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Do Your Homework

Sarah Chana Radcliffe

What are you teaching your kids during homework time?

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

H omework is an important tool. It teaches children valuable lessons about responsibility, accountability, independence, perseverance, and time management. It helps kids integrate their academic lessons and retain what they learn. And when parents get involved in the homework process, even more is accomplished. As parents supervise and encourage their children to do their homework, they model respect, convey love, encourage creative thinking, and highlight the value of making mistakes.

But that’s not how it plays out in every home. “Homework was a nightly form of torture. One of my parents would yell at us to do our homework. There was a lot of dawdling and avoidance on the part of us kids, followed by more parental yelling. Eventually I’d find myself at the kitchen table with my crumpled homework papers and my father. My father was never a patient man and homework didn’t bring out his best side.

“I must admit I was probably pretty annoying to deal with because I tried to rush through everything and never really paid attention to what he was telling me. My father couldn’t take it. He’d scream that he’s wasting his time with me, that I was wasn’t even trying. He’d slam the table and look at me with such frustration. In return, I hated him and schoolwork.”


Lessons Learned

Even an unsuccessful homework session can still teach a child many lessons. His parents’ irritability can get downloaded into his subconscious mind, teaching him to be impatient and intolerant with his own children in the future. This is probably how the father in the above scenario acquired his “teaching style.”

When feelings of anxiety, failure, and rejection are associated with homework, a child learns to hate learning. These same feelings, when provoked by parental words, body language, tone of voice and/or action, can cause the child to learn to dislike — or even hate — his parent. Over time, critical and rejecting parental words and body language can even teach the child to hate himself.

Of course, none of this is what parents intend to teach. Most parents who are overly intense about homework care tremendously about their children — so much so that they go into a panic when a child doesn’t apply himself to homework. Adrenaline can lead to displays of angry-looking emotion. The underlying dynamic is fear. The parent is afraid that the child’s poor performance will hurt him later in life. What the parent fails to realize is that his current behavior can cause far more harm than poor homework practices.

A parent who truly wants the best for his child needs to teach the lessons that supervised homework can actually teach: how respect is conveyed, how to show love, what emotional safety feels like, the joy of creative thinking and appropriate risk taking, and the necessity of comfortably making mistakes.


The Positive Homework Experience

There are many strategies a parent can use to maximize his positive influence during a homework session. Emotional coaching — the naming of feelings — helps establish respect, love, and emotional safety. When a child balks at doing homework, a parent can acknowledge and accept what the child is feeling. The feeling is, after all, normal. Most children don’t want to do schoolwork after school hours. So when the child grumbles, the parent can respond, “I know. Who wants to do more schoolwork after school?”

When the child sees that the parent understands, some of his resistance will melt away. Emotional support makes hard tasks far easier. More importantly, it fosters healthy parent-child bonds and increases cooperation. It even improves academic performance through its positive effect on emotional intelligence.

Humor is another essential tool for bonding and helping release creativity and problem-solving abilities. It’s good to joke around during homework time. Parents can also give explicit permission to make mistakes during the learning/practicing period.

When the child expresses frustration that he “can’t do it” or he “got it all wrong,” a light-hearted, soft-spoken, “That’s okay — just try it again,” or, “You’ll figure it out soon — just keep at it,” can help create safety in learning. Sitting close, touching gently, smiling and enjoying being together is good for both parent and child.

All this can help children learn what parents really want to teach during their homework time. 

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 621)

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