Study: Young Kids Get Too Much Homework; Families Face Homework Stress

How and why homework causes parents and kids stress, and what to do

sad boy doing homework
Too much homework for young kids may harm, not help. Mauro Grigollo/Getty Images

No kid says, "Yay! I have a lot of homework!" But at the same time, homework should not be a source of tears and stress every night for children and parents. Unfortunately, that is exactly what happens in a lot of households, and according to new research, it's affecting younger kids who should have little to no homework at all. The study, "Homework and Family Stress: With Consideration of Parents’ Self Confidence, Educational Level, and Cultural Background," recently published in The American Journal of Family Therapy, examined the role homework plays on family stress.

Researchers asked 1,173 English- and Spanish-speaking parents of children in grades kindergarten through 12 in Rhode Island to fill out a questionnaire that asked about homework issues such as how much homework their kids received, how long it took for them to complete it, and how much they were involved in their kids' homework, as well as questions about their child's grades, stress, sleep habits, and more.

They found that family stress increased as the homework load went up and as parents felt less and less like they were able to help their child with homework and more like they needed to be involved in their child's homework. Factors like the education level of parents, whether or not a child was from a single-parent or low-income household, or whether or not English was the first language for parents also played a role in how much kids hated homework or how much stress homework created in the home.

The study also found that children in kindergarten through 2nd grade are spending as much as three times the recommended amount of time on homework. Kindergartners, who are not even included in the 10-Minute Rule supported by the National Education Association and the National PTA (the recommendation is to increase homework by 10-minute increments starting in 1st grade--10 minutes of homework for 1st graders, 20 minutes for 2nd graders, and so on), were getting on average a startling 25 minutes of homework, according to the study.

"The last thing a 5-year-old child wants to do is sit for 25 minutes to do homework," says Stephanie Donaldson-Pressman, contributing editor to the Homework and Family Stress study and co-author of . And when kindergartners are spending time on homework, it will likely cut into the time they should be spending playing with friends and building motor skills and social skills, which are especially important for kids this age.

If homework is a source of stress and anxiety in your home for your child or for you, here are some suggestions to try from Donaldson-Pressman:

  • Normalize homework. Establish a routine so that your child knows he will be spending a certain amount of time on homework each day, like he would spend time brushing his teeth or getting dressed in the morning. So if your child is in the 3rd grade, for instance, he should know that he will spend 30 minutes every day doing homework. You may also want to set up a timer so that he learns how to focus and get things done in a set amount of time.
  • Set up a quiet, distraction-free place for your child to work. Help your child focus by turning off the TV and making sure siblings are also working. (You may also want to read or do some work quietly next to her while she does her homework.) And set up a quiet homework area for her to work every day, whether it's at the kitchen counter or table or in her room at her desk.
  • Don't help by giving answers. Kids who are not given the time and space to figure things out for themselves don't develop confidence, learn to take responsibility, or build independence, says Donald-Pressman. Instead, ask your child questions like, "Where do you think you should go for the answer?" or "What would you do?"
  • Communicate with your child's teacher. Talk to your child's teacher if you see your child feeling guilty, stressed, or lying about homework. Ask the teacher about whether or not the school can provide tutors or any other ways to help. If your 3rd grader doesn't finish his work but gives it his all, for instance, you may communicate this with your child's teacher by writing something like, "My child worked on this for 30 minutes" on an attached note to let the teacher know that he tried his best.
  • Make sure your child has time to play. Kids, like adults, need downtime to be creative or to relax. They also need fresh air and physical activity to help them stay healthy and relieve stress. Make sure your child has a balance in her life so that she isn't overwhelmed by hours of homework and nothing else.
  • Teach your child not to be embarrassed about asking questions. Give your child the message that smart kids get smarter by asking questions. Teach him to never be embarrassed about asking for help or to be afraid of making mistakes.
  • Don't express displeasure with your child's teacher or school. Check any negativity and help your child stay positive about schoolwork, even when he's feeling frustrated.
  • Help your child feel empowered. Ask her if she would like you to talk to her teacher about any trouble she's having with homework. Let her know that you are proud of her for trying and emphasize things she can do well.
  • Watch your own anxiety. If you feel like you're not able to help your child find the answers or finish her homework, try to remember that it's not about you.
  • Don't assume your child isn't trying if you see him not doing the work. There may be a number of reasons why he isn't working on his homework that are not readily visible, such as an undiagnosed learning disability or even nearsightedness, which makes it hard for him hard to see the board at school and learn the material in order to do his homework assignment. Help your child get to the bottom of what might be preventing him from doing his work.