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The right way to help kids with schoolwork

Subha Parthasarathy, Feb 12, 2015, DHNS 22:02 IST

SUPPORT: What a school-going child needs is nurturing and not pampering and spoon-feeding which can hamper his development.

There are some situations that occur everyday in the course of a child’s academics and activities which calls for parental intervention.

The way parents respond to such situations affects the child’s development. There is a thin line between helping and nurturing or supporting the child.

Let’s look at what many of us may be doing that could hamper the development of our children:

Doing things for children that they are capable of doing themselves

Getting them things that they really do not need - cell phones, iPads, frequent visits to fast food joints etc as a reward for having done something or as a bribe to get things done in the future

Making decisions for them. Like, telling them what to wear and when, choosing their friends, deciding what classes they need to go to, checking their school bags to see if they have kept their books, pencils inside etc

Making sure they depend on you for trivial tasks like waking up in the morning, filling up their water bottles, tying their shoe lace etc

Not allowing them to take responsibility for their actions by writing excuse notes for not doing homework; dropping them off to school on a regular basis whenever they miss the school bus

Controlling them or punishing them by taking away TV time, not allowing them to go for play etc

‘Why’ questions: Why did you lie? Why are you not studying?

Lecturing them on what they are doing, how they should be doing, what they should feel about something, where they are going to end up etc

Labelling them by telling them that they are useless, lazy, good for nothing, brilliant
n Trying to constantly fix things for them like buying new things to replace what a child loses, staying up late to help with the last minute homework.

Having consequences not connected with a situation, like telling a child that s/he will be taken for a movie if s/he gets good marks in all subjects.

Not following through with implementing a consequence if such a consequence has been set through mutual agreement between the parent and child because it would disappoint the child

When we indulge in some of the above actions, with the intention to help our child, we may actually be harming them by making them dependent on us. They also end up not taking responsibility for their actions or learning from them.

As the child grows older, it can become a challenge to break this pattern. Parents may argue that they are there to help children, which is very true. At the same time, there are things we can do differently from a young age that can support them to be independent and empowered.

Transferring authority

There is also a fear that if children are given the power to make decisions, it could lead them to making mistakes or not reaching their goals. This causes stress and worry to the parents. Parents would like their children to succeed and not get demotivated by failures.

Once we recognise that ‘success’ and ‘failure’ are just words in our ‘adult’ head and that there is learning in each experience, we might be able to give space to the child to work with his experiences.

Try to implement some of these changes in daily routine-

Take it easy: This is a huge one, but if we are able to relax, then we can work better with situations around us. If the child has missed the bus…relax ..take a deep breath and tell yourself it’s all right.

Have faith in your child: Children are capable, they need to feel capable and that’s where we come in. “I know you are capable of figuring out how you can reach the bus stop on time.’’ - Small words like these will make them believe that they can come up with solutions to help themselves.

Allow them think time: Instead of interrogating them with ‘why’s’ give them time to think and let them know that you are ready to talk to them when they are. Share your expectations clearly- “I am not willing to write any excuse note for the homework. I expect you to be honest with your teacher.’’

Listen actively by trying to understand the underlying thoughts and feelings of the child. “I am feeling sad that you were not honest about your marks. Would you be willing to tell me what is happening with you.’’ Or I need to understand what you were thinking when you said that.

Stating clearly how the adult can help: “I can sit with you and your project if I am told about it in advance and we can agree on a convenient time, but the last minute work does not work for me” or “If you need help understanding time management, I can help.”

Work with Cooperation: Come up with an agreement which works for the parent and the child, sign it and follow it up. If it is not working, revisit the drawing board and start again. The child gets the message that you mean business and he will move forward.

Work without attaching any labels: “I can see that there is work to be done. I am sure you have come up with ideas on how to complete them. Would you be willing to share them with me?” This allows them to feel capable and think of ‘how’ they can get the work done instead of looking for an excuse for not having done it.

Allowing them to move on without holding on to their past: Each day is new and each moment is new. Reflecting on the situation, learning from it and coming up with strategies to work with situations help children to move forward without holding on to guilt and fear.

Acceptance: Accepting them for who they are and not for what they do. This message encourages them to work towards their goals. ‘’I value the education I received and I think it is an important part of our life, but I see that you have a different view on it. I respect that and would like to understand it more. Would you be willing to talk to me about it.”

Working with ‘we’ rather than ‘I’ or ‘you’: “Something seems to be troubling you to get the work done on time. Could we brainstorm together on some possible ways of getting it done.’’

Let them contribute in the house by going to the market, cleaning up their dishes etc so they feel they are part of the family.


Giving information:
“There is ten minutes left before the school bus comes.’’
Acknowledgment of feeling: Kind words like “I can see that you are feeling sad about your marks.’’

Giving them time and allowing them to think: “We are out of chart paper and you need one tomorrow morning. What would you like to do?’’ or “The project on animals sounds interesting, what would you like to work with?”

Being firm and allowing them to face the natural consequences for their action :
“I am sorry you have missed your bus today. You will need to stay at home. What would you like to do differently tomorrow so that you are on time?” or “Would you like to use an alarm clock to help you wake up on time?’’

As parents, if we can integrate some of this into our daily interactions with our children, it would help them take care of themselves more effectively.

The nurturing provided by us cannot turn them into the tree we want. So, the fundamental question we need to ask ourselves when the child is having any kind of an experience is – “Is my action helping my child or is it supporting his/her development?”

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