10 Ways to Encourage A Child to do Homework Independently

Hello everyone.  Welcome back to my Thursday Reflections series in which I am reflecting on happiness, wellness, peace of mind, and being your best self and mom.

My oldest boys are 11 and 10.  Both this year are in Middle School which means more homework, more organizational demands, and more bits of stress during their days.  The challenge for me as a mom is how to walk the line between being there and lending support and stepping back and encouraging independence.

teaching your child independence

Teaching your child independence isn’t any easier than toilet training, if you ask me.  I find myself swerving back and forth like a pendulum. One minute, I’m sitting there with my child while he does his homework, not really doing anything other than sit there for his comfort.  I bring crackers and water and settle myself into the neighboring chair, eating a bulk of the crackers.  Mandarin is a case in point.  I don’t know the slightest thing about Mandarin and really can’t offer anything more than sheer human presence.  Yet as my boys struggle with the new logic and art of this language, it somehow reassures them that I am there next to them.  We are partners in ignorance, truly!

Yet when this goes on too long, I find myself getting frustrated.  It occurs to me that I am neglecting the many other things I need to do, and my other kids, for the sake of their work.   “This is your work and you need to be responsible for it,” I will say, trying to push them away, and to breathe some air back into my own life and that of my other kids.  In these moments, I get annoyed that our family is unbalanced, with too much time and attention going to the older, more demanding kids.  Their lives are certainly more complicated and rigorous.  I feel myself getting resentful.

This morning I had coffee with another mom from one of their classes who helped me see a way out of this entrapping pendulum.  “Why are you so stressed about their work?,” she asked me.  “I don’t want them to get stressed,” I said.  “If they are doing ok, why worry about it?,” she responded.  “Are they asking for your help?,” she then inquired.  “Not really,” I answered, “they are asking for me to just be their buddy, sitting with them all night.”

Sometimes it takes an outside perspective to steer you on the right track.   It dawned on me that I’ve been “co-homeworking” with my kids.  For so long, I fought the battle not to have our children in our bed because we made the decision that we would be better parents if we did not co-sleep and got better rest.  Yet lately, I’ve allowed the kids to occupy each and every second of our family’s time from 5pm-9pm without a single break.  We’ve been co-sleeping except during the evening hours at the family dining table doing homework!
It is not what you do for your children, but what you have taught them to do for themselves that will make them successful human beings. - Ann Landers

It’s about 4:30 now and my boys are about to break through the door with all the tasks of the evening hours upon us.  As I finish this post, I’m taking deep breaths and reminding myself to try and do the following in the hope of getting better at teaching them life skills when it comes to homework.  The things below are the ones that have worked for me and I hope they will work for you too!

1) Do provide food and snacks — don’t sit by their side

2) Do ask them to “make a plan” — don’t make the plan for them.  This will help encourage them to be independent thinkers.  It will also indicate to them that I have confidence in their ability to sort it out.

3) At the same time, concentrate on trying to get them to have a long perspective, thinking about what is due in the days ahead and not just the next day.

4) Don’t rewrite, redo or re-envision their work.  Look at what they’ve done and give pointers.

5) Tell them I am proud of them when they work hard.  Settle for good, don’t ask for perfect.

6) If they come home with a bad grade, take it lightly and say “ok, let’s see what we can learn here.”

7) Remind myself that they are young, and think back to how many times I messed up when I was young (yup — there were plenty!  Many, many more than I can count.)

8) Be grateful that they are learning

9) Keep it fun

10) Pace yourself — they are only in 5th and 6th grade!  Think how many years are ahead with even more intensity.

How do you guys survive the modern demands of homework and strike the balance between helping out and encouraging your child to do his work independently?

Comment below and thanks for reading!  Oh, and if you could get back to me before the cell model project due next week, I would really appreciate it!