Homework Hell? Top tips for stressed parents!

I hate homework. In fact I think I hate my children's homework more than I ever hated my own as I don't like the type of person it turns me into when I try to help them. Because of this I have developed some strategies to reduce the stress when it comes to the dreaded task.

Of course first of all you have to find out when and what type of homework your little dears have. That's OK if you know that Thursday is spelling day and Friday is times tables etc but I'm sure I am not alone in experiencing the magically disappearing homework diary or the magically appearing project.

Anyone else reached the last day of the summer holidays before the child mention as an afterthought the fact that they were meant to read ten books and write reports for each of them? Or make a collage featuring something from the seaside? Or create a powerpoint/video/model starring their favourite animal?

Or in the case of one friend's child who admitted he was supposed to complete a pile of past science exam papers - conveniently "forgotten" until one hour before bedtime the day before school resumed.

So we've established what it is they have to do, created a suitably calm and pleasant zone for them to do it away from TVs and other distractions and provided all of the resources needed. Thankfully my local school has abandoned the workbook which always started each task with "you will need 20 counters." I didn't have counters so substituted with pasta swirls which I kept in a pot especially.

You sit with them and look at the first question. 10+5+5=?

They shuffle uncomfortable and guess -"93?"

You adopt your best calm mummy voice and urge them to"try again darling."


Mummy bangs head silently on desk praying for a PPI pester-person to ring so she can escape.

OK well moving onto reading. No the letters R-E-D do not spell cabbage. John had a cabbage jumper? Does that make sense? Try again DARLING. Spoken through gritted teeth.

This is before they start getting work which is aimed at year 4 but resembles formulae from NASA as far as you are concerned. And what exactly IS chunking for goodness sakes?

The key to all of this is to keep calm and stay one step ahead. If you find it all too frustrating walk away and ask your partner, an older sibling or even a patient friend or neighbour or their older children to help. Or even invite their friends round to set up a little work group helped along with some biscuits!

Don't be tempted to leave the child alone in the bedroom in the hope they will actually complete and hand in homework. Unless you have very motivated children, they won't. They will just listen to music and text their friends. Keep them in sight while they work, no matter how irritating that is as they flop about and do absolutely anything but their homework.

It's OK to ask for help. Admit to the teacher that you don't understand modern maths methods or in fact any of the questions.  Many schools hold sessions for exactly this purpose so you know what to expect in the year ahead, and what topics are likely to be covered. If your school doesn't hold this kind of curriculum evening - ask them to organise one.

One thing many parents get stuck on is how to spell words out -how to pronounce each letter. Ask for a phonetic guide if you aren't sure whether H is 'aitch, huu or a soft breathed out hhhhh.

Further up the key stages it's absolutely fine to admit complete defeat and resort to online or paid help for GSCE level work. Many schools run homework clubs which are the way forward if homework at home sets off rows! My children often do their work there or at lunchtime using school computers and printers - I pay a one-off amount each year for pretty much unlimited printing at school.

(As I've mentioned online help it is worth mentioning that this should definitely be supervised, if only to guide what sites they use. Stick to BBC schools websites or similar -a project written with the help of Wikipedia might not be entirely accurate. And typing in innocent search terms might still lead to some darker corners of the WWW.)

Back to working in school -at least if they work at school they are less likely to do what my eldest did with one lot of GCSE homework - which was to lose it somewhere en route to school the day it was due to be handed in. Gah!

Whatever you do, don't be tempted to do their homework for them. Yes it is easier for you to build the Taj Mahal out of cotton buds rather than let them loose with glue knowing full well they will spend four hours on one doorway then get bored. But unless you intend to attend uni with them and then follow them to work throughout their adult life doing their work for them you aren't doing them any favours.

Sharing assembly is always fun as you can spot those who have made their child's hat/costume/model because it is just too good. I'm proud to say my children's efforts are always very obviously all their own work mainly because they are shedding bits and dripping PVA glue. I am taking this as a sign that I am not just a lazy mother but one who is doing her best to encourage her children to be independent and proud of their own achievements.