I Hate Homework!
by Robyn Swatsburg
I dread homework time. Despite my attempts to make it a positive happy time, it usually winds up being the biggest battle of the day. I try to minimize problems by having clear expectations and an established time and place for homework. Right after dinner, my nine-year-old son sits at the dining room table— a central location—to do homework. I wash dishes and clean up the kitchen nearby, not hovering/nagging yet still accessible for questions. I try to remain pleasant throughout the ordeal. Yet somehow this does not work for us.
A typical scenario might go like this: Time to begin. Fuss, complain, search for bookbag, more whining and moaning, finally ready. He sits down pulls out a math sheet and looks around lost. “Can you get me a pencil?” “No. The pencil-getting part of homework is your responsibility.” After much moaning and groaning, he finally gets a pencil from the designated homework drawer conveniently located nearby, throws himself back down in his chair, and takes a quick glance at the assignment.
“Can you get me a piece of paper?” It is beyond my scope of belief that knowing full well he was going to need a piece of paper, he wouldn’t have gotten it from the very same drawer while he was up getting the pencil. I repeat with a little more annoyance in my voice. “The paper-getting part of homework is your responsibility too.”
After no less than 10 minutes and 100 “it’s not fair” complaints, he finally gets down to business. “I need help!” he wails before actually reading a word on the page. I drag myself to his side and insist he reads the directions aloud because I know he can do this as well as he can get his own pencil and paper in a single trip. He finally mumbles the directions and either A proceeds to complete the entire assignment in two minutes because it’s easy for him or B the battle continues for upward of an hour if he truly is confused. My help, I discover, is not really what he wants. What he wants is for me to do it for him and this is what I am not going to do. Homework is his responsibility, and it is a responsibility he is going to learn no matter how many painful nights we spend locked in this battle.
But tonight, oddly, homework time found me in a good mood. Maybe it’s because for some magical reason my nine-year-old willingly sat down to homework on his own without being asked. Since he veered off our usual course, I did too. When he asked for help with his homework I said, “Sure what do you need?” And I sat down next to him. Without being asked I read the directions for the first problem aloud. Realizing we would need a pencil to solve this, I walked over and got us a pencil. Possibly being so thrown off guard, he actually attempted the first problem on his own. After some redirection he got it right and did not yell at me for the redirection. I read the second problem without him asking and found that one required a ruler and a piece of paper. I suggested he go upstairs for the ruler, and I would get the paper (probably could have gotten that when I got the pencil). Up he went without a fuss and returned ruler in hand ready to try the problem. Soon we finished the page with me reading the problems, him trying to solve them, and me redirecting when necessary. It took us less than 10 minutes to complete two math pages. And by the end, he completed every problem himself and obviously understood how to solve those problems.
So what did that happy night teach me about homework time? Sometimes, even when it annoys the heck out of me, I have to give a little to get a little. Even if we both know that he can and should complete the whole homework process on his own, my doing a few nonessentials for him won’t undermine his becoming a good and responsible homework completer. Will I still be gathering his homework supplies for him when he’s in high school? Probably not. I believe that once he knows I won’t entertain every challenge he throws at me over every little aspect of homework time, he’ll lose the need to challenge me. He will do all these things for himself because he knows he can and should do them. On most days at least…