It’s September, and so it begins: “I hate homework!” “I’m so confused by this math!” “It’s taking me hours to deal with homework!” But this isn’t the kids talking–it’s the parents.
Something’s not quite right here. We know homework is for our children, but we parents often take on responsibility for it too, because we are eager to see our children learn and succeed. Frankly, we sometimes think it just wouldn’t get done if we didn’t make them do it.
When you find yourself stuck in the morass of homework this fall, try to remember to do these things to help yourself out of the muck:
1. Remind yourself: My child is capable. Capable doesn’t mean brilliant. It doesn’t mean perfect. It doesn’t even mean motivated or organized or persistent (yet, anyway). It means your child can do things if given the chance, perhaps far more than you ever realized.
2. Set expectations. Your child should know that schoolwork is important, and you expect her to do her best. He should know that his parents prioritize learning, and that meeting his school obligations is important. In general, don’t let your children hear you complain about testing or teachers or schools. If you have issues with these big questions, take them up with the school or school district, not your child.
3. Homework comes first. This doesn’t mean homework always has to literally be done first before a snack or a little playtime. No, it means it is a top priority, and screens and extended playtime might not be options if homework hasn’t been completed. Carefully consider your child’s extracurricular load too.
4. Let backpacks be theirs. If you’ve been intensely involved in homework in the past, this is a good place to start. Ask your child if she has homework or papers for you, but try to stop yourself from unzipping the bag to check or emptying it yourself. They can pull their own lunch bags out, empty their folders and tell you what homework they have. That helps to reinforce that school is their job, not yours. Don’t put yourself in a position where you are saying, “You have a math worksheet and spelling words. Come on, let’s sit down and do it.” Instead, it should be more like, “Do you have homework you need to get done before you play that game with your brother? Empty your backpack and check.”
5. Be present. When children are doing homework, the parent’s job is not to sit beside the child, reading along with every question or math problem. Our job is to be around, doing our own work (paying bills, prepping dinner, folding laundry, writing emails, you name it), and to be available if the child gets stuck. We can clarify what a question is asking, help look up words in the dictionary, write notes back to the teacher if both of us are lost and so on.
6. Accept struggle. We are present to help our kids get unstuck in a pinch, but we don’t need to hand-hold or give the answer. A child needs to struggle a bit (but not flounder) to learn that if they read a question more carefully or tackle a problem a different way, they just might find the answer on their own. That’s true in math and in life, and now is the ideal time to develop that persistence and creative thinking.
7. Allow them to screw it up. If they forget to do (or bring to school) their homework, do a messy job or solve problems incorrectly, let them. Let them be marked wrong or miss a privilege at school. Let the teacher know by way of the child’s real work that they don’t quite understand fractions yet. Their work being their own is more important than perfection. If you insist on erasing every misspelled word or otherwise doing it your way, just watch their enthusiasm for and ownership of their homework plummet. Remember, you’ve communicated your high expectations for education and homework, and you’ve likely encouraged them to check their work and complete it carefully. It’s now up to them to meet their school responsibilities, not you.
8. Support the teacher-child relationship. Your child has a partnership with their teacher. If you step back from this teacher-student relationship, you will see your child’s responsibility rise as they take responsibility for meeting their teacher’s expectations. My kids aren’t afraid to tell me I’m wrong: “No, Mom, my teacher said to do it this way!” And I back off, because I’m glad to see them taking ownership of their obligations. They will have to follow all sorts of rules and job descriptions and assignment guidelines in their lives, and this is excellent practice for navigating all that. Besides, they sometimes listen to their teachers’ input more than they do mine!
9. Know when to speak up. Homework should be able to be completed by the child with a minimum of parent help. If this is not the case after you’ve truly transitioned to child-led homework, and it’s not because of simple dawdling, it’s time to speak to the teacher. Perhaps the child needs easier homework for now or some extra help or tutoring. Perhaps you feel (reasonably) that you’re going to set a one-hour limit, or whatever it might be, on your second-grader’s homework, because the amount assigned is simply inappropriate for their age. Maybe your child has special learning needs that require a different approach to homework or schoolwork in general. These are not the norm, and these are parent-size, not kid-size, issues. Do step in if this is the case.
You know what else is a parent issue? Knowing that it will be OK if we just bite the bullet on handing over schoolwork responsibility to our kids. They really will figure out the dioramas, science projects, geometry and book reports mostly on their own, I promise, and it will serve them well in the end.
Oh, and I guess it wouldn’t do us parents any harm either—sweet, sweet freedom!
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