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Homework: When to Step In, When to Step Back

Miriam was at a loss about her son, Michael. For two straight weeks, she attacked his homework folder as soon as he walked in the door, diving into it like it contained all the answers to the universe. To her chagrin, she found Michael was slacking and leaving many assignments undone or sitting in limbo.
 
She tried lectures but even her best ones seemed to fall upon closed ears. She threatened to remove all the stuff he liked but that strained their relationship. Finally fed up, she turned to her wise friend, Linda, for advice.
 
“He doesn’t seem to care,” Miriam lamented, “I don’t know what to do. When do I step in and when do I step back?”
 
Linda shared some general ideas she had learned as a Love and Logic teacher:

  • Hug your son before you hug his homework folder. You want him to know his worth has nothing to do with school performance. Tell him you love him and you’re glad to see him. Don’t even bring up schoolwork when he comes in.

  • If you do help, do so only when you’re both in a relatively good mood. Help when he asks nicely — as long as the pencil stays in his hand. Let him experience some real results of not getting work done. In general, you want him to own his grades. If you step in too much, you rob ownership from him.

Linda noted that there is always some judgment involved in deciding when to step in: Factors might include a child’s age, grade level, developmental level, personality type, and how often these problems occur.
 
Miriam decided to be more careful about stepping in and to intentionally communicate that she believed in Michael. She stopped asking about homework and allowed Michael to bring up the subject. She decided to be supportive by providing a distraction-free work area and a time in the evening (after chores) for everyone in the family to “study” and/or have a quiet time.
 
To her surprise, as her observable anxiety over Michael’s assignments lessened, Michael’s concern over his own academic performance seemed to increase. In other words, when the adult is doing all of the worrying regarding homework, the child doesn’t need to be concerned. But when the parent steps back, the responsibility lands on the child, and more times than not, they will take on the responsibility.
 
Give your kids the gift of owning their homework assignments.
 
Jedd Hafer

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