The Dolphin Way

Raising Healthy, Happy, and Motivated Kids Without Turning Into a Tiger

Establishing Healthy Homework Routines

Homework! Kids don’t usually like it and not so surprisingly, neither do parents

Some parents do not set clear routines, rules, or expectations when it comes to homework. I call this permissive jellyfish parenting which often leads children down a path of late assignments, poor organization skills, and ineffective time-management skills.

Other parents hover and micromanage their child’s homework. In fact, a study by the Bett Educational Technology Tradeshow found that in one in six families, parents actually do ALL of their child’s homework. I call such “take over” behaviors, authoritarian tiger parenting which causes children to lack self—motivation, creativity, and problem solving. Children of authoritarian tiger parents often develop the inability to complete homework independently.

I encourage parents to be balanced authoritative dolphin parents. Like the dolphin, these parents use role modelling and guiding, to teach behaviors such as homework skills.

 

Here are a few quick tips from The Dolphin Way about establishing healthy homework routines.

First explain to your child the purpose of homework.  Make sure he/she understands that homework is  not about getting the answer right,  but rather figuring out what you need to learn and what you already know. A major point of homework is to practice skills- so sometimes a wrong answer is ok! Plus, making mistakes instills valuable risk-taking skills, and shows your child that every idea – whether right or wrong – should be respected and thoroughly analyzed.

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Children do best when their learning is fun and in the “zone of challenge”—not too easy, not too hard, but challenging enough to encourage problem solving and learning. If you feel your child’s homework does not fall in this category, speak with their teacher.

Allow your child to try their homework first before stepping in. If you do need to step in, help them break down a problem Instead of solving it. You can tell your child “I know it’s easier if I tell you how to do this, but that’s not going to help your learning. Try to spend a few more minutes trying on your own.” If you must, give a clue or small suggestion. As he/she progresses through resolving the problem, say things like “you’re really close” or “I can help you with this, if you try that.”

Encourage your child but do not give them excessive praise. In an experiment that demonstrates fixed vs growth mindsets and the downsides of “empty” praise, young children were asked to solve a simple puzzle, and most did so with little difficulty. But then Dweck told a few, but not all, of the children how very bright and capable they were. As it turns out, the children who weren’t told they’re smart were more motivated to tackle increasingly difficult puzzles. These children showed greater progress and interest in puzzle-solving, while also displaying higher levels of confidence. They enjoyed the thrill of choosing to work simply for its own sake, regardless of the outcome.

Although it may seem counterintuitive, providing non-specific praise for children’s abilities and outcomes seems to rattle their confidence. However, if you stress how a child arrived at an answer and not whether the answer is correct, he or she will be more likely to make the effort, take risks, and try new ways of doing things. For example, if you appreciate the effort your child put into solving a math problem, as opposed to applauding the answer, she’ll be more likely to learn from the experience and try it again.

If frustration ensues, make sure your child recognizes the importance of taking “brain breaks” and restoring balance with their thoughts and ideas. Allow them to get out of their seats, move around and take a stretch; these activities can help your child control their emotions and re-think their solutions to the homework problems they need to solve.

Try to have a regularly scheduled time and place for doing homework. Make sure it is quiet, has plenty of light, and no distractions such as the TV nearby. Equip that space with the basic materials such as a paper, pencils, and erasers. 

Homework can be a wonderful thing, but it’s only one of many ways children learn. The best learning is learning that is fun, real life, trial and error, and hands-on—and a lot of that occurs during free-play so make sure your child has enough time to play too!

Shimi Kang, M.D., is an award-winning, Harvard-trained psychiatrist and author of The Dolphin Way.

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