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The Homework Wrestling Match

Which of the following two scenarios best describes your home?

(1) Just as the supper dishes are lifted from the table, books take their place and are arranged by little hands impatient to go to work. Minutes later the only sounds are the faint scratching of pencil lead and a child’s voice tinged with awe as he or she shares some newly discovered tidbit of knowledge.

(2) As the supper dishes are lifted from the table, the word homework triggers the start of a verbal wrestling match as your child whines and argues and deflects every encouragement to get the work done or whines for help in solving every problem.

For many families, some version of the second scenario more closely matches their regular household routine. What can a parent do to make the whole experience more productive for the student and more enjoyable for everyone?

First, if you suspect that your child may have a learning challenge that is frustrating him or her, ask yourself if the teacher has said anything that might confirm your suspicions. You may want to consult with the teacher.

Then have a non-confrontational talk with your child at a neutral time when homework isn’t on the table. You might conclude that the resistance or whining is a sign that he or she is overwhelmed with the schoolwork. Some people (children and adults) tend to see all the tasks before them as one big package and become paralyzed at the seeming enormity of what faces them. Those students are helped by breaking the tasks into smaller units. Do two math problems, or answer three reading questions. Then allow a short (two minute) exercise break. Then tackle the next two problems or questions.

But many students who whine about homework resist more from a lack of internal motivation to put forth the effort or energy that is needed. Let’s face it; we live in an age of fast food and technology and medicines to remedy just about everything. We have grown used to, and even expect, that everything happens quickly—preferably with little or no effort on our part. At least, our kids often have such an unrealistic view of how life should be.

As a parent, you can model a willingness to face and conquer challenges. Acknowledge that a difficult math problem is a challenge but that there is fulfillment in tackling a challenge and succeeding. Remind your child that all of our gifts and abilities come from God. Though we don’t all have the same intellectual gifts, the assurance of eternal life that is ours through Christ inspires all of us, as well as we can, to use the gifts we do have.

And you can train your child to think through challenging problems. Perhaps you can find a book of logic problems. On long car rides you can work together and learn the process of thinking through and solving the logic problems, a skill that will be useful in working through difficult school problems.

If your child quickly balks at challenging problems, saying “I don’t get it,” you might respond in a positive way, even by looking pleased and saying "I don't get it," you might respond in a positive way, even by looking pleased and saying something like this: "That means we have to call in the detectives and search for clues.  And what would a good detective look for?" Then you lead your child through the discovery process, praise every "detective" effort that is demonstrated.  As the child's confidence grows and he or she demonstrates more and more the ability to handle things, you might go to a different part of the house while your child does the homework. If he or she has to carry a heavy book up a flight of steps to get your help, your child may decide to give it another try before looking for help.

Few children look forward to homework all of the time. But your positive encouragement can nurture the understanding that solving challenges is a healthy part of our growth.

Prepared by the staff of Parents Crosslink, from Parents Crosslink © 2014 Northwestern Publishing House. All rights reserved.

Image credit: Patrice Audet (used under Creative Commons CC0)

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