For those families on the traditional school calendar year in the public education system here in North Carolina, school starts in three short weeks! As the dog days of August come to a close, many parents' chests begin to tighten as they anticipate the dogged nights of homework.
For some families, homework is not a problem. Their students do their homework without comment, turn it in the next day, and life continues in an orderly and pleasant fashion. But for many well-intentioned and caring parents, this is not their reality. For some families, homework can create drama, anxiety, a sense of overwhelm, and even despair.
Parents, this is no time to panic. Kids take their cues from us. When we get agitated, they often get agitated. Start the year off right by examining your approach to homework and get clear on the goal with homework. According to the author of How to be a Happier Parent, KJ Dell’Antoinia encourages parents not to think “getting it done well” as the goal, but think “becoming capable of getting it done well without help” as the goal. The main message you want your student to soak in is, “You’re learning. It’s okay to make mistakes while you are learning. That’s how you improve.” She warns that if you have been the parent that is super-engaged in homework every night, it is very easy for your student to take all his negative energy around homework and dump it right on you.
Other tips for starting the year off right when it comes to homework:
- Assume the best about a teacher's intent for the homework. Assume the assignment is reasonable and helpful until you have been proven wrong. Wait to see a pattern form as you stand on the sidelines as a supportive parent.
- Be supportive. By supportive, I mean a parent who provides a distraction-free, well-lit & well-supplied place to study. By supportive I mean helping interpret assignment instructions, not doing the work for your student. When your students stress over a looming deadline, help by teaching them problem-solving skills and offering encouragement as they persevere. When your student is frustrated and stuck, suggest that she take a break by kicking the soccer ball outside or running around the block so that she can get a fresh perspective when she returns.
- Don't make homework the daily topic of dinner conversation. Establish a routine of having a once-a-week check-in to review what's ahead, identify hot spots, and celebrate the small victories.
- Encourage your students to reach out to the teacher to get help. It's important that students know how to work independently and be able to self-advocate. These are vital skills for success in college and beyond.
These are general guidelines for parents who have children who are not experiencing learning difficulties or overwhelming emotional stress. And, certainly there are times to intervene. I recall a parent whose son was taking an advanced chemistry course in high school. He was consistently spending 3 hours a night on that one subject to the detriment of his other classes. The parent asked him if the other students in his class were investing a similar amount a time. Indeed, they were! Even after the students had a conversation with the teacher, the work load did not change. At that point, several parents set up a meeting with the teacher and the department chair to discuss options. Although the teacher did not change his demands that semester, the meeting provoked a larger discussion among the administration and faculty about the work load and spacing of assessments. The parent's son learned quite a few lessons about self-advocacy and persevering through difficult circumstances.
Do you have a story to share about large or small lessons you learned from homework when you were in school?