Your oldest child needs you to type a paper that’s due tomorrow. Your middle child says he has to make a trip to the store for a science project—right now. Your youngest says that if you don’t go over spelling words, she’ll fail the test. How did your desire to help your kids make them think that their schoolwork was your responsibility?
There are ways to put the responsibility for learning back where it belongs: on your child. Here is how other parents have done it; and how you can do it, too.
You Can Be Too Involved
Problems arise when parents aren’t involved with their children’s learning. But being overinvolved can cause problems, too. Overinvolved parents end up assuming too much responsibility—and their kids assume little or none.
To change this balance, hold children accountable for their actions. For instance, some kids wait until the very last minute to start a project. What do you do when they tell you they need to make a trip to the store right now for a project due tomorrow?
If you’re an overinvolved parent, you may get in the car. Instead, try a different approach. Say something like, “I’m sorry. I can’t go to the store today. I can do it tomorrow.”
“But I’ll fail,” your child will answer.
“Tomorrow,” you’ll say.
Several things may happen. First, your child may discover that he doesn’t need to make that trip to the store to complete the project. Second, the lowered grade may teach him an important lesson about putting things off until the last minute. In any case, you’ve made sure that he experiences the consequences of his behavior.
Let Your Child Experience the Consequences
By holding children accountable, we help them learn that actions do have consequences. Sometimes, parents try to shield their children from the consequences of their actions. We return their library books. We finish their chores. We may have even done their homework for them!
All of that is really only sending a message to our children that we don’t think they can do things for themselves. In the end, it won’t help our children grow up.
Let your child experience the consequences of her actions. If she forgets a library book, she’ll have to use her allowance to pay the fine. If he leaves his lunch on the kitchen table, he’ll have to borrow lunch money or go hungry.
Let Your Child Do His Own Homework
“Mom, how do you spell ‘Mississippi’?” “How much is 7 x 4?” When some kids do their homework, they spend most of the time asking Mom or Dad for the answers. There are times to answer your child’s homework questions. But before you do, consider these two things:
Where else can your child find the answer? Besides teaching facts, homework should teach kids how to find facts. Instead of spelling “Mississippi,” say, “The first three letters are M-I-S. Look it up in the dictionary.”
Is the question a central part of the homework? If your child is studying the multiplication tables, his homework needs to reflect what he knows, not what you know. But if he’s stumped by a question that’s only partly related to the assignment, you may save time and frustration by helping him find the answer.
Help Children Answer Their Own Questions
“Where does the sun go at night?” “Why do camels have humps on their backs?” Anyone who has spent time with children knows that they learn by asking questions.
Answering some questions is easy. (“No, you can’t stay up past midnight. Tomorrow is a school day.”) But other questions can help your child take more responsibility for his own learning.
When your child asks you a question, say, “Let’s look up the answer the next time we go to the library.” Then take out an index card and write the question on it.
When you visit the library, take the index cards. Look in the reference books the library has available, or check the card catalog. Then sit with your child as she reads the answers to her questions.
Your child will learn several important lessons. First, she’ll find the answers to her questions. Second, she’ll learn that the library contains answers to lots of questions. Finally, she’ll be learning some research skills that will be important as she moves through school.
Make the Responsibility for Learning Clear
Until students accept responsibility for their own learning, success in school will be a struggle. Parents can help by showing interest but stopping short of doing the work for children. Children must experience the results of their actions, even if grades occasionally suffer.
The best part is that when students finally do take responsibility for their own learning, they do even better than they could have if we helped them every step of the way.
Copyright © Parent Institute