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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  1. CYBIL MOORE says

    I notice that you mentioned using a graphic organizer? What did that entail?

  2. I agree and disagree with this article.

    I have two children, ages 13 (8th grade) and 10 (4th grade). They are both in a Seminar (highly gifted) Program at their school. The oldest has been diagnosed with ADD and sensory processing difficulties while the youngest has dyslexia, dysgraphia, ADHD, executive functioning difficulties and sensory processing difficulties. My youngest also vacillates between compulsive skin picking, a verbal tick, throat clearing and/or rapid eye blinking.They both take medication for the ADD/ADHD plus my youngest takes anxiety medication. My youngest also receives “tutoring” with a reading specialist for her dyslexia twice a week.

    Homework has always been a struggle in our home. Fortunately, this has gotten much better as they progress in school. I am an Occupational Therapist and I am a strong advocate in adapting their homework to suit their current needs/abilities. This includes shortening their workload, modifying the format in which they demonstrate comprehension of the subject and occasionally physically writing the answers for them. I have never answered the questions for them directly, but I have given them prompts for problem-solving. Without this assistance, they are/were unable to complete their work. In fact, they would take one look at the work and become completely overwhelmed.

    I am very lucky in that my school is very accommodating, I pro-actively spoke/speak with each teacher, every year, to let them know they may see their work turned in with my handwriting or in typed format. This was with the understanding that I write exactly what they say, with no editing for capitalization and/or grammar. Incorrect answers where also put down. I also had my children work on other “worksheets” to demonstrate similar comprehension of the concept being taught; in lieu of current homework. On the top of each homework paper I would usually put the time it took to complete the work. Sometimes it took 2 or 3 minutes and other times 30-45 minutes for the same type of problems. I did this to show them that we tried to work on the homework but were unsuccessful and also to track their difficulties (per psychiatrists recommendation).

    There are many other things we’ve tried at home that helped. This included eating a crunchy snack, not working on the homework as soon as school’s out, making a visual plan for the week and using various seating/fidgets/papers/colors to get their work done. We also have a graphic organizer for almost anything you can think of.

    Though this was tedious in the beginning, both of my children have increased their independence in completing their homework. The oldest no longer needs any help or prompting to complete her work. She learned that keeping her homework/projects to the end of the day resulted in incomplete work and a poor grade. The biggest change for her came in middle school where she went from straight A’s to F’s. She started the medication for ADD and has returned to straight A’s. Her notebooks are not turned in complete and in 1 piece, her work includes everything that is required and she no longer needs extended time for projects. She refuses to take any other medications (ie Tylenol for a headache) but has requested her ADD meds to include lunchtime. She does not take the meds on the weekend or the summer/breaks.

    Both of my children are highly gifted with high comprehension and above average verbal skills. This did not translate into their homework. Their handwritten sentences would be, “The dog lives in the red house.” whereas their verbal sentences would be, “The mottled beige dog lives down the street in the maroon house with the pitched roof and a lush green yard out front.” Typing on a computer and/or dictating was much easier for them and showed their true abilities.

    I guess what I wanted to say, through my above novel, is that I helped my children when they needed help but I made sure they were learning the skills to eventually complete the work themselves. I may have helped them too much in the beginning and continually second-guessed my level of help but I wouldn’t change anything I did. I did not want them to fail when it was something they were developmentally unable to do. It’s not that they wouldn’t do their work, it was that they couldn’t. There were many, many nights of no homework completed (or attempted) but their comprehension remained intact throughout. I believe in helping your child in learning the skills they need to be able to complete a task but I also believe it is imperative that we modify the demands placed on them to meet their developmental and psychological needs at the time.

    On the academic side, they were both given extended times for projects, homework for comprehension only (I could sign off they understood the work and did not need to do continued “busy” work), decreased workload and the ability to verbalize their understanding in lieu of written work.

    • Amy-
      That was really helpful and a great explanation. Thank you for taking the time to share with such detail. Do your kids have a 504 or IEP? Who did the LD evaluation?

      Thank you

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