Homework: Don’t Let Today’s Kindness Be Tomorrow’s Cruelty

Homework. In many families, this word brings up instant angst – LD or no LD. Students who struggle to complete homework often voice negative thoughts and demonstrate negative behaviors about it in such a way that the whole family can develop anxiety over the concept.

As parents, we try supportive measures such as creating a quiet organized desk space. We play classical music. We make other family members go to a different area of the house during homework time. We try to encourage/force completion through a rewards or consequences system. We might even sit and do the work with (hopefully not for!) the child. Some of us even hire tutors to help get the homework done.

Sometimes our efforts to help are rewarded and sometimes they are not, but the sacrifice tends to be great. The family is disrupted. Relationships are harmed. True learning does not occur. But the most important sacrifice often goes unseen for many years. What we have a hard time seeing is that we prevent our children from learning the life-long skills that come with trial and error. We work so hard to prevent failure, avert turmoil and to boost self-esteem that we do not see how this stunts their growth in the long-term. Of course, we do this out of love and because we have seen them undergo more pain than they should at young ages.

Unfortunately, our love can blind us to what our kids need in small doses over many years – to learn how to own their own problems, to be accountable for their own responsibilities and to overcome and bounce back from adversity. Our own actions prevent us from helping our young ones from growing in the long term because we are so caught up in the short-term realities of the day or at least the current stage of development.

So, I suggest something that might sound scary to some. Let your children determine the process by which they will complete their homework. Tell their teachers you will be hands off but will offer, need and expect strong communication about how successfully they are in regard to the manner in which they are completing their work, not just what the content grade is.

Guide your child by diagraming or analyzing the process by which they pursue their homework. Literally draw it out. You will find that after several iterations you have been helping them create problem solving maps that will apply to other situations. In this way, you will have created a prototype for them to process how to solve other problems. Along the way, they may develop greater independence, greater resilience and a greater sense of self determination.

Ultimately, our job as parents and educators is to help our children, no matter how challenged, find their way to being self-reliant individuals who have a sense of efficacy in the world. All I am suggesting is that we use an age old “foe” to our advantage – to their advantage. Because it isn’t the “work” that matters in the end. It is the “home” the child finds within himself that does.

Have a great year!

Author, Kevin Gailey, had many of his own struggles in school as a child. He is a parent of a child with learning differences and the Head of Midwest Academy, a school for children with learning challenges located in Carmel, IN.

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