It’s 10 AM on a Saturday morning and my son is meant to be completing his school homework. We have a fun afternoon planned but he has three pieces of work to finish. 10 minutes in, I spot him slumped over his table, twirling his pen, staring into space. I try to be patient and supportive.
“Hi dearie, try to focus on your work so that we can go out to play later?”
The advice falls on deaf ears. He is now lying down on his chair while attempting to learn his spelling — his other homework left unfinished on the table.
“Would you like to sit up straight so you can focus better?”
1 hour later, he has barely made any progress. I am about to speak when the following words come out of his mouth, “Can you please stop nagging at me, mum?”
I am furious. I’m not nagging. “It’s for your own good!” I tell him. The conversation spirals. Doors are slammed. Tears are shed. All over a few pieces of homework.
Am I the only one facing this? Homework is ruining our relationship. So much of my conversation within a day consists of: What homework do you have today? Have you done your homework? When is your spelling? Have you packed your bag?
I want my child to be responsible, be able to prioritise, and reach his potential in school and in life. But I don’t want him to hate me. I want to guide my child as a parent AND I want him to feel that he can confide in me about his life and the difficulties he faces.
Something had to change.
Then I came across Dr William Stixrud and Ned Johnson’s book, The Self-Driven Child. The authors recommend that instead of nagging, arguing and constant reminding to repeat the mantra, “I love you too much to fight with you about your homework.”
Teachers can teach, coaches can coach but there’s one thing that only parents can do — and that is to love our children unconditionally and provide them with a safe haven at home.
In our hyper-competitive academic culture, home should be a safe haven, a place to rest and recover.
The goal is to help our children to take responsibility for their own academic journey. We can help them build their internal motivation to learn, and a part of this process involves dealing with the often dreaded task of homework.
Giving our children choices and letting them decide is critical to growing their sense of ownership over their studies. So here are some topics/questions you can discuss with your child to help avoid homework wars at home:
- Let’s plan a regular homework (and play) schedule together
Whether your child is at home in the afternoons or at student care, it helps to have a regular routine to set expectations for both parent and child. Slot in a reasonable time every day for homework and revision. You may even want to include particular days to revise spelling.
Please also include (in big, bright colours) their play time and rest time. One of the secrets to avoid being overly stressed out is to ensure our kids regularly do things that they enjoy.
Even with a regular routine, my kids still drag their feet when moving from one activity to the next (usually just before starting homework). Factor in some leeway for that too!
One of the secrets to avoid being overly stressed out is to ensure our kids regularly do things that they enjoy.
- What do you think will help you re-focus when you get distracted?
We can let our kids try out different ways to help them focus better during homework time. Even if they pick something we may not necessarily like, let them try it and review its effectiveness in a week or two.
Here are some ideas you can use to kick off your discussions.
- Spend 5 minutes to pack. A neater workspace helps clear away distractions.
- Pomodoro 25: In this technique, you work for 25 min and take a break for 5 minutes. My son and I use this a lot with the help of a physical timer.
- Pick a reward: Extrinsic rewards like television time, or some other form of point system may be particularly helpful when trying to build a habit. But be warned that research shows that extrinsic rewards don’t help to build motivation. Nonetheless, this is a favourite with my kids.
- Listen to some music
- Have a snack
- Take a break: Conventional wisdom tells us that children ought to finish their homework before they should be allowed to have a break or play. But if their attention and energy is already spent, forcing them to sit and try for another 30 minutes is not going to help them complete their assignment. Even as adults, we know that sometimes we are no longer able to focus and just need to rest.
- Are you managing your homework better today than you were yesterday (or last week or last month)?
Our kids need to see that they are growing. Oftentimes, growth takes place without them even realising it. As their parents and greatest cheerleaders, we should be the first to empathise with their struggles and affirm their growth. It would be great if we could identify specifically how their efforts and strategies are helping them. For example, “I noticed that you tried very hard this week to sit up straight while doing your work. It has helped your writing improve.” “Your spelling is getting better…I think it’s because you have been learning one word a day over the week.”
If my child completes his homework but ends up hating me in the process, I would have won the battle but lost the war.
- Why do you think it’s important to do homework?
Our children must understand the purpose behind homework before they even have the desire to complete it. Even reasons like “because the teacher says so” or “it helps me do well for tests” need to be recognised. Homework helps to build a child’s sense of responsibility — as well as the ability to take instructions and follow a task through to completion.
Over time, we can help our kids see the power of practice — they gain mastery over topics that they were not so good at previously through effort. Even though some of the things they have to learn may have little application in real life, remind them that learning new things helps them exercise and grow their brain to be able to tackle other problems in future.
We also have to consider whether we are willing to let our kids go to school with incomplete homework — be it a consequence of procrastination or simply too much homework to complete.
For me, if my child completes his homework but ends up hating me in the process, I would have won the battle but lost the war. So from one mum fighting in the trenches to another, let’s chant together, “I love you too much to fight with you about homework. I love you too much to fight with you about homework.”
© 2021 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved.
Sue-Anne Wu is a nature seeker and an avid reader. She manages her 4 rambunctious boys (aged 1 to 10) with a healthy dose of optimism and several shots of coffee.
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