• Therese

Homework...a waste of time???

Updated: Jul 6, 2019

My son is 11, year 7. He continually worries about finishing his homework, to the point where he is incapable of actually doing the homework and sits there fretting about how to layout a question. His teachers and I have all reassured him that he won't get in trouble if he doesn't finish, that not finishing doesn't mean he is dumb or the worse in the class. At school he appears fine to his teachers but he is clearly holding it all in and gets home and melts. My poor son is so stressed that he is having headaches. What strategies do you suggest to support him to understand that school is for mistakes and learning, not to be the best and know everything already. It breaks my heart because he is so smart and so creative. Advice appreciated!


Wow, that boy needs a big hug - not homework! Firstly I will deal with the "hug" then I will deal with "homework" and then talk to the "perfectionist".


THE HUG...

Let me tell you a story about a friend whose son had an "anxiety disorder" which meant that he would not (COULD NOT) speak outside of his house. It is a condition called “selective mutism” that sent his mum on a journey to understand anxiety.

"Back in the old days" the little boy would have been told to "say hello" "you are being rude" "just say hello" "JUST say yes" or "JUST say no" "JUST SAY HELLO" escalating to "or else". Exacerbating the anxiety.

Instead, his mum dealt ONLY with the feelings...the anxiety. They measured it with "how many butterflies?"

There was no pressure for the boy to speak outside of his house, just to understand what he was feeling and in the process the parents got to know their child better and the boy felt understood.


It was extraordinary to watch a little boy at school saying nothing - all day. All children crave connection, they look for it as though their life depends on it, because it does, this condition can lead to total isolation and much worse. So there was some urgency to "get the child talking". Yet, slowly and steadily and calmly, this child became more confident to speak, his anxiety was reducing and he was growing up. I don’t believe anyone is an expert, parenting is not an exact science...who knows what the outcome would have been if the parents focussed solely on getting him to speak, but the gentle approach worked.


I am guessing you have tried everything to "get your son to do his homework"...I wonder if dealing with your son’s anxiety before anything else would be a good strategy in this case too…


Maybe leave homework out of the equation for now...I would!


HOMEWORK...


Aaargh, homework! What a lonely task...and as some research says...it doesn't make your kid brainier!

Aaargh, homework! Expecting students to complete the same task set for individuals with varying levels of ability, support and interests is not considered good practice.

Aaargh, homework! Even when your son is trying, he is paralyzed by the task. For a task to be completed, there needs to be enough scaffolding to make it do-able. Is that support available? .

Aaargh homework! With new technology, they can now watch the brain work and they have proved that worry and anxiety blocks the learning pathways. What is your son gaining by doing homework? What is he losing?

Aaargh, homework! If your son is capable of doing the task, why do it? There is some merit in practicing a task to gain automaticity...but that's about it!


As adults we sometimes make assumptions about what our children are going through without hearing from them. What does homework mean for your boy? Maybe you could ask your son what the purpose of the task is, in relation to his learning. Be prepared to accept "I don't know" or "there is no purpose" or “it sucks”! Find common ground in this conversation. Be prepared to bite your tongue. If you give a "but you need to because..." you may be proved wrong at your son’s expense. Listen to understand. He just might make sense.


What does school mean for your boy? You mention that you are explaining to your son that school is about making mistakes and learning...is it? Unless homework is revisited then learned, the task becomes about making mistakes in the absence of learning. Is your son given the opportunity to learn what he couldn't do in a timely way?


When a child sees the purpose in the learning experience, you can't stop him or her. How is your child being inspired to complete the school work? How is this work important? "Because you might need it later" is not good enough or "you need it to do well at school" is definitely not good enough and "Because I said" is irrelevant! For what it is worth, this should be asked of all school work.

Eventually schools will understand the difference between “work” and “learning”.


As a child gets older, he or she will understand the need for preparing for exams. Again, this can be a lonely task but with the correct scaffolding, a student can at least scour through notes in the hope that they remember the stuff they will be asked. How often do we hear about a child who leaves school and begins to do well in exams because they are studying what interests them?


Maybe leave homework out of the equation for now...I would!


THE PERFECTIONIST


The perfectionist - is it that bad? Wanting to make something perfect? Wanting to put something together that fits and is complete? Wanting to create something beautiful. That sounds wonderful to me.


I wonder how an artist knows when her piece is ready, how does she know when it is complete, when it is perfect, when it is beautiful? How does THE ARTIST decide? Can you help your son explore the idea of perfectionism? It is a brave perfectionist who says "it's good enough". It's a clever perfectionist to know when "it is enough". It is a wise perfectionist who sees the perfect in imperfection. Your son is on a journey towards greater wisdom.


It sounds like your son has what it takes to learn. Perseverance and wanting to get it right are great learning dispositions. School should be about learning how to learn for ever. His perseverance, wanting to get it right, how much he cares AND his perfectionism will be what makes him a lifelong learner. Just like an artist, he will learn when to say “it is enough” and see that it’s perfect.


Learning is a journey, not a race or a competition. It should be experiences full of “ahah” moments about things that are important to you. School is an institution that hasn’t figured out how to teach individual students...instead, they teach a curriculum. And at the end, they give you “excellence” “merit” “pass” “not achieved” Can you see anything wrong with this picture?


Finally, just as the boy with selective mutism craves connection, so does yours. I think moments to talk… not "sit down and listen" moments but capturing those random moments to connect and find a common language will help your son find what he craves. This too is a journey.

Connection, wholeness, empowerment, community, belonging.

OR "whanaungatanga, whakamana, manaakitanga"


It’s up to you whether you want to have the conversation with the school about homework...maybe it is not your son, could the system be flawed?

The perfectionist in each of us wants the definitive answer, I can't give you that.


But “Maybe leave homework out of the equation for now, I would”



Therese is from a large family with three children of her own. Mr 26, Miss 24 and Master 15. As an educator with many years of experience, she has collected plenty of stories, she uses these and family tales to inform her teaching practice.




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