Every parent has been there. Your child comes home, exhausted after a long day, and you give them a snack, let them have some downtime, sit down to dinner, and then…it’s time to hit the books for them – again!
They don’t want to do it. You don’t want to do it. And depending on what your child is working on, you may not even actually understand what it is that they are supposed to be doing.
So how are you meant to help them with it?
Which raises another question – are you meant to help them with it or should you just leave them to land where they land with whatever they can figure out?
Navigating such homework headaches requires a bit of awareness and a lot of patience. But it is possible.
Here are some tried and true strategies that may be just what the homework-headache doctor ordered!
1. Connect first. Homework second.
The child’s brain is wired in a unique way. It is a brain that has to feel like you are on the same page with the child in order for the child to actually cooperate with what you are about to ask of them. So in the service of that unique wiring, spend some time connecting with your child after school before dropping the homework bomb on them. Play, hang, relax, eat…do something with a real connection energy about it and zero expectations tied to it. And then shift to homework.
2. Stay low.
If you are getting frustrated, evenly silently about your child’s homework, they will sense it. They will smell it coming out of your pores and it will all be over before it has hardly begun. So you have to stay low. And if you can’t then you need to sit with yourself about what is really at the root of your frustration and address that. Is it because you remember what it was to struggle as a student yourself? Is it because you worry your child is falling behind? Is it because you don’t want the judgment of being a bad parent? Is it because you want to save your child from a bad grade? Figure that out. And then address it. Be conscious of it. Move beyond it.
3. Outsource as needed.
Sometimes homework is a battle that parents might wisely decide not to enter into. And that is okay. Especially if your relationship with your child has a lot of other battles already due to sensitivity or other challenging kinds of things. Get creative about finding nurturing substitutes for you in your “village” that can come alongside and support your child with their homework. Know any retired math teachers? Know a high school student you could hire a couple of afternoons a week?
4. Supporting versus rescuing – know where you need to land.
If children always have parents rushing in to get the homework done, the student doesn’t get to have the experience of being successful with rocking out a hard assignment. Ever. And it robs them of the chance to find their stride and their confidence as a learner. On the other hand, if a student is drowning because of stress, learning exceptionalities, lack of understanding, or for any other reason, the humane thing to do is find a little more of your rescuer coming alongside. Maybe you help more than you would otherwise. Maybe you intervene to ask for an extension. Knowing how to balance rescuer verses supporter HAS to come from knowing your child in that moment, on that day, in that circumstance.
5. Keep it real.
If a homework assignment for a student has come down to whether or not YOU happen to be a Nobel Prize winner in physics or a world renowned artist then we’ve got a problem. And it might be worth a conversation with your child’s teacher or even a school administrator about skewed baselines or extraordinary expectations.
The best kind of learning comes from that which is: (a) within a student’s reach, even if barely; and (b) experiential, with the student being able to link the concept at hand to other knowledge and ideas.
Projects that have a student drowning or that get out of hand with the show-off factor, becoming a competition among parents rather than a true feat of learning, need a serious hard look by all involved.
And sometimes, we need to just be fierce about the things we know to be good and true.