by Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller
Homework can be a battle or a breeze. It can create conflict or cooperation. It can produce tension or focused attention. Which of these outcomes occurs in your home depends in great measure on how you talk to your children during that important time period. To help your child's homework experience be productive and stress free, consider the following ten best things to say to him or her during homework time.
1. "It's study time." Don't even mention the word "homework." Have a study time, a study table, and study materials. Study time occurs whether there is homework or not. This eliminates the common child response, "But I don't have any homework." Some parents prefer to call this time period feed the brain time. Whether you call it study time or feed the brain time, it is important to make this a family commitment. We all feed our brains during this time. If you are not willing to make this commitment as a parent to feed your own brain during this important family time, don't ask your child to.
2. "Let me know if you want my help." Refrain from giving unsolicited help. Help that is not asked for is resented and is often not even needed. Give your child the space to ask for help if he needs it. Learning to ask for help is an important skill that every child needs to learn. So is struggling on your own for a while.
3. "Act as if you know." Children will often tell you, "I don't know how to do it." Resist showing them right away. They are doing their "I can't" act. Know that it is an act. Encourage them to choose a different act by saying, "Act as if you can." Other ways to send the same message include: "Pretend like you know how." "Play like you know." "If you did know how to begin, how would you begin?" "If you did know what to write, what would you write?" Asking children to "act as if" does not mean they will do it correctly. It gets them started. It gets them doing something. You can correct incorrect doing. Not doing anything is impossible to correct.
4. "You have a lot of assignments to do here. Which two do you think are the most important?" Do not let your children study for long periods of time. Family time is MORE important than study time. When the teachers give more than is doable in the study time you have structured (90 minutes for high school, 60 minutes for middle school, 30 minutes for elementary school), call the teachers and let them know they are assigning too much material. Ask your child, "Which two of your assignments do you think are most important?" This requires her to think and to set priorities, teaching her a valuable life skill in the process.
5. "Study time is over." Pushing beyond the set study time creates diminished results. Set a limit and stick to it. Hold to the set time schedule for study time.
6. "It's time for a time out." Frustration may occur. Suggest your child take a time out if you see her becoming overstressed. Shoot some baskets, ride bikes, go for a walk. Get away from the schoolwork for a while. When she comes back to study time, she will bring a fresh mind and a fresh attitude.
7. Use descriptive praise. Refrain from making evaluative comments such as "good job" or "excellent paper." These global remarks do little to teach why the effort was good or excellent. Instead, make your praise descriptive. Simply describe. "I can read every word." "This sentence got my attention and I wanted to keep reading." "You stayed right on it and finished that section in ten minutes." These factual statements give valuable information. Descriptive praise also allows the child to make the evaluation. When he says to himself, "I did a good job," the evaluation is coming from the inside out.
8. "Do you want me to check it?" Sometimes children want your checking help. Sometimes they do not. Let them make this decision.
9. "Let me show you an example." This is teaching, not doing it for them. Show your child a sample, example, or possibility. Allow her to decide how to apply your idea. Let her do the problems she was assigned.