment for them, but resist that urge. Instead, focus on helping kids develop the problem-solving and research skills they will need to get through their classes. Children will need study skills, and those are developed through independent learning.

Sometimes children may have trouble with homework, particularly when they are older and it becomes more difficult to manage. Parents can help by being there for the student as he or she works on homework, offering suggestions and encouraging a break if the child is struggling and seems frazzled.

Parents can also help by staying in touch with their child’s teacher. This will give parents a good idea of what’s happening at school and also give the teacher the chance to help if a child is struggling with homework.

Homework isn’t fun, but children who work with their parents to develop a strategy to get it done are creating the foundation for crucial skills they will need throughout their lives.

Dr. Bob Wilmott is Chief of Pediatrics at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center and is a Professor of Pediatric Medicine at Saint Louis University School of Medicine. If you have a question about your child’s health, go to the “Ask Dr. Bob” section of the Cardinal Glennon Web site at www.cardinalglennon.com.

10/4/2012