Are any of these scenes familiar?
Instead of relaxing after dinner, you find yourself at a store, frantically searching for poster board and markers. But the real work begins later as you help your son complete his geography project which is due tomorrow.
After proofreading your daughter’s book report, you decide to add more descriptive adjectives, many of which she doesn’t have in her 10-year-old vocabulary.
By 11 pm, your child isn’t finished with his science assignment. You put him to bed anyway and write a frustrated email to the teacher who responds that the assignment was meant to be completed over one week, not one night.
Teachers complain these are just a few of the ways that parents get themselves and their kids into trouble over homework. Concerned parents know their input is crucial for their children’s academic success, and they want their kids to develop good work habits, but they don’t know quite how to make it happen.
How can you be sure you’re giving the right kind of helping hand? Consider these ground rules:
Remember whose homework it is. The purpose of homework is to practice the skills taught in class–but not if you step in and do the work. That undermines children’s self-confidence and encourages them to make excuses for themselves. A parent’s job is to coach from the sidelines–not get swept up in the action on the playing field.
Don’t play teacher. If you can’t resist correcting misspelled words, inserting missing punctuation, or substituting more colorful vocabulary, one way to do so is just put a dot in the margin to indicate a mistake. Then your child can figure out what the error is and correct it. Or ask the teacher how you should handle your child’s homework mistakes. That way, teacher and parent can work as a team.
Don’t assume what works for one child will work for another. Some children work best at a desk with a good lamp in a quiet room. Others prefer working at the kitchen table or scrawled on the living room floor, propped up on pillows. Some children work independently. Others need close supervision to keep them on task. Instead of insisting kids do their homework where and when you want them to, let them experiment to discover what works best for them.
Help your children handle their own responsibilities. Sometimes a child will forget to do his homework or wait until the last minute to start an assignment. Let the consequences play out at school. Kids learn important life-lessons when they experience the embarrassment and discomfort of not being prepared.
But if your child has a chronic homework problem, it could be a symptom of a larger motivational problem. Make it a point to discuss it with the teacher or guidance counselor.
Use words that work. Praise can either be helpful or unhelpful to children. Instead of telling a child how smart (brilliant, clever, great) she is, talk about the accomplishment itself. Describe it to her in detail: I noticed how hard you worked last night. The details in your book report are so rich that I felt as if I was actually there. This way, your child feels her hard work is understood and appreciated.
Remember the big picture. Although homework is the main link with your children’s school, it’s only one component of their entire education. You want your children to learn that hard work is the key factor in achievement. If parents can accomplish that task, their children will soon have an ample supply of the self-confidence they need to be persistent, successful learners.