Updated: Dec 6, 2019
As both a teacher, and parent myself, I know that your home can become a combat zone when your child gets ready to start on homework. It certainly can be difficult during the elementary years, but everything gets harder when middle school comes, believe me.
After experiencing this in my own household for a year or so, a wise friend pulled me aside and asked me a question, “Do you want to force your will on your child or do you want them to actually speak to you in ten years?” Wow…. It didn’t take long for me to decide that I did indeed want a speaking relationship with my child down the road. That’s a no brainer.
Fact is though, if I would have continued to push my child and expect him to work on homework the way I wanted or care about homework as much as I did when I was his age, the resentment would continue to build and he may not even want me in his life as he became an adult. Wake up call time for me!
As a classroom teacher, I knew all about classroom and behavior management and I began starting to implement some of the same strategies at home. And, I just decided to chill a bit. It’s hard being a parent because let’s face it, we can sometimes put unreasonable expectations on our children. We want them to be successful more than anything else, but sometimes our notion of success is very different than what is ultimately good for them. It is important to realize that they may have a very different personality than you and may have different dreams for their life than you do.
Enough of the stories, I think you get the point. But there are some very important tips I learned in this process.
Tip #1 Allow your child a little time to relax and get a snack before they start on homework. Most middle school students are starving by the time they get home from school! I know my children loved an opportunity to pet the dog, eat and drink a little something, or spend 15 minutes socializing or playing a game on their computer. School and the commute can be stressful, letting them have a few minutes of “downtime” can make a huge difference.
This leads me to the next tip…
Tip #2 Structure a time and place for “learning” in your household. If before or after dinner is the time, try to be consistent. If the dining room table is the place, make sure it’s comfortable and that your student has everything they need. Consistency is important. Take this time to do some learning of your own. Sit down with a book you are reading, or quietly watch the Youtube video that shows you how to fix the leaky water pipe downstairs. The point is, if you model the value of learning and enjoy it, your child will get the message that learning is valuable and lifelong.
Tip #3 Offer small choices that you can live with. If your child feels that they have some control in the process it’s much less likely to end in tears. You could ask, “Do you want to work in the dining room or your bedroom?” Just make sure they are working somewhere you can watch them. Another choice depending on your schedule might be something like, “Would you like to do all your homework now, or do you want to break it up into chunks, maybe half now and half after dinner?” Not only does this give them a feeling of ownership, but it keeps you talking in a positive manner, and let’s them know that you value their opinion.
Tip #4 Minimize the amount of help you give them. For an example, as your child grows up things change from reading a story to them every night to them reading aloud to you, to them reading on their own. In education-speak this is called scaffolding. As they grow older, you really need to gradually allow them to work on homework themselves, without you hovering over them checking every answer.
Allow them to tell you when they need help on a specific problem and then limit it to that problem. If your child has become dependent on you to help them with everything, you need to gradually give them the reins and allow them to make mistakes and learn from them. This is the only way for them to grow in their confidence and become more independent as they progress towards high school.
Some students struggle because they have significant gaps in their understanding, for example they are in sixth grade and they don’t know their multiplication facts. If this is the case, they really need to get those facts memorized so they can go on to more complicated math. If they didn’t understand fractions in 5th grade, it’s not reasonable to expect them to convert fractions to percentages in 7th grade. Get them the help they need so they can be successful. Many children are much more open to learning from a tutor in upper elementary and middle school. They are “done” with a parent teaching them, but are open minded to a knowledgeable and neutral third party.
Tip #5 We all are happier when we are around positive people. When you comment to them, make sure the ratio of positive comments to negative comments is at least 10 to 1. It’s hard to build your confidence when you feel like you are being criticized or put down. This is a big part of why homework time is a struggle for many students. They probably feel poorly about their abilities to begin with, but if they hear it enough, it’s hard to change their mindset. So find positive things to say to complement your child and let them know you are proud of them instead of pointing out what they are doing wrong.
I know that the struggle is real, but these tips will help your relationship with your child and help calm the storms. It’s tempting to try to help your child too much, but when they struggle through on their own and get the answer right, their confidence soars and they begin to believe in themselves again. Parenting is one of the toughest jobs around, hang in there! These days will pass and before you know it they will be up and out.