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Homework Shenanigans: Turning Down The Heat

It would be interesting if we could take a psychological temperature reading across the country while homework is being conducted.

Typically from four in the afternoon to about 9 o’clock at night. My sense is that, in many households, the temperature rises steadily with every passing hour of homework frustration.

If we could peek into these households, we would probably see increased tensions with great deal of irritability and yelling.

Even though it is summertime, before you turn around, the new school year will be kicking in, and parents will be anticipating homework anguish once again. That pit in the stomach will be returning.

It is a fact of life that kids (and most adults) avoid doing what they don’t enjoy. This is a law. Avoidance and procrastination result in tremendous family frustration and tension. Emotional reactivity (i.e., yelling) becomes the norm.

When was the last time you felt your yelling reached its desired goal and produced a more dutiful child who went off and did his homework independently? When did the child say, “Well, Mom, thanks for yelling. I really appreciate it and I’ll start to do my homework now”?

I think you know the answer.

Yelling rarely reaches its desired goal. But this begs the question, what will then?

This is a challenging and complex topic that does not lend itself to simple answers. As a general guideline, remember you set the tone, recognizing that there are mitigating factors that come into play.

Assume that if you lead in a calm but firm way, the child will follow your lead. This may not happen immediately, but if you set the tone and parameters, your children will come to understand over time what is expected and will follow your directions much more readily.

Here is an example of a clear directives given calmly but firmly by a mother to her 10-year-old son with a history of dawdling, crying, and doing anything to avoid starting and completing his homework (keep in mind, the work was within his instructional level):

This is how homework is going to work tonight. I’ve been yelling far too much and have decided to stop. Really, it’s on you. I know this work is within your capability level. Understand that all electronics including your phone are earned. If you put in a reasonable time, the electronics are earned. If you haven’t then the electronics are not earned. Either way is fine with me. It’s your call.

In this scenario, the mom did not get overly invested in the result.

She did not make homework her concern, but made it her child’s concern. To some of you this may sound cold, a bit too cut-and-dried. But by stating expectations clearly, in fairly objective black-and-white tones, the mom gave the child a choice one way or another.

In summary, turn down the heat, but be clear in your goal and stated expectations. In the coming year, let’s try to get the temperature in America to fall within the normal zone during the homework.

Takeaway Point: You set the tone. Establish your tone with clarity of mind according to the way you want things to go. The dog wags the tail, not the other way around.

Richard Selznick, Ph.D.  is a contributing blogger for JenningsWire, a blogging community created by Annie Jennings.