Homework is the source of great angst between parents and children. Take the example of John, 8, and Mom (names changed to protect the real people).
John, 8, is highly intelligent with many behavioral issues and learning disabilities. “When he wants to, John can do his homework in a snap,” says Mom. “When he’s at school, under supervision, he can do it in a snap.”
Well, then, what happens at home? We parents get snared in the complex web of parent-child emotions, power sharing, and time management.
Here are suggestions to give your children the opportunity to learn responsibility through trial and error, free parents from this onerous task, and free up time and energy for positive parent-child time.
Q: Whose problem is homework?
A: The child is responsible for homework. The hare-brained schools that assign homework to children younger than third grade assign parents homework, setting up the bad habit of making homework a parent’s problem.
Unfortunately, until your child is in third grade, parents must share the responsibility. From third grade and up, schools have excellent structures in place for miscreants and parents can step back.
Q: How do parents encourage children to do homework?
A: Put “homework” on a family meeting agenda. At a quiet, neutral time when everyone is in the problem-solving mode, say, “Let’s talk about homework. When is the best time for you to do homework? Where would you like to do homework? What role do you want mom/dad to take in homework? I will expect you to ask for help if needed.”
You get the idea. Talk about it. LISTEN to their suggestions. Decide on a plan. Implement the plan for at least a week, to show you respect them, take them seriously and expect them to take on homework as their problem. Expect three weeks to learn the new habit.
At the family meeting, say, “I’m going to let you [kids] take on this responsibility. I will support you however you need it. Let’s follow your suggestions for this week and we’ll meet again to talk about how things are going.”
You are now promoted to “consultant,” not a parent, homework cop or nag.
Q: How to follow through?
A: You must allow time for children to learn new habits, for them to realize that you are serious, not just “trying” something new.
YOU MUST BE PREPARED to allow them to fail. To ignore their decisions that might cause them to miss a homework assignment.
Schools have built-in structures for students who do not complete homework assignments. Allow your child to make decisions about when and where to do homework, or not, and allow him/her to feel the cause and effect of his/her decisions.
Q: How can I allow my child to fail to turn in homework?
A: Perhaps you’re reading this blog in desperation, exhausted from struggling with homework every day. Let it go. Think of the valuable lessons you have learned through mistakes and failure. Do not deny your child this opportunity to learn cause and effect.
Keep reading, unless you want to continue to go crazy by forcing kids to do homework on your terms.
Q: How do I motivate my children to do homework, without nagging?
A: Daniel Pink, author of “Drive: the surprising truth behind what motivates us,” says humans are motivated by three things: Mastery, autonomy and purpose. Notice what’s not in the top three: money, recess, good grades, or pleasing parents. Money, according to Pink, is the lowest form of motivation.
Mastery means to feel good about doing something. Autonomy translates to freedom. Purpose means that there’s a reason to do something, which could be to avoid punishment. True motivation comes from within. It’s your job to nurture it through mastery, autonomy and purpose.
Q: What will other parents and teachers think and feel about me?
A: Most other parents will be jealous that you’re no longer going crazy over homework every day, and that you can use the time and energy to connect with your child in a positive way. Teachers will understand, especially if you privately mention your new stance. Ask him/her for support for a few weeks until your child learns the new habit of taking responsibility and choosing when and where to do homework.
Teachers and parents can recognize school projects completed by parents, not children. Your kids’ efforts will be more realistic and rough around the edges. They can feel the mastery, autonomy and purpose from doing projects independently.
Q: Am I totally absolved from my kids’ homework?
A: No. You are a consultant. You will ask questions, provide encouragement, and guide them to make good decisions. If your child does not complete a homework assignment and gets punished at school, do not inflict additional punishment at home. Let him/her handle school, where experts know what children are capable of.
I like to share with parents a list of famous high school dropouts. School isn’t for everyone. There are alternatives, like the General Equivalency Diploma, home schooling, charter schools and community college for older teens. Academic success is a child’s choice, not a parents’ demand. Unless you want them to work for your praise.
Remember that childhood is a process of letting go, of transferring power and responsibility from your side of the seesaw, when you do everything, to the child’s side of the seesaw, when they take over responsibility and power for their lives. Homework is an excellent example of a safe place they can experiment with power, success, failure, mastery, autonomy and purpose. They can take on this responsibility.
See more in my book, “Raising Able: How chores empower families” [available on Amazon in print and Kindle] on family meetings and encouragement, the most potent ways to foster everything you want your child to do and become in life, and establish a positive lifelong connection.