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Lifestyle

March 23, 2014

Parents must take a step back from homework policing

Dear Doctor,

Homework is causing nothing but trouble at our house. Every night our fifth grader is struggling. What should take no more than an hour is turning into an entire evening of tears and screaming, and it is hurting our family. He is angry at us, and I can see why. His sister shuts the door to her room and hides out. She never had this problem. It is new to us, and we do not know what to do.

Tired

Dear Tired,

If I had a five dollar bill for every time I have heard your story, I would be a wealthy man!

You have been turned into homework police. Get out of that role, and the faster, the better. Your job is to provide space, quiet time and encouragement. You should not be teaching, coaching, punishing, and, most of all, “losing it” over homework. Set an hour. Provide a quiet space. Then, what is done is done. Resume family life. That is your job.

Homework is, in my opinion, overdone. Our current craze for the curriculum to outdo the civilized world has tended to place increasing pressure on parents. Schools will complain that parents are not interested. I find quite the opposite. Parents are asked to assume roles that should belong to people in the school. Contact your son’s teacher and explain the drama in your house. Most teachers will accept a sign off on homework.

Hopefully the school can set up an in-house program for your son. Sometimes this is a “homework club.” This is a euphemism for an after-school program, but it removes the toxic scene from your home.

In my view homework is more about independence and fidelity than content of learning. Most of the “drill” is mindless. Mindful learning is seldom a result of piles of out-of-school assignments. A smaller assignment with a clear and understood purpose makes more sense.

Good luck. Retiring from “homework policing” will not be easy.

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Dr. Larry Larsen is an Andover psychologist. Email him questions or comments at lrryllrsn@CS.com.

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