Tuesday, September 30, 2014

A Totally New Approach to Homework

Okay. Long-story short: you must un-learn what you have learned when it comes to homework. I want you to practice this phrase, "I've already passed the 'x' grade, but I would love to help you when you need it - at a reasonable hour." That's the crux of this - when they ASK for your help, you have been invited into their circle. We tend to force ourselves into their world and in so doing can rob them of the opportunity to learn and grow and be accountable for themselves and their work. And when they ask for help, we don't take it upon ourselves to teach but to model and figure things out together. The moment that helping with homework is no longer fun, you check-out.

My dad and I have a long-standing joke about math homework. I have NEVER enjoyed math and it has NEVER been my strong point. I can do what I need to effectively run my household (and I actually can even determine what my monthly payment on a car would be-if I pull out my old college math notes). Aside from that - FORGET IT! Writing on the other hand, I can do. And I have ALWAYS loved it. At any rate, math homework. I vividly remember shakily asking my father for help with math. Help with him always ended in tears and frustration - tears from me and frustration by him. He tells me that for some reason or another, my brain would magically disappear the second he sat down with me. He'd ask me really easy questions to make sure I was paying attention - "Two plus two is three, right?" I would obviously respond, "Yeahh?" Then he would start running his hands through his hair at a rapid rate, he'd start breathing heavy and his eyes would roll back into his head and I would guess that I answered incorrectly. I chuckle to myself remembering these moments. Regardless, I hated getting help with homework because I thought he was angry with me. He wasn't (for the most part - ha!), but it feels that way to the kid. Therefore, when the homework is no longer a pleasant experience, bail. If it isn't to begin with don't even go there -get a tutor. I've been down that road and homework was making me a villain and stressing our relationship; it isn't worth it.

Ultimately, everything we do as parents is about preserving the relationship. That doesn't mean we let our kids get away with murder because we want to be their friends - we ARE their parents and we lay down the law. Kids definitely need well-defined parameters in which to operate and you've got to love them enough to set limits and reign them in when there is a breach. It's all in your approach and making sure they know that what you do is out of love - not power or control or any other reason. And every kid is so different. My expectations for my teen are way different for my tween based on their abilities and personalities and I tailor my approach as necessary. Can you imagine being held to the same expectation or level as the brainiest and most responsible person in your class? Or the angel in your family? Or the naughty minion? We're all different and thank heavens there are brainiacs out there to handle all of the science and math issues in the world because the human race would die off if it's fate lay in the solving of a word problem. Seriously folks. Bad, bad news - I think I have PTSD from word problems. But I digress.

 Honestly, I admit, all conventional wisdom tells us to be highly involved when it comes to the homework load that belongs to our kids (but for some reason we take on for ourselves - like we don't have enough to do?). The level at which we DO involve ourselves depends on the responsibility and maturity level of our kiddos. Unfortunately for us parents with challenged kiddos, they may be lacking in both areas. All I can say is feel this one out and go with your gut. I personally, have done everything else BUT laying low on the homework scene so I have nothing to lose in going with it. In fact, I'll probably be a more pleasant person right off the bat and who won't benefit from that? Also, the price tag  for failure on homework at this point is relatively cheap as grade school grades have little to no impact on my kid's academic future. He can technically fail a class and there will be no lasting repercussions.

Here is the lynch pin to all of this that I didn't consider until now -no one is expected to be good at everything yet we put that out there when we expect straight A's. If your kid is getting a C in English and an A in math, good on them! They are good at math and they struggle with english. Play to there strength - help your kid find his personal strengths and work with that. Let go of the negatives; simply encourage and have hope with them that they can improve and find some understanding in the subjects they struggle with. As I listened to Foster Cline and Jim Fay talk about this on their audio disc for Love and Logic (love it!), they mentioned that adults that focus on their spouse's weaknesses in the end solve that problem by getting a divorce. Nobody wants to always be recognized for what they aren't good at; that fact doesn't change at any age. If you can build your kids self-concept and esteem and teach them to focus on their strengths, their weaknesses will naturally improve - guaranteed. We don't ignore their struggles, we just put the emphasis on the positive. I know with Preston, that his self-concept plays into his schoolwork on a monumental level. If Preston doesn't think he can do the work, he doesn't even bother trying because it will only make him feel like a greater failure and downright stupid - it hurts a lot less to avoid the path that you know is fraught with ticking time-bombs. And maybe that is a big reason why your kid doesn't like to do homework. Anxiety and depression all fall into this cyclical trap as well.

And ultimately, being a good model is going to have the greatest impact. My teen is big into World War II history because he listens to stories I tell, the excitement I have for aircraft from that era, etc. I'm going to guess if you love cars and enjoy fixing-up old cars, your kids know a thing or two about restoring old cars as well and maybe even have developed their own passions for cars along the way. I want my kids to see that I enjoy my tasks and jobs (whether I do or not because somebody's got to do it!) more pleasantness and harumphing. And then to puff up my feathers when I've done my job well; it's a good thing to recognize the fruits of our labors otherwise, why would we do them? That also builds self-concept and esteem - which is one big reason to have kids participate in chores. But that's a different discussion.

Employ and enjoy.  And please do let me know if you notice any big changes in your kids as you focus on their strengths and let them handle their homework loads. For more suggestions from the experts, google Jim Fay and Foster Cline and "Winning the Homework Battle."

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