This is the second in a two part series on homework. The first part, called “How a Grade 3 Book Report Turned into a Parenting Life Lesson for Me” was written by my friend and colleague Mary Strachan, the Founder of Fresh Perspectives and mother of two.
Nobody Likes Homework – Or?
By Angelika Baum
For the past ten years, I have been trying to convince my oldest daughter to throw out an old school project that was taking up room in the closet. It was a huge model of an airport runway, buildings and model planes attached to it. She made this project in grade two—or so we think. We also cannot remember anymore what the title of the assignment was. Yet, this project had become like a fifth limb to her. It had turned into the perfect representation of her creative ability. It was probably one of her first experiences of being resourceful and able to produce something that looked good and felt good. For this project she had to “interview” two people who worked at the airport. Ironically, she works at the airport herself today. The project—or what was left of it after all those years—stood for being able to achieve anything she sets her mind to.
As a teacher as well as a parent, I have seen children come into school with these elaborate and perfect projects which have so clearly been 80% produced by a parent. Have you ever wondered what is underneath this? Could it be our fear that our child will not be able to compete without us?
Let’s sit for a moment with the beliefs that cause this fear in us.
Does our story go a little bit like this? “It’s a tough world out there. It’s hard to compete with others. If you don’t get good grades in school you are not going to get a ‘good job’, and if you do not get a ‘good job’, you will not make ‘enough money’, and if you do not make ‘enough money’, you won’t be happy.”
Sometimes the fear story goes “My child is different. He/she is too sensitive/has too much energy/ADD/etc. Unless my child learns to be ‘normal’, he/she is lost and is going to fail in the system.”
Just notice your fear story. Be compassionate with yourself for having it. It was probably instilled long time ago by your own parents and your own experiences. Also ask what it would be like to let go of that story and trust that everything is alright. And what would it be like to trust our children to be smart, complete and resourceful? If we are packing their symbolic luggage to go out into the world, what would we like them to have in that suitcase of theirs?
What limiting beliefs do we teach our children by doing their homework for them?
“I cannot do my homework by myself.” Or more specifically, “I am not good enough (smart, creative, etc) to do it myself.” Maybe even, “I cannot do anything by myself; why even try.” He or she learns, “I am not good at problem solving” and “Homework is overwhelming.” And most limiting of all, “I need my parent in order to get through life and to compete with others. In order to make it through life I need help.”
It does not even have to be a project, regular everyday homework provides the opportunity for either learning limiting or supportive beliefs. Now that school is in full swing again, many parents find homework time stressful. Emotions fly high, tears roll and there is a lot of struggle when the experience could be completely different.
Am I saying that we shouldn’t under any circumstances support our children with their homework? Not at all. But there is a difference between supporting them and doing it for them. It’s the difference between teaching them strong beliefs about themselves and teaching them limiting beliefs about themselves, school and life.
Is homework a big dramatic event in your household? Do you have a child who puts all his or her energy into not doing the work or into whining about it? Do you hear “I don’t want to do this,” “I can’t do this,” or “I don’t know this” a lot? Do you find yourself being pulled into endless repetitive games around the school work?
If this is your household, your child most likely believes that learning and homework are hard and not fun. Instead of embracing the homework as easy and enjoyable, your child puts his or her entire energy into fighting the situation.
How different would life be like for this child if he or she had the following beliefs?
- I can do most of my homework by myself. If I need assistance, it is given to me.
- I can think for myself and problem solve. If I need further clues, I can ask for them.
- I am good at reading, writing and problem solving.
- I am smart and I can do whatever I set my mind to.
- I have the choice to make homework pleasant and I do.
- I like doing my homework and I am good at it.
- My homework is my responsibility and I do it as soon as I can.
- I always complete my homework efficiently.
- I do my best in school and my best is always good enough.
Now you might be thinking, “Sure! When pigs fly!”
I promise you that you CAN shift the energy in your house—but you need to start with yourself.
Do you truly believe that homework can be fun and easy? Or do you feel burdened by it and are secretly thinking, “It’s the teacher’s job to teach my kids in school, not mine at home on the weekend!” Watch how you are responding to the homework; how do you feel when it’s homework time; how are you are talking about it?
We also need to be conscious of our own fears and not pass them on without questioning their measure of truth and their usefulness. Is it more likely that our children will thrive in life when they are living in fear, or when they are embracing new challenges and tasks with curiosity and joy?
How different would your family life be if you embraced your child’s school work not as an evil which has to be done but as something positive? Show interest in what they are doing in school, supply an everyday context for what they are learning, or be impressed by the amazing knowledge or skills that your child is currently acquiring.
Provide applications for what they are doing in school. Math, for example, is abstract if I am only writing numbers underneath each other and adding or subtracting single digits. Give your children money to buy something small rather than you buying everything. Point out prices and do calculations. When they ask, “How old is grandpa?” don’t give them the answer but say “Grandpa was born in 1945. How old do you think he is?” Life is full of mathematical calculations. Playfully practice the times tables and simple additions, subtractions and divisions. Most of all, know that you child can do this. They are smart enough to put their energy into avoiding thinking and doing homework. Just re-direct that curiosity and intelligence to playfully learning every day.
Walk your talk about learning and school work. Does your child see you read to relax or educate yourself? Do you enjoy when you have to write something? Do you approach problems with an attitude of I’ll find a solution rather than “I can’t do this”? Are you making time for creativity?
Nobody is perfect, so if you have noticed that you are not modelling to your child that thinking, learning and being creative are fun, be open about it. Say to your son or daughter, “I don’t read as much as I would like to. Let’s find some time each week for you and I to read together or sit in the same room reading.” Or “I think grandma would really like to get a letter. Let’s sit down together tomorrow and write one for her.” Or “When it comes to new things, I sometimes give up to fast. I want to change that. What do you think I should do?”
Children value transparency and truthfulness. Don’t get annoyed, angry or lecture. Don’t tell them stories about how you always did your homework right away when you were a student. Be honest and prepared to make changes yourself. Change your own attitude towards homework. Use it as an opportunity to connect and have fun with your children. School is their life; you can help them to enjoy it.
Coaching & Conscious Parenting
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