Homework Hell-p

home work police, helpIn regards to Homework Hell-p!

I read a blog post not long ago by the mother of a 2nd grader who needed some guidance on how to help her child with homework. Without rehashing the entire blog post, here’s the gist of it. Her daughter had an assignment to do, and twiddled her thumbs for hours until mom started breathing down her neck; mom is now afraid that the child will flunk out of college and never learn a thing unless she continues to be the homework police, and, well, forget about dinner!

At the end of her article, this mom still didn’t have a strategy for how to deal with the homework issue. What she did have was a gut feeling that if she didn’t come up with a strategy for both her and her daughter, it could be a long 10 years.

First off, if this mom is anything like the parents who show up at a class I teach, she just might have a belief that children who dawdle while doing their homework will fail in school, won’t get into college, won’t get a good job and will lead a less than successful life. I know, it’s a little over the top, but these “beliefs” that we have can wreak havoc on us and on our kids’ lives.

If you are one of these parents who have strong beliefs about homework, take a step back and remember that this child (or yours) is in second grade and working on the first big homework assignment of her life. Of course she is dawdling—she doesn’t really know what is expected of her yet!

Second, if mom wants to become the homework police—and stay the homework police for the remainder of this child’s academic career—then she did the right thing by breathing down her neck. And she better get good at it because she has at least another eleven years of poking and prodding to do.

Ah, you hadn’t considered this, had you? That’s one of the pickles parents get themselves into. They create a habit, or a short-term solution to a long-term challenge, and find themselves doing things for years that started out as a “one time only” proposition.

What could she (or you) do if she doesn’t want to be the homework police and has better things to do than micromanage her daughter’s life? She could do—are you ready?—nothing. Yup, that’s right—nothing. At least for a while. At least until she begins to understand more about how her daughter views homework.

This little second grader is never going to learn how to manage her time or how she best gets things done without figuring that out herself. Our kids don’t learn time management because we tell them which assignment to do, when to do it and how it should be done. They learn by not turning in an assignment, dealing with the aftermath and then coming up with a plan so that it never happens again. (Okay, if it never happens again at 45, you can consider yourself a success.)

My recommendation to this mom? Relax! Your daughter is only in second grade and has a long time to figure out how to manage her time to get everything done. Let her dawdle and doodle, and let her get a C or an F on the assignment. You can be sure that learning is taking place and, after all, isn’t that what school is for? Instead of standing over her shoulder, you will be free to… do what you like, including having the resources to be happy, friendly and available for your children if they happen to experience disappointment as they learn.

8 thoughts on “Homework Hell-p

  1. This is helpful, but what if you have a special needs child (also in second grade) who has problems organizing her work, getting focused on the task at hand and basically a real hard time learning the concepts expected in the homework (all due to the child’s particular medical condition)? Would the guidance be the same? Thank you!

  2. Hi,

    I understand how frustrating it can be when children have special needs which makes an already difficult situation (homework) even more challenging.

    However, the same approach will work with a bit of tweaking. The most important thing is this – Observe. Observe your child when they are at their best, when they are feeling confident, when they are tackling a challenge. Watch what skills, strengths, abilities, insights they may have that can be overlooked. Learn from your child before you try to teach. Then…

    1. Keep in mind your child’s unique abilities and how these abilities will assist the child in this situation.
    2. List their strengths so that you put together a system that draws on these strengths.
    3. Set realistic goals for yourself and teach your child how to set goals for herself.
    4. You mentioned 3 things – organization, focus, concept learning. Break each one of these down and begin to teach her about them outside of the homework environment. How does she organize? When does she organize, what does she organize, how long can she organize before she gets frustrated, etc. This is your starting point. The same is true with focus on conceptual learning.
    5. Go slow. If you are familiar with the Road Map concept in the program, use this to help you plot a course, identify and acknowledge progress and improvement; set milestones for celebration and create new Road Maps as your child progresses through her academic career.

    Be Well,

  3. I think I have the opposite problem. I don’t want to be the homework police and certainly don’t even know how to do today’s math so I leave my 10 year old alone with it. And it seems like the constant message from her teacher is that she has trouble turning in her homework, she doesn’t finish it, its done halfway. The teacher has consequences like staying in for recess, but guess what – my daughter told me likes to stay in for recess! I think she likes the one on one attention. So I am wondering how does she learn to do her very best and try harder to succeed instead of just being okay. Always barely meeting the standards. How do I teach her that working hard brings real rewards? and that she should try her best in all that she does without nagging and criticizing because we know that doesn’t work!

  4. Hi,

    I know it is important for today’s parents that their children “do their best”, that “hard work” pays off, but let’s get real here.

    Your child is 10. Can you give her another 10 years to learn a lesson some 30 year olds NEVER learn?

    Here is what you can do.

    1. Acknowledge that her solution is perfect for her. Why not stay in if you don’t like recess. Beautiful. So celebrate her ingenuity. HMMM – I think she is “doing her best” in this situation, it just doesn’t match with what you want.

    2. Keep talking with her by asking her questions about “best work”, “hard work”, etc. She needs to make a connection for herself in order to use this information. Your experience doesn’t mean anything to her. So be creative and keep looking for that opportunity that will have her experiencing her own “aha” moment.

    Keep me posted.


  5. Hello, Vicki! I know it’s been a while since you posted this blog posting, but I am wondering what to do about a kid who really doesn’t care about his grades much in school. I was a kid who didn’t do my homework and although I got “that tummy ache” when I got to school, I somehow had good grades despite my laziness. However, my little 1st grader has homework and tests and he doesn’t give a rip whether he does well or not. I don’t even know if he totally understands the implications of having good grades vs bad.

    Now, I wouldn’t care about this so much (he’s in first grade!) but his teacher is an absolute whacko. She’s more strict than anything (have to fold their hands and look forward when not writing, can’t take more than one paper towel in the bathroom on and on) Anyway, she’s said that if he doesn’t pass his grades, he won’t go to 2nd grade. He is failing a few classes and is smart as a whip. We had him tested and he’s on grade level, just doesn’t want to work. There are no other teachers we can pick. So, in order to get him through this woman, and because I know he’s smart enough to do the work in a passing fashion, I’m frustrated. If let him choose his own homework path at night, he leaves it untouched in his folder. She just writes “incomplete” and sends it back to me. She gives no consequences. I’ve even told her we’re working on more independence and giving him the chance to choose when (or if) he does his work and could she please have some kind of help in this, she won’t support us by having any other natural consequences other than in May when he is held back.

    I’ve spoken with the superintendent about her, but I’m still wondering how to encourage him to care without shaming him and letting him know that he isn’t going to second grade if he doesn’t work. Thx.

    1. Hi Wendy,
      Here are my thoughts.

      1. I would reconsider your belief that kids who don’t find value in (and in turn don’t complete) homework being lazy. It is not true. Your child can feel your thoughts. We must believe in our children if we wish them to believe in themselves.
      2. I don’t believe for a minute that your kid does not want to do well. I would find out what his goal is. Depending upon what he is trying to communicate or accomplish he might be “doing well” and right on track.
      3. I know you are worried that he won’t make it to second grade. This outcome is puzzling to me. Seems as though if you had him tested and he is on grade level, the emphasis on homework is misplaced and all this fuss is guaranteed to make it worse. I would find out if this is in fact true or you are being threatened with a consequence yourself.
      4. Have you taken a Parenting On Track Class or read Duct Tape Parenting? A blog post comment is not going to be able to address all of your questions and I don’t know what concepts you are familiar with.
      5. Kids in 1st grade worrying about grades? That is disturbing. Read The Homework Myth by Alfie Kohn or the Case Against Homework by Sarah Bennett and Nancy Kalish.
      6. Where do you live? We are offering a workshop for parents and teachers and I highly recommend you consider registering. Rick Ackerly, author of “The Genius in Every Child” is coming to Burlington, VT and offering strategies for parents and teachers to become partners in education and work together in the child’s best interest. http://www.vickihoefle.com/rickackerly If you can’t come to the workshop, read Rick’s book.
      Thanks – Vicki

      1. Thanks Vicki. I just ordered Duct Tape Parenting today from amazon glad I have free two day shipping!!

        I live near Pittsburgh. Wish there was a way to take a class live but my husband and I have talked about buying the parenting on track program in lieu.

        You’ve given me much to think about here. I’m sure ill have more answers or ways to think of answers once we read the book

        I wish my sons teacher would read Alfie kohn. I have read some short articles based on his thinking. All of my sons grades are based on test grades and we have to study read or do worksheets for an hour each night and he is still failing three subjects. 🙁


        1. Great. You can also read some articles by Rick Ackerly on http://www.rickackerly.org or http://www.geniusinchildren.org, he will offer some insight, as well. Please keep us posted on your questions as you read Duct Tape Parenting and the additional information we have suggested. If you find you want to continue a more in depth conversation, we offer an online forum with our Home Program where you can connect with me on a more personal level (blog post comments are difficult and cryptic) and a community of parents who practice the concepts in the book/program with their families. Lots of parents struggle with homework, communicating with teachers and how to best support their children’s success in school. We’re here if you want us.

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