So homework has gotten out of control: it is too much, it has become irrelevant, it is too often contentious, it eclipses and prevents family relaxation and playtime, and induces so much stress for the child and parents as to be counterproductive.
So what should a caring parent do?
Parents have to make choices for their own child, independent of what other parents do.
The most important factor to remember is that the school works for you—not the other way around. Without you, teachers and administrators do not have a job. You have significant power.
It is imperative that parents develop and maintain an appropriate perspective and attitude about school. There are two extremes, both of which are harmful. The first presumes that school is meaningless. The second presumes that a child’s performance in elementary and Junior High school are more important than anything else in life. This is the presumption that hurts a great many children and families.
A child’s grades in grade school have zero impact on the child’s future success. None. Zip. Zilch. If the child is learning concepts, learning responsibility, and learning how to learn and study, then the child is getting what he or she needs out of school. Grades do not matter. If we act as if grades are paramount, many children will become anxious about their performance and will begin to catastrophize—view minor failures on assignments or tests as an omen of future failure in life. This is tragic for children.
Here’s how the thinking goes: “Junior, if you don’t do well in school, you’re not going to get a good job. So study hard, get good grades, and you’ll be successful and happy.”
The child then begins to believe that any failure on any test is a harbinger of doom: “If I do poorly on this test or this assignment, I will not get into a good college. If I don’t get into a good college, I won’t get a good job. If I don’t get a good job, I won’t be successful. If I’m not successful, no one will want me and I will live in a cardboard box on the side of the road.”
That is catastrophic thinking; I see it all the time today, not just with teenagers, but with grade school children!
So individually, teach your children the value of learning, rather than performance. Frankly, it’s tough for teachers whose livelihood is based on the child’s test performance. This is one of the most asinine inventions that has ever been foisted on our education system. But in the end, it’s not your problem to worry about. It’s the teacher’s and school’s.
Focus on good learning, homework, and study habits with your child. As long as Junior is doing the basics in those departments, he is doing fine. Leave him alone.
If you believe your child is doing too much homework, then, put a cap on it. It is entirely your right as a parent to say, “Two hours is far too much for a nine-year-old to do. Whatever he gets done in 45 minutes is what gets done. The teacher will have to be satisfied with that.” Tell the teacher about your child’s struggles and suggest less homework, more time to complete it during the daytime with teacher supervision, or different teaching methods for your child.
Finally, you must set up a reasonably conducive homework routine for your child.
–Homework should be completed in a place with as few distractions as possible.
–Homework should never be done with TV, radio, or cell phone on.
–Make sure Junior has plenty of light.
–Homework should be done independently. If the child cannot do it on his or her own, it should not be done. Period. You have far more important things to do in the evening than tutor your child. Other than answering a question here or there and quizzing the child for a test, studies should be done on their own.
–Make sure there is time for a reward after homework is complete. I’m not talking about something huge. But time to watch TV, listen to music, cuddle with Mom or Dad with a book, talk to a friend on the phone, or just relax are all rewards for a job well done. If the child does not have time to do this, the motivation for completing schoolwork will naturally plummet.