PracticalDad Homework:  Helping Versus Doing

One of our mantras since the kids were very small is that all good things flow from schoolwork.  The school assigns a certain amount of work and our expectation is that it will be completed both correctly and in a timely fashion.  Well, it at least has to be done – and also turned in, by the way – by the appropriate deadlines; there does come a point at which the kid has to take his lumps for work that’s not right so as the kids have advanced, I’ve curtailed parsing every math answer and compound sentence.  But when they’re dealing with new subject areas or don’t understand something and come to me, where’s the line between helping and doing?

I’ve come to find the difference in:

  1. Is the child still sitting next to me;
  2. Who’s holding the pencil;
  3. Who’s answering the question;
  4. Are there electronics nearby to distract the kid?

So long as these four aspects indicate that the kid is involved in the process, then I’ll spend as much time as necessary to help get the point across.  In the case of math, I’ve even gone so far as to create additional problem sets and even a mock test.  But if I find that the kid is no longer invested in the process, then I’ll shut it down.  Surprisingly, when the kids – at least here – realize that PracticalDad’s done and now leaving them to their own fates, they become much more willing to invest themselves in the process.  It has led to some additional angst as we come to terms with the situation and there have been both times when I’ve gone back as well as other occasions when I’ve left in frustrated disgust.

Part of the homework process, if I think that I’m being abused, is a clear and repeated warning that if there isn’t immediate change then they’re left on their own.  It can lead to significant efforts at manipulation but this back-and-forth between recalcitrant kids and insistent parents is – I believe – a power play on the part of the kids to see just how much they can push the limit and whether they can manuever to their advantage.  Despite this though, the kids really do want to know that you’re involved and both interested and invested in their work.

The kids ultimately have to learn however, that if you’ll walk away because they’re sloughing off on you, then they really will be left on their own.  And for a kid, this is a scary place to be.


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