Parents often ask me when they should step in to help their kids succeed in school and when they should back off and let them fail.
After several years of combat duty on the homework battlefield, I have no trouble encouraging other parents to take the leadership role after some good basic training of the troops. Give them a good foundation of habits and then back off.
Early in a child’s education career, he or she needs our guidance to learn the school’s and our expectations and how to meet them. We need to actively show our children how to meet or beat the requirements set by their teachers.
Many schools even require teachers to present the students with rubrics by which the students will be measured in a given task. When this is the case, a parent can easily go over the rubric with the child and reiterate that the items listed are exactly what is expected of the student. Parents should explain, depending on the abilities of the child, that he or she should meet or beat the expectations of the teacher.
For a child above the primary grades, at this point, the parent should back off until the end of the task. When the child thinks he or she is finished with the project, the parent can then look it over and make suggestions as to how to make improvements, if appropriate.
In my own home, I find that second grade is the key age to make a big difference in the path the child will take toward academic success.
My kids are in grades: Eight, Five, Two and preschool. My Eighth grader and Fifth grader each tested the waters of what they could get away with as far as homework and projects are concerned in first or second grade.
My now eighth grader, Zack, would feign helplessness. He would ask questions at every stage of his homework. Finally, his second grade teacher, Mrs. Larson, whom I will never forget, said I needed to tell him to do the work on his own. She said he was more than capable of doing the work and doing it well. He was using me as a crutch and if I didn’t put a stop to it then, it would probably never stop. She gave me great advice. She told me to make a homework space for him and get him settled and comfortable in it and to tell him not to come out until his work was complete. (Bathroom breaks were permitted, of course.)
I followed her guidance and, wouldn’t you know it, it worked! It took me a while longer to learn my lesson, though, I remember, vividly, the relief map/diorama I “helped” him make during his unit on Native Tribes.
Now in grade eight, Zack does a pretty good job getting his work done. He overcomes a lot to get there, too. His Asperger’s Syndrome throws a lot of obstacles at him but we work together as a team to keep him organized and despite road bumps here and there, he does a great job and my input is more limited than could have been the case.
We keep a separate calendar, in a prominent place in the kitchen, for special projects and long term assignments so they don’t get put off until the last minute and we keep notes on the white board in the kitchen for weekly to do lists.
My now 11 year old presents slightly different challenges. Dwight asks for help less frequently but if I’m in the room, he will test to see how many questions I’ll answer for him. I tried to banish him to a “homework cave” but that method failed with him. He does best working in the kitchen where there is activity going on and does not like to work alone. So, when I find he is asking questions I think he doesn’t need me for, I conveniently find that the laundry needs to be transferred, or one of the other boys needs something. Most of the time, by the time I return from completing my task, Dwight has figured out the problem and moved on with the next.
Dwight is fully on his own when it comes to class projects, other than a little constructive input or guidance. I do not touch his work. It is HIS work and not mine and I make that very clear. “I’ve told him that I already graduated, so I don’t have to do school projects. Now it is his turn. So far, so good.
Young Bob is bright, like his brothers, and has no trouble with his homework, except when he misreads the directions. Until recently, I’d only get an occasional question for clarification of instructions but he completed his work quickly and, for the most part, without errors.
Now, though, he is bored with the work and somehow “forgets” he has homework. I should be better about checking the online “blackboard” the teacher posts to, but I admit, that is something I’ve let slide. I feel deeply that it should not be the responsibility of the parent to take an extra step to monitor the child’s homework. When Bob failed to turn in his weekly word study for the first time, he got a stern reprimand from me and while the teacher said he didn’t need to do it over the weekend, mean mom (me) said he did have to do it.
He tried one more time to tell me he didn’t have homework but I pressed and learned he did. I gave him a final warning. “Homework is to be completed on time and turned in to the teacher or privileges will be lost.” My job is to be firm but loving, not a pushover. Parenting is hard, it’s a job to be done. We can, and should, snuggle our kids at bedtime. Homework time is not the time for coddling.
The boys have full control over whether they suffer consequences at school at at home. Do the work and everything is great. Don’t do the work and grades suffer and Mom takes away ipods and screen time. It is a simple equation.
I know that my methods and stick-to-it-iveness get more fine-tuned as each of my boys goes through the early elementary years. Hopefully, by the time Harold reaches 2nd grade, I’ll be near perfect. I should be, but probably won’t be. I’ll be better, though, and he’ll be better off because of it.
As Zack enters high school, I am glad we set good habits at the start of his academic path. It isn’t an easy road but we march on and learn as we go. Establishing these routines sets the boys up, as best we can, for success in school and wherever they land after graduation.