After the start of the second grade, I very quickly noticed some heavy struggles around homework come up. It was clear I was going to need to help my child with school. At the start of the year, my son’s second grade teacher gave all the parents special instructions for doing homework this year: set a timer for 30 minutes for homework time, and when that timer goes off, put the pencil down and walk away. If any tears or yelling happens before the timer goes off, put the pencil down and walk away. It was as though he was perfectly foreshadowing what we were about to see.
For a number of days in a row, when homework time approached in the evening, my son met it with resistance and frustration. I would see a range of reactions, from announcing that it was boring and he wasn’t going to do it, to kicking and yelling and crying over his homework. I noticed in myself how inflexible I was around homework time – I was frustrated that he wouldn’t just sit down and do the assignments that looked to me like they were easy enough to do with his eyes closed! It got to the point where I could not touch homework time – we just had to wait until my husband got home to do it with him, as he was somehow able to put more play and lightness to it and succeeded in helping our son get it completed. I could see that this was going to be an emotional project for the whole family and needed a new strategy fast.
I started on this issue in my own listening partnerships. I got listening about how frustrating homework was, how intolerable my sons behavior was, especially when it was always topics I know he is good at and have seen him complete with ease! I got listening around how when I was his age homework was easy for me, so why did it have to be such a struggle for him? And finally, how I don’t like that homework even exists! It cuts into our family time in the evenings, and more often than not it IS as boring as my son says it is.
Next, I made a point to do Special Time with my son before my husband got home to do homework with him. Honestly I was happy to do Special Time in place of homework with my son, it was much more enjoyable. We would wrestle, or pillow fight, or play his favorite video game depending on what he would choose. I started to notice that homework time seemed to go much easier when he would get this extra connection. I saw these as little victories along the way, but still I found that writing homework of any kind continued to be a frustrating struggle.
One evening my son pulled out his spelling and writing assignments and asked for my help. He was already upset about the subject of the homework before he even pulled it out of his backpack. I asked him to read me the instructions while I was cooking something in the kitchen. He became more and more distracted and agitated. I told him it was time to stop playing with what he was playing with and sit down to focus on homework. “Then come help me!!” He screamed. He screamed this again, and I put down what I was doing to come in closer to him. He kept yelling “Help me! Help me!” over and over again, and the closer I got to him while offering my help with my words, the louder he yelled it. He was kicking and screaming on the floor and I just continued to say “I am here to help you,” while he continued to scream for help.
This went on for some time and I continued to stay close, holding a gentle arm around his baby brother to make sure he did not accidentally get kicked. I acknowledged that homework was frustrating, that he works really hard all day at school. He screamed and kicked, and cried a small amount. After a while his system began to settle down and relax. He turned to a toy to play with and I let him take his time to play and relax while I went back to the kitchen to cook dinner.
By the time dinner was done, he had returned to the table and quietly completed his homework on his own. He was very proud of his work, and showed me each part. In these last few weeks, I have continued my connection tools all in combination, and it has meant that I have been able to help him with his homework. He now will often complete it before my husband gets home and we get extra time to play and connect as a whole family.
—Natalie Thiel, Certified Parenting by Connection Instructor
If you have challenges around homework or setting limits, consider our online Setting Limits and Building Cooperation course.