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Smarter Homework Help

Some kids settle down and get through their math and spelling without the tiniest bit of whining or angst. But those kids are usually on TV.

To help your child make it through his assignments, try to figure out his "homework personality," says Mel Levine, M.D., a pediatrician and founder of the nonprofit All Kinds of Minds:

The speed demon. Homework is but a pit stop on the road to the TV or computer. "Never give an incentive for finishing homework quickly," says Levine. Instead, decide on a set amount of time your child is required to study. If he finishes his homework early, he can read.

The procrastinator. "I can't get him to say a word about his day when he gets home from school," says Anne Chapman of Westerly, RI, about her third-grader, William, "but when it comes time for homework, he wants to chat about math class, his friends, even global warming!" If your child has trouble getting down to business, it can mean he's anxious or overwhelmed, so help him break down the work. "On Sunday night, make a schedule for the week," Levine says. Put his assignments on a calendar so he can check things off.

The perfectionist. It doesn't matter what the assignment is, it's never good enough, never long enough, or the teacher will hate what he's done. Try putting a time limit on homework sessions, and make sure you know what the project is so you can assure him he's done all he needs to.

The wanderer. You're tempted to glue him to his chair. Whether he's meandering in to see what's for dinner or crashing his sibling's playdate, he can't sit still. "One of the hardest places for kids to focus is in their bedroom," Levine says. Some do better if they can change locations every 15 minutes, or will be less apt to take "breaks" if they're around the rest of the family. Others can't stand silence: Listening to music (but TV's not ideal) can help them concentrate.

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