Tam­ing the hor­rors of home­work

The Review - - Opinion - Steve Rich­field Cop­ing Dr. Steven Rich­field is a clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist in Ply­mouth Meet­ing who spe­cial­izes in work­ing with ADHD kids, teens and adults. In­spired by his work with ADHD chil­dren, Rich­field de­vel­oped the Par­ent Coach­ing Cards in 1998, and the

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.

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