Waging the great homework war

Teaching your kids how to help themselves is the best lesson you’ll ever pass on


IT’S FUNNY HOW many people I know who are really good at Grade 3 math. It’s all the practice that does it. First you do it yourself. Then you do it with your first child.

By the time you do it with your second child, you’re really good at Grade 3 math.

By doing the homework, you have avoided the homework wars.

Avoidance is an oft-chosen parenting strategy. As parents we choose avoidance when the alternative is too ugly to face.

The homework wars are the school-age version of the supermarket candy battle. Before we became parents, did we ever imagine that an apparently simple matter like going shopping for food or doing homework would become battlegrounds that make trench warfare look pretty?

It sounds like “I can’t do it.… I don’t understand.” At that point your child is either whining or crying. When you ask if the teacher taught the material at school they say, “Yes but I didn’t understand.”

This kicks off Battle #1 in the homework wars. Who does the homework, you or them? In theory, of course, they should do it. In practice when you have a freaking child it’s so difficult not to run a rescue operation and do the dratted Grade 3 math.

The perils of that approach are several. By running the homework rescue operation, we message our children that we’re not really sure they can do it. We reduce their confidence.We deprive them of an opportunity to learn both Grade 3 math and the courage and skills to deal with challenges. A corollary to these downsides is the one I often hear from teachers: Do you think they’re fooled when you do the homework? Not when they see the kid in class every day!

Battle #2 in the homework wars is simply getting them to do it. If your child won’t do his or her homework, you have two choices: You can sit and do the homework with them, you can nag and cajole and threaten and bribe them to do their homework — then you’re making it our homework.

Which is fine if you need some more practice at Grade 3 math. Go for it. But if your goal is something different — like raising a resourceful, independent, competent child — is making it our homework going to get your child there? Try letting them do own their homework.

Do some research: If your child is chronically saying that they can’t do their homework because they don’t understand the work, talk to the teacher and find out if your child is having learning issues … in that classroom with that teacher. Is he understanding (and demonstrating it) in class?

If no, then your child needs some help with learning skills or some extra tutoring in that subject to get up to grade level. If the teacher says your kid is clearly demonstrating comprehension of the material in question, then you have a compliance problem. Nothing you do will change that — until you start doing nothing.

Until your child owns her homework, she will not take responsibility for it. As long as she can manipulate you into making it our homework, she won’t step up — because she doesn’t have to. You’ve given her a great free ride. Let it be 100 per cent theirs — which means they own 100 per cent of the success and 100 per cent of the failure. Failure is a logical consequence they may need to experience in order to decide to actually DO their homework.

Absent of that experience, how do they get motivated? By you? I haven’t seen it work that way.


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