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Homework: Quality Time or Hard Time?

May 9, 2009 | by Rabbi Yerachmiel Milstein

Effective tips on how to make learning with your child a positive and enjoyable experience.

If studying with your child seems like such a great idea, why does it take only one minute for everything to go wrong? You're disappointed in how little the kid knows. He thinks you're the meanest human being on the planet. And, right after the little angel is tearfully sent packing to his room you decide to do the exact same thing, except that you're the one crying real tears.

Here are some effective tips you can use to nurture homework harmony.

1. Resist the temptation to live vicariously through your children. We may seek redemption from our own less than stellar performance in school by pushing our kids harder than what is really healthy for them. Alternatively, many parents feel like failures when their kids get failing grades. This can create undue pressure on the parent for the child to perform. In turn, children will feel the pressure and become extremely uncomfortable during what could otherwise be a pleasant interaction between parent and child. If you are one of those overly anxious parents, just before you sit down with your child try to imagine that he is really your nephew who's come to stay with you during his parents' extended vacation abroad. By creating a little professional detachment you might help alleviate a whole lot of pressure and tension.

2. Set a clear start and finish time for your study time with your child. Otherwise, kids might become antsy even before you begin, worrying that should the session stretch on too long there'll be no time left for playing with friends or siblings and for relaxation. Make sure to verbalize the specific amount of time you'll be spending together and that your youngster has the time and patience to be comfortable for the duration.

3. Compliment your child often during your study time together and avoid sweeping criticism. Every child needs to know that his parents think highly of him. In fact, to a great extent his self-esteem will be a direct reflection of how he feels he is perceived by mom and dad. It is estimated that most parents criticize their children 40 times more than they compliment them. If you are one of those parents, it is precisely during study time when you are most likely to lose patience and become overly critical. If this happens, your child will eventually try to avoid these encounters at all costs. He will find every reason and excuse to be unavailable to you. Find things to compliment that are directly related to school and your child's scholastic accomplishments before, during and after study time. Those compliments might actually do more to enhance your child's performance in school than all the texts you study combined.

4. Enjoy your child. Every kid has his or her own charm. Begin each study session by taking a moment to "kvell" (take pleasure) at the person he is becoming. With terrific kids it'll come easy and make the time together even more pleasurable. With difficult kids it is even more important, (and you just might not get through the session intact without it!).

5. LIFT your child. Be creative during the time you spend together. Do whatever you can to make the time spent studying really pleasurable by integrating games and creating outrageous and entertaining examples. Make sure to give ample rewards for appropriate behavior. LIFT your child by conveying the message: Learning Is Fun Too.

6. Attempt to understand your child. Develop good listening skills and make a real effort to understand your child and his learning style. One real insight into your child's learning process can be worth hundreds of hours of study time. If and when your child complains about school in general or about a specific situation, teacher or another child resist the urge to belittle the perceived hardship. Listen intently to the complaints, sympathize, demonstrate that you understand and offer support and constructive advice, but do not attempt to "take over" and resolve the problem on your own.

7. Speak to your child's teachers. It's always advisable to be in touch with your child's teachers on a regular basis. PTA meetings should never be missed and an occasional note and/or phone call to the teacher will give you the feedback you need to tweak and adjust your sessions with your child. The teacher may also have a certain teaching style or plan with which you will want to be "in sync" so that your child is not receiving conflicting educational messages.

8. You're not a failure if you have to hire a tutor. Sometimes children are so different than their parents that doing homework together is just a bad idea. Sometimes children are so amazingly like their parents that it's an even worse idea! Just because the two of you can't seem to study together doesn't mean that you are a lousy parent. Quite the contrary, a lousy parent will force the issue and spend agonizing years in the attempt to prove they can tutor their own child rather than realize that there's so much more to parenting than that. My own son, with whom I have an amazingly close relationship and who is a respected educator in his own right, reminds me that the last time he and I formally studied together was when he was in the eighth grade. And, the reason he remembers it, is because it was so painful! I wisely stopped learning with him and we shared instead many wonderful informal learning opportunities and terrific life experiences. If your child needs a little extra help and the two of you can't get along as study partners, go get him a tutor. You can still spend a whole lot of quality time together in extemporaneous conversation, shopping, sharing a pizza and volunteering for any number of chesed (charitable) projects.

If studying with your child has become a parenting dead end, either give yourselves an immediate LIFT or hitch a ride with a terrific tutor.

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