"Turn off that TV, you know the rules. No TV until all homework is done!"
"Get off the computer. Don’t you have a book report due on Friday? You’d better get started or you’ll never finish it on time."
Does your house sound like this? Are you tired of the nightly fights? What is this angry exchange costing your relationship? Are you creating a home environment that is loving and accepting or hostile and full of conflict?
To my way of thinking, part of elementary school education is learning organizational skills and study habits to make way for handling bigger scholastic and career related responsibilities. First and second grade are great times for children to begin to learn about this thing they have to manage called "homework."
Image your daughter sitting at the kitchen table working on a math sheet:
"Mom, what is 4 + 7?"
"Why, it’s 11."
"Mom, what is 5 + 8?
This is not helping. This is doing. Clearly this kind of help is robbing the child of the opportunity to learn addition. Most parents see and (try) to avoid stepping into this trap.
But the same holds true for learning to be responsible and managing the process of getting home work done.
When parents step in and impose their rules and get overly involved, they are robbing their child ownership of their responsibilities and their learning of how to deal with this task called homework. In essence, they are giving the answers to the problem, just like the mother who answers 11 and 13.
Parents fear the stakes are too high if they let their children fall behind. I fear the costs are too high if you don’t. Do you want to fight every evening for the next 12 years, erode your relationship, and come out the other end with a child who is ill-prepared for handling post secondary education without you as a crutch? The stakes are indeed very high and expensive!
Of course like any learning there will be mistakes, errors, miscalculations, corrections and feedback until children figure out how to manage their homework load and balance it with the rest of life.
Here are some powerful questions you can ask to help your child learn to handle this responsibility without taking it over:
- "What mark are you trying for in this class this year?"
- "What is your plan for handling your work so you can get that grade?"
- "What’s your plan for tackling homework?"
- "You don’t look too happy with how things turned out with your test. What do you think happened there?"
- "What do you think you would do differently to prepare for the next test so you get the results you want?"
- "What’s working for you on the days you are sticking with your homework plan?"
- "What’s getting in your way?"
- "What would you like to try to do differently now that you know what is and isn’t working for you?"
- "What do you need from me?"
If they don’t have clear answers about their learning goals I suggest they meet with their teachers to discuss this further.
If you keep an open honest feedback loop with some guiding questions, you will be supporting your child in learning to tack the challenge of homework without being a "Take-Over Tommy" or a "Nag Hag".
My children are in grades 3 and 4. They manage their homework independently. Here are some of the "experiments" they conducted and their "findings":
Experiment #1 Homework as soon as you get home from school to get it out of the way.
Findings: Yuck! Too tired, sick of school by that time of day, just want to vegetate or play.
Experiment #2 Homework before bed.
Findings: Sometimes you run out of time, or you are too tired.
Experiment #3 Homework while dinner is being cooked
Findings: Liked that it didn’t feel like they were missing out on fun.
Experiment #4 Homework done in a quiet house with everyone working on paper work together.
Findings: Liked that better because they could concentrate and didn’t feel they were missing out on other family activities. Nice time to be together at the table. But, hard to read when someone else is talking since they are so close.
Try some experiments with your children and be dedicated to working with them as they struggle to find how they would like to tackle this challenge in their life. Be okay with this as a long time process that evolves and changes.