My kids are now in college and living in different states, which means I don’t have to remind them to do their homework. It is completely up to them. When we talk, it is about updating each other on our lives or discussing topics of interest. There is no nagging involved. This is a great place to be.
However, when my daughters were in grade school, middle school, and high school, I used to dread homework. When they came home from school, it didn’t take long after our greetings to ask them what homework they had, when it was due, and when they were planning to do it. I had in my head that they should get their homework done first, and then they would have free time for the rest of the day. I spoke with friends whose children got their homework done by 5:00 each day. But my kids put it off. Then they were up late getting it done and not getting enough sleep. I just couldn’t manage their schedules the way I thought would be best.
Then when they were in high school, Fairfax County set up a system where I could check their grades any time. The grades were terrible, but then my daughter said not to worry, since they would improve once she handed in her assignments. And they did, in some cases going from a D to an A. So I decided not to look at grades anymore.
Looking back, I wish had taken a step back and given my children more responsibility. I did not need to know what all their assignments were or to advise them when they should do their work. Everything I did to get them to finish their homework early and get to bed on time didn’t work. They were and still are night owls. I feel like my relationship with them would have been happier if I had stayed out of the homework game until I was asked for help.
However, some interventions did work, and I will share these with you.
- While they were doing homework, I stayed in my office working. They could ask questions as needed or save them for later.
- I helped them set up systems that worked for them. I recommend using a Google calendar to write down due dates of projects and test dates. Another work tracker that works well is a giant whiteboard.
- We broke down large projects into smaller chunks.
- We prioritized homework and met with teachers to find out what could be eliminated or reduced. By 10th grade, they contacted their teachers themselves for modifications or extensions.
- We had a family expectation that they should do their best in school and that education is a big priority.
- We emphasized reading for pleasure and read and discussed books regularly.
- We took breaks for snacks, sunshine, and exercise.
- When the work was just too difficult, we hired a tutor.
Some children need extra incentives to move them along with their homework. Using a point system and giving children rewards and privileges for completing homework and chores works well for many families. In my experience, the best reward was specific praise for a project well done or for communicating with teachers independently. When my daughter solved problems independently, I complimented her for being a good problem solver. Ultimately, we want to strive for intrinsic rewards, like learning something interesting, getting good grades, and looking forward to how gaining knowledge and receiving good grades now will gain access to college and lucrative and interesting careers. However, looking ahead takes time, and it is important to be patient and work with children where they are now.
It is not worth poisoning your relationship with your children by fighting about homework. You can’t make your children do it, and it is their job, not yours. You can support them best by helping them set up structures for organization, setting up a quiet homework and “reading for pleasure” time period for each day, being available to help if asked, and teaching them how to self-advocate. Ultimately, our goal as parents is to promote independence.
By Cheryl Gedzelman, President, Tutoring For Success