The ABCs of Staying out of Homework

In last week's column, I said that for a child to benefit from homework, the child must have full "ownership" of the responsibility. Parents should help when help is truly needed, but must be careful not to cross the line between consulting and participating.

As promised, this column takes up the question, "Just where does one draw the line?"

Here, then, are the ABCs of staying out of the homework business:

A. The child does his homework in a private, personal area, preferably at a desk in his room, rather than in a family area such as the kitchen table. This not only helps define homework as the child's responsibility, but also helps parents resist the urge to hover.

Homework done in the kitchen or any other family area quickly becomes a family affair. This virtually guarantees that homework will dominate family life much of the evening. Homework will command family attention, distract family members from other, more important responsibilities (such as being married), and drain energy from the family that might otherwise be available for more creative, productive pursuits (such as communication).

The child doing homework at the kitchen table sits in a position of power, at the center of a potential cyclone that he can set to swirling simply by acting incompetent.

It's not that the child wants to be incompetent; it's that he can't resist the temptation. The attention he gets is addicting. The more he gets, the more he thinks he needs, the more he wants. And since the only way to get it (or so he thinks) is to act helpless, he acts increasingly helpless.

B. You, the parent, stay out of the child's homework unless the child asks for your assistance. Don't ask questions like, "Do you need any help with your homework?" or "How can you do homework with the music playing?" or even "Do you have any homework today?"

Now, this is not to say that you should never help, because you can, but only if the child asks. Likely as not, however, the child won't ask for help from his room nearly as often as he would if he was seated at the kitchen table.

If the child asks for help, and the request is legitimate, then parents should help. When they do, it should be for only one of two reasons: First, because the child is "stuck" at some point, has given it his all and truly needs adult guidance to get unstuck. Second, because he has finished his homework, but wants someone to check it. In either instance, help should be brief and encouraging.

Parental involvement should rarely last longer than 15 minutes, with the norm being closer to five minutes. If 15 minutes won't do it, then the parents should consider refering the problem back to the child's teacher, even if that means the work might be late.

C. Set a time limit on homework. The child should decide when to begin, but parents should decide when to call "time." The deadline should be consistent, say 8:00 every evening, but can be temporarily suspended for special projects and when the child needs more time to study for major tests. The shortest route to a nightly homework marathon is to tell a child when to begin but not when he must be done.

This teaches time management, one of homework's seven hidden values.

Copyright 2019, John K. Rosemond

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