Your child has always been smart and curious but, since he hit middle school, his motivation has plummeted. You’re running out of incentives for him to do his homework. And getting him to read a book requires a flat-out bribe.
Betty Caldwell, author of What’s My Style? Test and Study Secrets for Procrastinating Teens, works with kids and parents who are struggling with the transition to middle school, where kids are expected to take charge of their learning. They must manage homework assignments from several teachers, study for tests, and keep track of projects.
“There is so much change in middle school,” Caldwell says. “It takes time for kids to find their bearings.”
Caldwell believes the key to getting your child on the path to academic independence is getting her to figure out her learning style. Armed with that knowledge, she can structure her day to best suit her learning style and get her homework and studying done.
Finding the Best Time To Study
Many children who struggle with studying in middle school are strong in areas related to the right side of the brain, such as creativity and relationships, Caldwell says. These kids tend to be weaker in left-brain qualities, such as structure and organization. Left-brainers use words, while right-brainers favor imagery. The left brain loves a problem with a precise, correct answer. The right brain is more comfortable in the nuanced, gray area where more than one answer could apply.
Kids who favor their right brains are often told they don’t test well. That’s a myth, Caldwell says. “I teach them to adjust the way they study, to know when to do it and how to do it.”
For example, a parent might want her child to do his homework right after school, but the student who is right-brain oriented might be exhausted from the structured school day and need time at home to unwind, play outside, or pursue a creative activity. He might do better in school and on tests if he were allowed to do his homework at night.
Unfortunately, middle schoolers are master procrastinators and consistently underestimate how long homework will take. They often end up staying up too late, rushing to finish, and getting overwhelmed by stress.
Parents can help prevent the dreaded all-nighter by requiring kids to start homework immediately after dinner.
If a right-brain child stays up late doing rote math problems again and again, he might do better to sketch out the math problem and try to visualize it. Parents can help by using tangible objects to demonstrate the math concept.
Sometimes a right-brain child can get approval from the teacher to present his knowledge in a different format. Instead of writing a paper, for example, he might be able to make a PowerPoint presentation.
Getting Kids To Take Charge
Long-term projects should favor right-brain kids, who tend to enjoy social interaction and working with classmates as a team. Instead, students often derail their projects by waiting until the night before. This often ends in a battle between parent and child.
A parent can help by serving as a child’s “external left-brain,” helping her structure the project, breaking it down in a way that seems manageable, and checking to make sure she’s on track.
The goal, though, is to have kids take charge of the planning themselves. “Kids are delighted to learn how and why they learn the way they do,” Caldwell says. “It’s not a deficit problem. The left brain can be developed.”
Kids as young as 6th grade can learn to nudge their right brains out of the way and insist their left brains take charge just long enough to get their homework done. Then, they can have their right brain back. It’s important for kids to know that their parents don’t expect them to discard their creativity and intuitive nature altogether.
Armed with self-knowledge, middle schoolers can figure out ways to study, tackle long texts, and complete homework on time. The parent may suggest the child study in blocks, and the child can determine how long each block should be. The parent might also need to help the middle school child get back to studying after a break. “Don’t let breaks extend to an hour,” Caldwell warns. “They are still middle schoolers.”
Making Time To Relax
Parents can also help their middle schoolers think through how much time they spend on activities. Caldwell has students write down their typical day and look at how jam-packed it is with commitments. “Is there any free time? Any time for goofing off?” she says. If not, that might be an explanation for why their child doesn’t get her schoolwork done.
Caldwell has students write down their ideal schedule, including activities they enjoy just for relaxation, such as playing video games and watching TV. “They always have more choices than they have time.”
Parents can help their kids make tough choices about activities that leave ample time for schoolwork and just chilling. “Teach kids to keep themselves in mind and meet their own needs for relaxation,” Caldwell advises.