Homework Woes

mother helping child finish homeworkOn her Facebook page, a friend recently posted information from a website about some of the dilemmas parents face around homework. Here is the link to that site. [https://www.handinhandparenting.org/2017/08/child-doesnt-want-to-do-homework/ ]

Now that school is in full force for many children and therefore parents, issues can arise around homework. Sometimes homework can lead to full-blown battles. Or, it could be opportunities for learning, not just what the homework assignment involves, but learning about things like time management and taking responsibility. It can be an opportunity for parents and kids to work together, build a closer relationship, and enjoy the learning processes that can occur outside of the school setting.

Homework can be a rewarding experience of new learning and/or it can be a source of stress for either kids or parents or both. There are a lot of reasons why the homework experience can be more one of these than the other. (There also is a lot of research out there debunking the worth of homework-a topic for an upcoming blog.)

The author of the article, Abigail Wald, invited readers to think about why parents get so caught up in homework. Sometimes parents have their own memories of doing homework when they were kids, memories that are filled with pain, shame and frustration. Being in the role of a parent switches the task once experienced in childhood.

Parents can feel worried that if their children do not do their homework, it could lead to failures in achieving good grades. Sometimes the fear is that this will be a poor reflection on the parent and sometimes it is a fear that the child will not do well in life because they aren’t keeping up with their studies. That’s a lot of pressure on a parent!

I can remember as a child being sent to my room to do my homework. I hated the isolation. I felt like I was missing out on whatever was going on in the rest of the house. I often didn’t know where to start and sometimes didn’t know exactly what was expected of me. Some homework assignments seemed stupid, many felt tedious. I remember worrying that I would look foolish in front of the other kids at school if I didn’t do it correctly. I only wanted to do what was the minimum amount possible. I don’t think I often felt myself taking pride in what I was doing or feeling like I was enjoying a new learning process. I don’t think it was until I was getting my master’s degree that I began to see the benefits of homework assignments where I could do some learning on my own.

family happily hugging in a huddleThe author of this article suggests that parents make sure they first “fill their child’s cup,” meaning they take the time to let the child reconnect with them, show that they care and will be there to provide support and encouragement. The author also stresses how important it is to make sure kids have had their physical needs met first, like having snacks and maybe a chance to engage in physical activities that help release some pent-up energy. We need to recognize that each child is unique as is their learning style. As parents, tuning into each child’s uniqueness can be a guide for how to best encourage and support a child.

What do kids need when they are doing homework? Some kids need very specific boundaries and rules where other kids may need more freedom to decide if and when to work on a specific assignment. Some kids need to know a parent is close by and other kids do better working alone. Some kids need fairly frequent affirmations and messages of encouragement where other kids may find that annoying or patronizing.

Parents can determine these by observing kids and outright asking them what they need. “What can I do to help you get set up for doing your homework? What helps you get it done more easily? Do you want me to hang around or do you work better on your own?” You can expect that sometimes kids will just say they wish they never had to do homework, to which you can say, “It’s really hard after being in school all day to have to come home and continue doing school work.” Sometimes having a parent simply acknowledge that frustration can give children an opportunity to feel understood and then take a deep breath and dive in.

If a child is unduly stressed about homework, parents may want to step back and assess the situation more closely. What is it about a particular assignment or homework in general that causes a child to feel so stressed? Does doing homework bring up feelings of inadequacy for a child? Is a child simply too tired to have to reactivate their brain to focus on what is probably not terribly interesting work?

It helps to be creative as well as attuned to the child’s needs. Parents may want to come up with ways to motivate, not bribe, their kids (“it looks like you’re really struggling to get going on your homework. How about if you do the very best you can for the next 15 minutes and then take a break with me to watch a few funny things on YouTube together? I’ll set the timer. How does that sound?”)

The bottom line is homework can be a challenge not only to kids but to parents as well. Making sure that doing homework is not unduly stressful for either requires taking time to assess some of the dynamics around getting homework done and coming up with creative ways to reduce stress. That enables both kids and parents alike to feel successful about completing it. Please remember that it is always more important to care for a child than to focus on accomplishing tasks.

Invitation to reflect:

  1. What are some of your memories of doing homework as a child?
  2. What helped make it easier for you?
  3. How can you use what you remember to help you with your child today?