Start The Homework Routine Out Right


The Healthy Family Connections Podcast

Episode 127 · Duration: 00:14:07

Start The Homework Routine Out Right

Start The Homework Routine Out Right

What do you do when you see your spouse getting into a power struggle with your son over homework?  

And if you have a question you’d like me to address on this podcast, don’t be shy, we’ll all benefit from your question so come on over to my website, click on either For Families or For Treatment Programs, then click on any podcast and scroll down to the end where it says “submit your question” and enter it there and why not do it today.  And while you’re there, download a free copy of my Parental Burnout Recovery Guide.

Tricia from Eastern Canada writes:

I have a question I am hoping you could address on your podcast.

 My 9 year old son in grade 5 is getting nightly homework. He is pretty motivated to do his homework, but sometimes wants to put it off.  We have created a routine where we expect him to complete his homework in the evening after dinner and if there is time he can watch a bit of TV. Most nights are fairly smooth, but lately my husband has been getting frustrated with my son’s struggle to understand, focus and do his homework independently. In addition, he seems to be micromanaging it by saying even if his project is not due the next day, work on it to get it done ahead of time and my son is resisting. They are getting into power struggles and it is creating a lot of tension. 

Important background info: we have struggled to be on the same page with respect to discipline in the past. We are in couple therapy currently and working better together but I feel that homework should not take over & cause so much tension. My husband was a high achiever and very studious. He was from an immigrant family so the family narrative was education is very important. While my family was way more low key and there was very little pressure. 

I am thinking of suggesting to my husband that I take over the homework duty to help our son.  I’d pull back and have expectations that he attend to his homework but not micromanage it and see how he does: natural consequences. 

What are your thoughts on homework and how best to have expectations and build responsibility without creating so much tension. 

Thanks for your question here, Tricia. Let’s see what I can do for your family here.  Since you ask about my thoughts on homework, let me start there.

An Overview of the Situation

Homework has become a thorn in the side of many, many families, and there’s no reason for it.  Schools assign too much and research shows that it does little to improve learning. Learning of course is the main reason we have school.  What homework too often does is turn kids off to school, makes them feel like failures, creates family problems and takes opportunities away for families to have more creative engagement together and kids to do more things not school related such as art, music, games, sports, etc.

Off the soapbox-- now to your situation.

In the 5th grade he should have about a half hour for homework, middle school, maybe an hour, high school an hour and a half, no more than two hours.   

The good news is that he’s motivated and now it seems he’s having some difficulty with understanding, focusing and completing.

Fourth and fifth grades are grades where we often see the beginnings of some kind of learning difference.  You and your husband are smart accomplished professionals so it’s fair to assume your son is similarly smart and even though he’s motivated, he’s having some difficulties with understanding, focus and completion. 

Those could be signs of a learning difference or ADHD.  But let’s not forget the fact that we’re talking about a 9 year-old boy here.  How focused is a 9 year-old boy supposed to be? 

But he’s going to be doing homework 9 months a year for many years to come so we want things to get started on a good foot.We want him to feel successful and happy about doing homework, we don’t want him to associate it with fighting, tension or failure. 

But he’s going to be doing homework 9 months a year for many years to come so we want things to get started on a good foot.We want him to feel successful and happy about doing homework, we don’t want him to associate it with fighting, tension or failure.Click To Tweet

If it becomes that, you’ll be buying problems for a long time and it could negatively affect his identity and self-image too.  Rather than motivate him to do well in school, we could motivate him to avoid school, and we certainly don’t want that.

Why Parental Support And Structure Are Needed

The parental strategy here is to keep things positive, and have him be successful, and that means paying attention to how we define success.  Is it get everything right—or--do your best and learn something from the experience?

The challenge is to find that sweet spot of offering enough support and structure to get him what he needs and not so much that him doing his homework is your responsibility and he fights it.  That’s a Control Battle.

It’s great that you and your husband are in couple’s therapy together.  In therapy you’re learning how to hear each other and work together, accept each other’s reality, and of course, how not to fight.

Tricia, while it might work better if you oversee your son’s homework, I’d like to see you and your husband agree on what you are trying to do and then talk about how to do it.

What’s the goal, get into MIT tomorrow?

Or is it to develop the confidence, skill, and self-discipline to manage his homework successfully and independently? 

If we can agree it’s the latter, now we can work on the best ways to accomplish that.

Yes, your backgrounds are different. In your case Tricia, maybe your family was more “low Key” but you had the motivation and ability to manage things on your own.  If your son has some issues with comprehension, organization, or focus, he may need the structure, but how that structure is implemented, makes all the difference in the world. 

Let me speak to natural consequence for a minute.  Yes, life has it’s own consequences without parents giving them.  If you don’t look where you’re going you bang into things and you learn to look before you leap.  You don’t need your parents to give you consequences because you hit your head. 

In your case, if you back off and wait for him to learn on his own, your son might --start not completing things, --get bad grades, --feel ashamed,-- avoid work, --do worse.  So you may very well need to have some structure, which you have, homework first after dinner, then TV if there is time. Fine!  If he has difficulty with understanding and focus, he may need some parental support to identify those issues and mitigate them.  And that’s where parental support needs to be experienced as warm and positive. 

If your son has difficulty with understanding and focus, he may need some parental support to identify those issues and mitigate them. And that’s where parental support needs to be experienced as warm and positive.Click To Tweet

See what he’s doing. Be supportive and curious. Let your engagement help him stay focused and go through the material that he’s not understanding and help him get it the way he tends to get things best.  If he gets testy with you, back off and let him know that you’ll help him when he’s ready to cooperate.  Easy right?  Of course not, but that is how you want to come at this so that he feels good about what he’s doing and feels good about his parents. 

Polarizing Won't Get You Anywhere

Now it’s true that many immigrants coming to North America are anxious about integrating and being successful.  Commonly, they’re anxious enough to work extra hard to create what they consider to be success.  Whether it’s working extra hard in the agricultural industry to survive or work extra hard in school to get into college and get a good job, the mindset is work hard to survive. 

In your case, Tricia, you grew up in a family already settled and thriving and so you learned thrival skills instead of survival skills.  (Thrival isn’t in the dictionary so don’t look it up, but I decided to make it a word and use it so that I have a way to describe the difference between skill sets.)

Your son is growing up in a family with a father who wants to pass on his survival mindset and you want to pass on a thrival mind set.  A survival mindset is work extra hard to survive. A thrival mindset is do your best, but have balance in your life and get to know the many parts of yourself.  Seek personal fulfillment. 

That’s a difference you can talk about in counseling and maybe your husband can realize that he has already survived and now he can move on to thrive; have confidence in himself and get in touch with what’s wonderful about him other than that he’s smart, industrious and successful.

That’s where it’s important for you Trisha, not to polarize with him and not to build a triangle in your family where you and your husband have chronic tension and your son gets caught in the middle and learns to play the middle.

Let’s learn from Tricia who wisely is reaching out seeing a Control Battle develop in her family.  So many parents, seeing their spouse building a Control Battle with a child or teenager, will either make things worse by building a control battle with their spouse, or back off and do nothing and let the problem deepen.  Tricia has the opportunity to build collaboration with her husband by clarifying their goals and values and utilizing that work to build a healthy strategy for homework with their son.

Thanks for tuning in today everyone and special thanks to you Tricia for your thought provoking question. And if you are a therapist who works in a behavioral health treatment program, and would like to talk with me about improving outcomes in your program, come on over to my website and shoot me an email or give me a call.  I’ll be happy to talk with you.

And please, take care of yourselves; you need it, you deserve it, you’re worth it.  Bye for now.

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