Tips for Helping Grandchildren with Homework

Usually, when grandparents and grandchildren get together, they want to hang out, cook or bake, play games, have a family holiday dinner, or go for a walk. Homework is probably not top of the list.

Yet sometimes you may need to help your grandchild with homework. Perhaps you provide childcare at their house after school. Or watch them after school on Zoom. Maybe they’re sleeping over at your house and have school assignments to complete. Some grandparents help raise their grandchildren.

You can support your grandchildren’s ability to focus on homework while still keeping things light and playful. Below are tips for making schoolwork smooth, productive, and conflict-free. We also introduce other stress-reducing techniques.

1. Connect first.

Build your connection each time you get together and before you do any homework. Start with something fun that interests your grandchild — a short outdoor game, playing on the iPad, sitting at the kitchen table (or on FaceTime or Zoom) and chatting. Share a snack.

One teen shared: “Try to get underway early; the later you start the homework, the harder it gets for us to focus.”

Some children won’t need your help with homework, especially teens, but they do need and want your support while they work. Teens often want to get their homework done quickly so they can get on their phones or hang out in their rooms. Don’t worry about correcting their work — let their teachers do that. Guide them gently to tackle the work. Be loving and affirmative no matter what they do or how many mistakes they make. Teenagers, especially, may get frustrated when they make mistakes; try to be understanding and reassuring when that happens.

2. Use visual timers.

Many children don’t have a true sense of time. When asked to complete a task, they feel as if it will take forever, which makes them resistant to even getting started. Together, think about how long you expect the task will take. If it’s realistic to complete it in a short time (say, 20–30 minutes), set a visual timer, like the ones our executive functioning team recommends here (or these for younger children).

Let your grandchild know that you expect they will complete the task before the timer runs out. Consider making it a competition: who finishes first — your grandchild or the clock? (If you think the pressure will make your grandchild rush through the work, or cause unnecessary stress, then skip the race aspect.) If you know that the task will take a long time, try to break it into smaller, more manageable parts. 

3. Make the work fun and unexpected.

Add surprise elements to reinforce progress. For example, if your young grandchild completes the assignment before the timer goes off — or when they complete a problem — blow a horn (or a shofar), or press a buzzer, and announce, “Hear ye hear ye, [child’s name] has completed their math homework!”

Or make up a cheer. For example:

a) Grandparent: When I say [child’s name], you say Go!
b) Grandparent: [child’s name]
c) Grandchild: Go!
d) Grandparent: [child’s name]
e) Grandchild: Go!
f) Grandparent and grandchild: Gooo [child’s name]!

You can make the experience more fun for teens by giving them screen or TV time once they have completed their homework. Or, if your grandchild likes music, play some of their favorite songs (the instrumental version so it is easier for them to focus).

4. Have your grandchild teach you.

This is a wonderful opportunity for your grandchild to feel independent and in control. Don’t feign ignorance but let them show you what they learned and how they do their homework. Having your grandchild teach you helps them retain the material better and can make them more confident in their own knowledge.

Tell them to let you know if they need help. If they seem stuck, ask if they want to see how you would solve the problem (if you can!) or answer the question. Stay physically close to them, or on the screen, as much as they are comfortable with.

5. Take breaks.

Breaks can be short; between tasks, have your grandchild take a quick movement break and come back to finish the next part of the task. Consider stretches or jumping jacks; a quick hop, skip, or jump through the hallways; running to the other room to grab a needed item — or an impromptu dance party!

For longer breaks, go outside if possible. Take a walk or play a game. Research shows that regular physical activity and time in nature promote better focus and behavior in children. Playgrounds and running free on a lawn are always a hit with young children while older kids might like taking a walk to the nearest coffee shop. When children return from physical activity, they are more ready to focus.

If your grandchild is doing work online, suggest a screen-free break.

Have some great snacks available, both healthy foods and some that may be more of a treat. Hungry kids can’t concentrate!

Click HERE for the Pomodoro Method of time management. 

6. Have some screen-free fun.

Unplug from screens and electronics with crafts, board games, and playing with other kids. These activities can reduce stress and help children cultivate strategies for managing frustration, attention span, hand-eye coordination, and problem-solving skills. Create a vision board from magazines, paint rocks, build something, draw, or sketch. Board games, card games, jigsaw puzzles, building blocks, and Legos are always fun. Share your favorite games from when you were a kid (was it jumping rope, hopscotch, Old Maid, leapfrog, or marbles?).

7. Cultivate mindfulness.

Take a moment to observe the world around you with your grandchild. Play “I Spy,” go on a walk, take turns observing various objects outside or inside. Play music and listen closely to the lyrics of a song together. Do deep breathing or yoga poses while paying attention to how the movement feels in your body.

Intentionally slowing down can help children develop their ability to focus and stay present. Model for your grandchild giving your full attention to one task. During conversations, put down your phone and turn off all screens.

8. Let your grandchild make mistakes.

Resist the urge to jump in immediately every time your grandchild experiences frustration, especially with homework. Allowing your grandchild the chance to make a mistake builds the resilience to sit and struggle with something, see that they can learn from it, and develop the ability to problem solve for themselves. Support them in trying again, demonstrating your trust in them, and helping them to strengthen their faith in their own abilities.

9. Build a vocabulary to support your grandchild’s independence.

The language and tone you use can help shape the homework experience for you both. Try to use language that is non-judgmental and encouraging and gives your grandchild agency.

Instead of: 

Say: 

Time to do your homework now.

We have 1½ hours to do homework, eat, and play. Looks as if you will need 45 minutes for homework. How would you like to plan out your time?

Can I show you how to ______?

Let me know how I can help you, OR

Do you need help? OR

Hey, I actually know this! Let me know if you want my help.

Keep going. You are almost done.

For young children:

Rah, rah, sis, boom, bah, go [child’s name]!

For teens:

You’ve got this!

Your mom/dad will be upset if you don’t finish.

You are working hard. Do as much as you can, and then we can take a break.

That’s not right; do it again.

Want to tell me how you got that answer? OR, for math:

Want to show me your work solving that problem?

Our trust in and support for our grandchildren can help them manage their schoolwork smoothly, trust their own talents and abilities, and handle mistakes calmly.

Steve Feldman is the Founder of Private Prep and a proud supporter of JGN. Steve is the father of three children and moved from NYC to Bethesda, MD in part so his kids could have more quality time with their grandparents who live in the area.

Jenna Prada is Private Prep’s Director of Executive Functioning services.

To learn more about Private Prep’s services, complete this form or contact Steve directly at steve@privateprep.com.

With gratitude to teen reviewers Liora Pelavin, Annelia Ritter, and Sage Vogelstein.

Banner photograph courtesy of Pexels
Child with red headphones and cloud gazing photographs by Stephanie Fink
Timer photograph courtesy of Unsplash
Child with trumpet, grandparent and grandchild, puddle jumping, and child with sketchbook photographs courtesy of Pexels.