Playing Position around Homework

When two players on the same team both “go for the ball,” one of them is often “out of position.” When a parent says, “We had a little trouble with our homework last night,” someone is out of position. Whose homework is it? We want our children to take responsibility for their own homework, right?  It’s the student’s homework, and the student is accountable to the teacher for it. If a parent is called in to help, it should be clear that he or she is playing a supporting role.

So, yes, for a parent to take responsibility to make sure homework is done well is short-sighted, but sometimes simply playing position is hard. Sometimes homework is a battlefield or seems to interfere with the kind of relationships we want to have with our kids. How is it for you?

Bill tells this story:

My son has been very needy of me in doing his homework.  Although there was a component of just wanting the attention, he clearly had some paralysis akin to writer’s block.  So while thinking to myself “he really needs to learn to do this himself” I didn’t want to just let him flounder, and would dutifully help him.  My suggestions included: list, organize, prioritize, elaborate, exemplify, add imagery, opine, conclude, etc.  These sessions would produce reasonably good work, but not without pushing, resistance and the associated high drama.

At some point very recently, there was a shift that I can’t exactly explain.  We were working on an assignment and Josh said, “Daddy, I’m not going to do that.  You make it too hard, go away, I’ll do this myself!  With a feigned little expression of rejection, I went away really feeling elated that the mission was accomplished; that he had taken ownership rather than learn how his father would do the homework.

I had been worrying that I was enabling his neediness too long.  In retrospect, I know I did something right, though I’m not exactly sure of the mechanism that played out.  I guess it was my mindset that he would eventually do it himself that influenced my actions and facilitating the desired result.

Is homework a struggle in your house? If not, what’s your secret?

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7 thoughts on “Playing Position around Homework

  1. Years ago, when my daughter was in 3rd grade, homework was indeed a struggle. After one particularly grueling go-around, I mentioned the struggle to my daughter’s teacher. She told me to make sure my daughter had a suitable place to study, a set amount of time in which to do so, and all the requisite materials. She suggested I set a timer, be close by to offer assistance, let my child know I was there, and then make myself scarce. At the end of the time allotted on the timer, I was to have my child put her homework away. If it was done, it was done; if not, then my child could discuss the issue with her teacher the next day. Her philosophy was that if my daughter couldn’t finish her homework within the amount of time then either my daughter didn’t understand the assignment, there was too much assigned, or she had not spent her time wisely. Ms. M. told me that she’d figure it out so it wouldn’t be a battleground at home.

    Well, that afternoon, I set my daughter up at the kitchen table with all her materials and books, offered help (which was declined), let her know I’d be in the next room if she needed help after all, set the timer, and then left her to it. When the timer went off, I went in to clear the kitchen table for dinner. My daughter had barely done anything, and when I asked her to clear things up, she got upset. I told her calmly what Ms. M had said – either she had too much work, didn’t understand what she needed to do, or hadn’t used her time properly. In either case, I told my child, Ms. M. needed to know what was going on. If there was too much work, she needed to know so she could adjust the amount. If my daughter didn’t understand what needed doing, Ms. M would explain it to her again. If she hadn’t used her time wisely, well, she could do her homework the next day at recess time.
    Faced with the options, my daughter begged for another chance to do her homework after dinner, and explained that she did know how to do her work, but didn’t want to sit for so long to do it. However, she didn’t want to have to sit during recess the next day, so if I’d give her another chance, she’d do what she needed to do. I asked her to clear up, help me set the table, and we’d see how things went after dinner.

    After dinner, she went, of her own accord, grabbed her materials and books and sat down at the kitchen table to work on her homework. In a relatively short span of time (certainly less than she’d spent earlier), her work was done, and done well. I told her how proud I was that she’d taken responsibility for getting the work done, while secretly blessing this wise young teacher for handing me a solution that took the battle out of homework.

    After that afternoon, any time there was homework fuss, for her or for our son, we simply moved to put the homework away. If there was indeed a question, it surfaced at that time, and assistance was either given or a note was written to the teacher requesting additional help. If there was no question, but the kids felt they had just had enough studying for one day, they knew they’d face the consequence the next day. Because there were no battle lines drawn, the policy opened a number of wonderful conversations about such things as the importance of homework and responsibility, self-esteem, intelligence, and the future applications of XYZ subject (fill in geometry, Civil War battle names, etc.).

    When I became a teacher, I offered the same advice to my parents and students, with similar results. It continues to be one of my favorite discussion topics.

  2. I agree that it’s all about opening up a discussion about responsibility and the consequences of not following through. Parents can share personal experiences about their own challenges of getting things done, but they also need to carry it through with their actions.

    That goes for homework as well as household chores and other obligations. If parents expect children to do their work, let them know they have confidence in their ability to get it done, and explain how they’re only hurting themselves by not completing it to the best of their ability, children will have an easier time understanding the importance and value of a strong work ethic.

    Of course, if the work is genuinely too difficult, or a child needs help in a specific subject, a conversation with the teacher is certainly in order. Sometimes, a student can attend extra help, or may need a tutor. So, if the effort is there, but frustration has really set in, a little help would probably go a lot further than any power struggle.

  3. Math is a great work, not only in the sense of numbers but there is much more working out here. It’s character. This is a fabulous breakthrough that your son made to take ownership of his own education. The only way any of us learn is when we self-teach. We can listen to others, go to classes, hear lectures but when it comes down to what soaks in and what we retain it all depends on what we decided to learn or self-taught. When a child learns how to be a self-educator and accepts responsibility for his own education he will be limitless all his lifelong. No matter where he is, what he is doing, what the circumstances, he will always be able to learn what he needs to in order to adapt to fulfilling his greatness.

    The best that we can do is love them through it rather than fight them about it. Embrace their genius!

  4. Each of my children required varying degrees of homework involvement….from none…to checking it’s done…to lots. My approach has always been support with the goal of creating an independent student. As long as we are making progress I feel we are in the right position. Children with learning disabilities benefit from parents that offer solution oriented support always leaning in the direction of empowering the child for next time. The more they know about the game…the quicker they will be in the right position… Love your approach Rick.

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