Taming the horrors of homework
A parent writes: “With the start of school upon us, my thoughts turn to the horrors of homework. These feelings might seem misplaced, but afternoons with my son typically include blood curdling screams and tortured expressions. I wish there was some way we could avoid all the drawn out drama and despair surrounding an event that he is usually able to complete once the ‘show’ stops and the work begins. Any suggestions?”
Today’s system of education places ample burden upon parents to ensure that students are organized, material is understood and extensive homework is completed. However, children don’t often warmly embrace parents when they step into the role of homework warden. Rather than exhibit the compliance shown at school, children may unleash their “real” feelings about schoolwork at home, ranging from mild annoyance to extreme frustration and protest. As parents attempt to “help,” children may resist, and the interaction soon resembles a tug of war.
Schoolwork at home requires that children sacrifice free time, resist temptations, discipline oneself, tolerate frustration and pursue long-term goals. These rigorous demands may also expose a variety of personality traits, including heightened sensitivity to criticism, procrastination, academic anxiety and overconfidence.
Parents may find the following suggestions helpful when ap- proaching the hurdles of homework and developing successful homework strategies and homework solutions:
• Recognize what is at stake. In the minds of many students, performance in school is closely connected to self-esteem. Those children with vulnerable self-esteem tend to associate high grades or quick understanding with intelligence. They may set themselves up for emotional trouble by assuming that they are stupid if it takes them more time to study or if they need extra help in grasping something. Parents can explain how intelligence is a collection of many skills that are called upon in different degrees depending upon what they are learning. Point out how quickly they pick up certain material, but may lag behind in other areas. Explain how the differences between what is “easy” and what is “hard” is reflective of their areas of strength and weakness.
• Offer strategies to insulate their self-esteem from schoolbased difficulties. Guide your child in writing a brief self-talk script serving as a reminder of their strengths and achievements. These two or three sentences can be posted on a note card at their homework desk. Suggest that they read it immediately before they begin the really hard schoolwork. If they’re not inclined to do so, go ahead and use snapshots and words to make a card for them. Also, suggest they measure their “feelings temperature” during the homework period such that they don’t allow themselves to rise beyond the point of no return. Short cool down periods can be assisted by encouraging them to review their coaching card.
• Encourage them to keep the positive end point in mind. Kids tend to get trapped in tunnel vision when approaching schoolwork. They may envision themselves sitting for endless hours or anticipate failure or poor grades. They can’t see a positive end in sight. Parents can provide “light” by explaining the concept of reversal of fortune. Point out how so many times the outcomes are much more positive than they consider at first. Emphasize.how all the emotion they churn up by getting stuck in “tunnel thinking” robs them of the ability to just get to work, and reach their destination in a reasonable amount of time. Use a real life example to highlight how they once created such upset for themselves, but the end result was just the reverse of what they feared.
• Teach strategies for improved learning. Some parents are reluctant to step into the teacher’s role at home, but if your child is amenable, step right in! A study shortcut, memory aid or template to help them further develop as a writer can be an invaluable aid to their school success. These strategies should not make them dependent but more capable, independent learners. The goal is to help feel like more empowered students.