I’d read articles criticizing the kind of parents who actually do their kids’ homework and projects for them, though I can say that I never quite fell into that category. (Honestly, how would a parent even accomplish this? I can’t even figure out first grade Common Core math!)
And yet, I definitely hovered. I nagged. For the first few years of elementary school, the hours between 3 and 6 p.m. became the hours when I’d beg and plead with my son to finally just sit the heck down and do his goddamn homework.
Dinner and dessert were delayed until he did it. So was TV. We always gave him time after school to not think about school or do homework, but at a certain point, I’d make him hunker down and get to business.
He always did his homework eventually, and it generally only took him 15 or so minutes to complete. But the hours spent asking and nagging and pleading were glaringly disproportionate to the time and effort it took him to actually do it.
And I didn’t even believe in the benefits of homework in the first place!
So starting this school year, the year he began fourth grade, I decided to take a much different approach. It’s not that I wouldn’t ask him if he had homework or offer to help him if he had any questions, but I would leave it to him to get it done.
To my surprise, the results have been freaking fabulous.
At first, it wasn’t pretty, not at all. He’d remember to do his homework as he was lying in bed falling asleep, and then he’d jump up and do it, which totally screwed up bedtime (and this mama needs that hour or two of silence!). Either that, or he’d wake up in the morning realizing he hadn’t done it, and then chide me for not reminding him.
“It’s not my responsibility, buddy,” I’d say, reminding him how much he abhorred it when I nagged him incessantly about it.
But now, a few months into the school year, something amazing has happened. He does his homework, of his own volition, without me even asking — at least most of the time. Yes, sometimes I do give him friendly reminders, and sometimes he still drops the ball. But he usually gets it taken care of.
And get this: I’ve noticed in general that he’s a lot more motivated about schoolwork than ever before. He wants to do well on his homework and projects. He asks me to help him study for stuff. Just this past weekend, he made us spend four hours preparing for the school-wide spelling bee!
Now, my son was born with a bit of a competitive streak to begin with, and he’s the kind of kid who likes school generally, so I can’t say this plan will pan out the same way for all kids. But if you consider it, stepping back a bit and making your child responsible for completing their homework is kind of the only way they’re going to learn academic discipline in the long-run.
Think about it: You’re not going to be there for every step of the way in their academic career — or in life for that matter.
And there is definitely a larger life lesson to be learned here, which is that hovering over our kids’ every move can be incredibly stifling, and it gets none of us anywhere. I understand the impulse to intervene, especially in the arena of academics, because we want our kids to do well (and let’s face it, their achievements feed our egos too).
But the best way for kids to grow and become independent is for us to take a few steps back. Let them make mistakes. Let them fail sometimes. That’s how they’ll learn that the drive for success should come from within, and not to please anyone else.
So stop being the homework police, truly. Quit it with the nagging and the hovering. It might feel scary at first — and trust me, your kid will mess up — but in the long run, putting the responsibility in your kid’s lap will save everyone a whole lot of trouble and will ultimately make your child more successful in the end.
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