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Archive for September, 2008

For most of us, Labor Day exists primarily to mark the end of summer and beginning of school, schedules, and structure.  As a parent, I love the easy, long days of summer that are unblemished by a myriad of activities. I find that what we dislike most about the onset of school is the homework.  Homework is not fun!  But problems arise when we allow the assignments our children bring home to become our work and responsibility.  Many of my family sessions revolve around the topic of homework and of the unfortunate dynamic that it creates.
My first suggestion is to remember that homework is your child’s responsibility.  Most good educators believe that the intent of homework is to reinforce skill sets that were introduced in the classroom.  Simply stated, your son or daughter should already understand the concepts of any assignment brought home and should be able to complete the activity independently. Undoubtedly, there will be times that a concept is difficult and need explanation; but explaining is not the same as doing the work with them or for them.  In the early elementary years, depending on the maturity of your child, you might need to sit next to them to model appropriate academic behavior.  Try, however, to get them use to do their work independently.   To ease yourself into this new habit, you might try having your own “assignment” to do.  If your student needs you to be in close proximity, read a newspaper or book.  You are close by to offer assistance and are also modeling wonderful, life-long learner behaviors.  Slowly try to move further away by doing activities that allow for you to check-in frequently.  Many have found success by preparing dinner while their child sits at the kitchen table.  The goal is to be able to act as a coach and not a teammate. A coach teaches the skills before the game and then players are on their own.  You should be on the sidelines cheering and encouraging, not in the middle of the action!
Secondly, allow for breaks and fun.  Your child has been in school for a minimum of six hours and many have been in a structured setting even longer due to aftercare and enrichment activities.  I always recommend experimenting with your child to find out what works best.  Some kids can easily sit down and finish an assignment knowing that they will have time for play once they are finished.  Others will need breaks either before they begin or in the middle of the assignment.   As an active observer, you will find the rhythm that works best for your student.  (Remember that sugary after-school snacks might cause excitability followed by exhaustion. You might want to save the sugar until after homework is complete.)
My third and most important suggestion is to allow for mistakes.  Typically, before your child is in high school, nothing is “transcriptable.”  This means that not doing your homework in third grade one night will not prevent your son or daughter from going to the Ivy Leagues.  If your child refuses to do their homework, let them go and face the natural consequences of their actions.  It is important to try not to alter the family schedule to compensate for poor choices.  If homework is not completed before bedtime and remorse has already set in, encourage your child to think a solution.  This solution should not be to stay up late or to miss school the next day.  Thanks to technology, you could covertly let the teacher know of your struggles and perhaps collaborate to help motivate.  Most kids will not enjoy having to go into school without their assignment.  Mistakes are often the best teachers.
Not all families or students are created equal. If your child struggles, talk to a professional.  Your first line of defense should be their teacher.  A simple phone call or email should educate you about the teacher’s philosophies of homework and about the time it should be taking to complete the assignments.  If it is taking longer than expected on a daily basis, ask for a conference so that he or she might be able to help you to understand your child’s issues.  Evaluate the situation together.  If it is a behavioral issue, you might want to discuss suggestions with a guidance counselor or family therapist about ways to positively reinforce your student.  You are not alone in this struggle and counselors have some “tried and true” techniques that will assist you.  If the homework is causing stress because of academic deficiencies than these same struggles are evident in the classroom.  All schools have a built in system, often called Child Study or Collaborative Problem Solving, to address behavioral and academic issues.  These meetings consist of a panel of specialized educators who will work to help address concerns that are specific to your child.  Interventions will be created for both school and home to help address these hurdles.  If these interventions are not effective, the school will make recommendations for further evaluation.
Finally, try to understand your child’s needs, capabilities, and limits as well as your own.  You graduated from school already; now it is your child’s turn. One of the hardest things as a parent is to let our children fail.  But, if they never fail then they will be robbed of the elation of success.  You are the most influential teacher that your child will ever have.  If you can teach independence, organization, and problem solving, you are well on your way to creating a self-sufficient, successful adult.

Elizabeth Stabinski is an experienced therapist who has a passion for counseling children, adolescents and adults with extremely challenging social and emotional issues. She received her Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Michigan, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts and her Master’s Degree in Mental Health, Marriage & Family, and Guidance Counseling from Barry University.

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