Ending the Homework Headache Part 2: Diagnosis

May 17, 2011 at 8:39 pm Leave a comment

Now that you have collected a week’s worth of data on your child’s homework, it’s time to diagnose the type of Homework Headache you’ve been experiencing.

Headache Type: Parent Pressure

You spent the week keeping your nose out of your child’s homework, and things magically got better. Your son completed homework without arguing and the two of you have never gotten along better.  He even let you play with his new ipad for a minute.  What gives? You, my friend, were suffering from a Parent Pressure Homework Headache.   You have to admit it . . . the problem is YOU.  But the good news is the cure is at your fingertips!

When it comes to getting involved with your child’s homework, less is more.    Sure, you need to check in occasionally, but your child has proven that nagging isn’t necessary.  So step back, get a new hobby to fill your now-empty evenings, and enjoy the less-stress lifestyle.  If you find you have trouble letting go of all the homework drama, enlist your partner, especially if he or she is more laid back!

Headache Type: Teacher Trauma

You diligently went through your daughter’s planner all week but you could barely understand what was written–the assignments read like bad translations of furniture diagrams. There were worksheets with missing directions and project sheets that looked like space shuttle blueprints.  Your daughter complains that the teacher constantly loses things that are handed in. The amount of work your child is expected to do is completely unreasonable. You might have a case of the Teacher Trauma Homework Headache.

Although we would like to believe that all teachers are caring and capable, sometime in the course of his schooling your child might get a teacher who leaves something to be desired.  Maybe the teacher is disorganized  or he has unreasonable standards.  If your gut tells you that the problem lies with the teacher, not your child, here’s what to do about it:

Talk to the teacher himself–don’t go above his head.  Explain the problem in clear, unemotional terms: “Bubba is finding the homework directions to be difficult to follow.”  Give the teacher a compliment, as long as it’s genuine: “I appreciate how passionate you are about math, and I think it shines through when you assign a project.”  Offer a solution: “Can we help Bubba understand the steps he needs to take by giving him a checklist or rewording the directions?”  Or if the problem is too much work, tell the teacher you will stop your child after X number of minutes of working, and that you’ll write a note on an assignment about why it was taking so long.

The teacher will probably go along with what you are suggesting–that’s the easy part.  The hard part is follow-though.  So immediately after talking to the teacher, follow up with a quick email that thanks him for his time and reiterates what you two decided.  This will serve as a reminder for the teacher and a paper trail for you.  If the teacher does not follow through with rewriting the directions or giving a checklist, send the assignment back, uncompleted, with a note about why your child won’t be doing the work until it’s clear.  This might get tricky, especially if your child will be penalized for the missing assignment, but you won’t know until you try.  If this doesn’t work, send another email.  If the problem persists, you are justified going to the principal, but do this as a last resort–most teachers will do anything to appease an angry parent before it escalates to the level of principal involvement.

Headache Type: Distraction

After the week of careful observation, you’re wondering why you never noticed it before–your daughter is a distracted, fidgeting bundle of energy.  She sits down to do homework, gets up to get a drink, forgets her pencil in the kitchen, calls a friend, watches TV, and then works for 30 seconds.  She complains that homework takes soooooo long.   The solution to this one depends on your child’s personality and the reason for all the distraction.  Is it only about homework?  Then, the solution is simple:  help your child set up routines that get homework completed quickly and efficiently so that the rest of the evening can be fun time. Talk with your child to brainstorm what might work best:  snack before starting; caddy full of pencils, calculator, erasers, and anything else that might be needed; a timer for your child to set for 15-minute bursts of productivity; a homework space with no TV, phone, or other distractions.  Maybe during one 15-minute session, you can do some cleaning or exercise, so you and your child can be moral support for each other!

If your child’s whole life is a disorganized mess, then it will take a bit more work to tackle.  Remember, you’re not going to change your forgetful, disorganized child into a neat-freak perfectionist (and hopefully you wouldn’t want to!)  But you can help her learn some tools to overcome hernatural tendencies at least temporarily.  You also need to pick your battles–if you’re going to make homework a top priority, you might need to give up the dream of your daughter ever having a clean room–at least until she moves out.

Headache Type: Developmental

As a teacher, it is very difficult to assign homework that will be at the right level for every student.  In fact, the whole idea that every kid at a given grade level will be ready and able to meet the given benchmarks is preposterous.  Kids are all different, so one child’s nightmare assignment is a breeze for a classmate.

Developmental Homework Headaches are caused when your child is asked to do work that she is not ready for.  You’ll spot this headache by the desperation your child feels.  Maybe she cries over homework each night, or seeks to avoid it.  Maybe she finishes a math page, slowly and carefully, only to get them all wrong.  Maybe you’re frustrated because you don’t understand why she doesn’t get it.

If the problem is just homework, and not classwork, then ask the teacher to change the homework that your daughter is required to do.  If a math page is too hard, maybe she can work on her math facts for 20 minutes.  If the reading is above her head, maybe she can read a picture book aloud to you.  Work with the teacher to find a solution–especially one that doesn’t give the teacher more work, so she’ll be more inclined to go along with you.

Is homework just the tip of the iceberg?  Is your child falling behind in class, too? This one’s the hardest to handle.  There’s no way around it–the conventional school system is not designed to meet kids where they are, and some kids just get chewed up and spit out.  So the first thing you have to do is accept your child for who she is and make sure she knows it.  Make sure she knows that you’ll love her if she fails the math test and even if she drops out of school to join the circus.   Be open with her about her struggles in school–maybe she has some insight into why things are difficult.  Is her school a good fit?  Is there another option that might be better–homeschooling or going to private school?  Is there a way to get her extra support, either at school or with a tutor?  You might have to be creative to find a solution.   I believe that every kid can learn and deserves to be in an environment that supports learning at every level.  Unfortunately, not all schools share this sentiment.  But remember, somewhere–either in your community or elsewhere–there are people who experienced the same headache–and heartbreak–you are going through.  Seek them out and try their solutions.

Good luck with the Homework Headaches!  Let me know if any of these tips worked for you in the comments below.

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Ending the Homework Headaches Part One: Collecting Data Book Review: Connection Parenting

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