Good homework habits

Sarah Larkin has the following tips to help your child to develop good study and homework habits.

Helping your child to work out sums and equations, or find meaning from poetry can be challenging, but it demonstrates to your kids that that what they are doing is important. It’s a good idea to pay attention to your child’s rhythms and help him find the right time to begin his work. Some children work best by doing homework right after school; others need a longer break and must run around before tackling the work. Most will need a snack.

If your child does after-school activities, set a homework time before or after the activity, or after dinner. Creating a regular study routine will eventually become natural for your child to know when they have to study and how long to spend on different subjects or topics they may have. Whatever routine you choose, help your child stick to it. Here are some good homework habits you might want to think about.

Eat smart

Diet plays an important part in your child’s brain activity and behaviour. The nutrients they get in their diet can help to improve growth and development of the brain. Omega 3 fatty acids can boost their brains, strengthen their immune systems and lift their mood. It is also claimed that these fatty acids can help to improve behaviour, reduce anxiety and improve language skills. Oil-rich fish like salmon are an excellent source of omega-3 faty acids DHA and EPA.

Research has shown that people who get more of these fatty acids in their diet have sharper minds and do better at mental skills tests. Try giving your child a daily fish oil supplement if they don’t eat oil-rich fish every week. Also, make sure that your child eats breakfast every day, as it is vital for school-age kids. Research has shown that breakfast-eaters do better academically and have fewer behaviour problems than those who skip the all-important first meal of the day.

Minimise distractions

Technology has a big impact on how children study. Make sure that your child doesn’t become distracted by other non-study related websites or games. TV and any other possible distractions should be switched off or taken out of the room where your child is studying.


Showing your child how to keep organised and on top of everything while they study can make things much easier for them. Get a large calendar, one that allows space for jotting down things in the daily boxes. Take it apart so that you (and your child) can sequentially mount the school months for the current term.

For example, you can tear off September, October, November, December, and January and mount across one wall. Get your child to use a bold colour felt tip pen to mark exam dates in one colour, reports that are coming due in a different colour, etc. This will serve as a reminder so that things aren’t left until the very last minute.


Dictionaries can be handy to keep around the house, in different languages too, if your child is studying a foreign language or needs to look up meanings and spell-checks. Keep them in an accessible place and let your child see you refer to it from time to time.

Independent learning

While it is important to sit with your child and show them how to get to grips with the basics of studying and helping them with any problems they may have, you should also find the time to step away and let them study on their own. They may be reliant on you in the beginning, but over time, they should only need to call you when they have a problem or for any specific need.

Test preparation

From the moment your child is told of an upcoming test in school, the preparation should begin a week or few days before the day of the test. This will help your child to know the important information early, which will leave more time for revision.

On the day of an exam or test, help your child relax and remind them of all the preparation they have done; building their confidence and giving them tips and tricks if they are stuck or anxious is a step towards successful studying. Writing the most important points on a card for your child to look over before sitting an exam can help to refresh their minds of the essentials just before they sit down to do the exam.

Study tips and tricks

  • Saying a problem out loud can help a child understand it in a much clearer way.
  • Write the solutions out on paper. Keep these pieces of paper as examples for similar problems.
  • Use colour – highlight or underline key points to remember.
  • Drawings can help some children remember key points.
  • Rhymes or words can also be a trigger for remembering.

Don’t be tempted to do your child’s homework. Teachers use homework to find out what the child knows. They do not want parents doing their children’s homework but do want parents to make sure homework is completed and review any mistakes to see what can be learned from them.

Boost your child’s confidence by sitting down with them to figure something out if they don’t get something right away and give them lots of praise once the task is completed.

“Homework always seems to coincide with me trying to get dinner ready and crazy hour with the younger children …. so it can turn into a very stressful situation. I have been given advice to give my daughter Rachel a quiet area for her homework and study. I give her time to try and complete her homework and then if she needs help, I go and give her one-on-one time to finish it. It seems to be working well.”

– Becky Dore

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Ask Sarah

Q I’ve heard a lot about the Paleo diet and as I am very interested in reducing the amount of processed foods and grain based meals my family eats, we are considering following this diet. From what I read it seems to be a back-to-basics type of eating. Is a Paleo diet safe for children? My kids are aged seven and nine.

A The Paleo diet is one of the most fashionable diets around at the moment. It is also known as the ‘caveman diet’ and is based on cutting out processed foods, starchy foods like bread and potatoes and eating more meat, vegetables and fruit.
As fad diets go, it is not the worst but there are some good and bad sides to it. Reducing the amount of processed foods we eat is always a good idea and by doing that you will usually reduce the amount of fat, salt and sugar you eat, which is a good thing! The problem with the Paleo diet is that it also cuts out dairy (on the basis that cavemen didn’t drink milk) and this means that the diet is very low in calcium. For this reason it is really not suitable for children who do need a lot of calcium for growing bones. How did cavemen manage without dairy? They ate a lot more food than we do (up to 10,000 calories per day compared to the 2,000 most of us eat). By eating that amount of food they were able to pick up just enough calcium from green vegetables and seeds. To put it in perspective, you would need to eat 16 servings of broccoli a day to get all the calcium you need. This is easier to do if you eat 10,000 calories per day rather than 2,000.
The other problem with the paleo diet is that it is not entirely based in science. Many of the Paleo diets out there say you should not eat wheat, even though we know that cavemen did in fact eat wheat and other grains. These diets also don’t recommend that you eat blubber and the big lumps of fat that were also a large part of the caveman diet!
A final problem is that many Paleo diets encourage people to cut out beans and lentils and to get their protein from meat and fish instead. Many studies over the last few years are clear that eating too much animal protein is linked with more cancer and heart disease. Eating some vegetarian meals based on beans and lentils is a great way to get your protein without always going for meat.
Is this a diet we should follow? I think there is a lot we can learn from the Paleo diets. We could all do with eating less salt, sugar and processed foods and adding in more nuts and seeds as well as more vegetables. However, I think following a strict Paleo diet could lead to low levels of calcium and vitamin D and so it is not suitable for children or teens and adults would need to think about a calcium supplement.


Ask Tracey

Midwife Tracey Donegan answers your questions about pregnancy and birth

Q When should I have my first pregnancy scan? And how many scans should I get throughout my pregnancy?

Your first scan is known as your dating scan and is routine in all hospitals. Most mums will have this scan at their booking visit, which can be anywhere between 12-18 weeks. The earlier the scan the more accurate it will be. If you have experienced recurrent miscarriages some hospitals will scan you earlier. Contact your antenatal clinic for more information. In Ireland, most women will have two scans in a healthy pregnancy – a dating scan and an anomaly scan at around 20 weeks. However, some units provide a dating scan only. Private scans are also available in most cities and many parents use these services for additional reassurance and to find out the sex of their baby.