Fostering Independence Through Homework

Probably the best parenting advice, but often the most difficult to follow, is to allow children to make their own mistakes. Making mistakes enables children to learn valuable life lessons and helps them make better decisions later on.  However, one area where parents often fail in this regards is schoolwork.  How many times do you assist your child with his homework? I've known some parents who say they've gotten so frustrated they end up just completing the entire assignment themselves (think science fair project!) This is setting a very bad precedent.

There are so many things wrong with parents doing their child's work.  Of course, there are the obvious issues - the child isn't actually learning the material AND you are fostering laziness. But, most damaging is the message it sends to your child. By giving answers or actually doing the project for him, you are inadvertently telling your child that his work isn't good enough.  In essence, that you don't believe in his abilities or in him!

By completing his own assignments, your child will establish a solid work ethic, learn responsibility, and develop time-management skills - all of which are crucial to being a successful adult. Of course, explaining a concept to your child is different than doing the assignment for him.  However, if your child repeatedly has trouble understanding and completing work independently, I suggest you schedule a conference with the teacher.

In general, younger children will require some guidance, but give them space and avoid sitting down with them while they do their homework.  It is fine to review their finished assignment and, while doing so, emphasize all the things they did right.  It's even okay to point out errors - but make them do the corrections. (Tip: for math have them find the error!) The one aspect of homework I DO recommend you supervise carefully, particularly for younger children - is Internet research. Depending on age, just being in the same room as your child is usually sufficient. Teaching them how to phrase their Google searches is great, but beware. One misspelled word or wrong domain and you might have inappropriate material popping up.

Last year, craving his independence, my older son no longer wanted me to proof his essays. It was pure torture for me, but we both survived.  This year he lets me look at his work, as long as I don't comment on it.  In other words, if I don't have anything nice to say, I must keep my mouth shut! Trust me, I know how difficult it is to not intervene, I'm still guilty of it occasionally.  But, I'm learning to just grit my teeth and bear it. This means on occasion I need to simply permit my sons to turn in something that I consider, how should I say this, atrocious! Just tonight I had to explain for the umpteenth time what plagiarism is to my younger son. He just looked at me with a blank stare. He couldn't care less, his assignment was DONE! I handed the work back to him, but I'm secretly hoping his teacher nails him on it.  If so, lesson learned!

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