MISTAKE #1: BELIEVING THAT NO NEWS IS GOOD NEWS
You’d think the teacher would tell you if your fourth-grader’s report card
was about to reveal sinking grades. But with 23 kids and no aide for backup, a
curriculum to design and teach, and administrators to appease, she may simply
not have the time or inclination to contact you.
So be proactive. At the first sign of a problem (e.g., poor quiz grades),
set up a communication program with the teacher to stay on top of your child’s
performance. Will a weekly e-mail work best for her? Most teachers don’t mind
a quick note every Friday and appreciate the concern. Ask just a few
questions, such as “This week, which assignments, if any, did my son not turn
in?” “What grades did he earn on tests or quizzes this week?” and “Is there
anything in his behavior that you’re concerned about?” And add “Thank you very
much for your time.” (Or leave a voice-mail message for her at school asking
MISTAKE #2: BEING OVERINVOLVED IN YOUR KID’S SCHOOL
Of course you want your daughter to ace that spelling test or computer
project. And while taking an interest in your child’s work is important, you
need to avoid industrial-strength overinvolvement (for example, your
completing her math problems). Why? You’re robbing her of the satisfaction of
completing a project on her own. You’re also training her to depend on you to
do the challenging math problems, rather than reinforcing the concept by
having her do the work, and you’re teaching her to expect you to fill in the
science work sheet, instead of letting her search through the text to find the
answers on her own. And look at the messages you’re sending: “You can’t do
this well enough; you need my help” and “Whining will get you out of doing
Being involved means being available. You’re there to check for accuracy,
answer questions, and explain concepts that your child may be having trouble
with, but you’re not responsible for doing her work. And if your kid’s typical
reaction to homework assignments is “I don’t get it,” explore what she doesn’t
understand and help her work through it. If it’s, say, math, and she’s not
showing her calculations on the page, explain that it’s usually difficult to
complete the problem without reviewing the process as she goes along.
MISTAKE #3: BEING UNDERINVOLVED IN YOUR KID’S SCHOOL
On the flip side, I’ve also seen many parents adopt a “leave it to the
teacher” attitude when it comes to schoolwork. Teachers, however, don’t have
the resources or ability to make sure that home assignments are completed.
Also many children simply aren’t motivated to tackle difficult assignments or
to complete tedious homework tasks. That’s why parents need to jump-start the
habit of completing what’s assigned. Here’s how:
- Set up a planner that your child fills out for each subject, every
day. This is great for kids in all grades. The child writes down which
assignments need to be done at home and when the next test or book report
is due. If your child isn’t jotting everything down accurately, consider
asking his teacher to check the planner daily.
- Insist that all materials for current assignments be brought
home from school daily. We’re talking folders, books, work sheets, and the
like. (To get him to comply, see “Don’t Take No for an Answer” in the
- For kids in grades kindergarten through third, consider the timer
method. Say: “Mark, I’m setting the timer for 15 minutes, during which you
have to complete the ten math problems. If you beat the buzzer, you earn a
token that can be traded in for a special privilege, such as going to the
arcade. If you don’t beat the buzzer, you still need to complete the
problems and you don’t get a token. Now let’s get going!”
- Check that homework is carefully done. Circle errors lightly with a
pencil or verbally bring them to your child’s attention, and ask him to
- Check for quiz and test preparation by asking a few questions from a
science work sheet or history review paper. If his performance is spotty,
have him review the material again and give him another quick quiz.
- Don’t take no for an answer. Insist that your child complete all of
the above successfully. When he does, reward him (e.g., with use of
electronics, extra playtime, a special snack, or an “attaboy”). When he
doesn’t, let him know there will be no TV, CD player, telephone, computer,
Internet, or outdoor play each day until he follows through with his
MISTAKE #4: IGNORING YOUR CHILD’S NATURAL STUDY
Maybe you were a self-motivated child who plunged into your homework
shortly after coming home from school. And what worked for you should work for
your daughter too, right? Not necessarily. If your daughter’s a bundle of
energy after school, then she’ll most likely be more productive tackling
homework after, say, riding her bike. Or if your sixth-grader is an organized
self-starter and appears insulted by attempts to regulate her schedule (e.g.,
your insistence on homework being completed before dinner), it’s probably best
to respect her responsible nature and let her call the shots.
Ignoring your child’s study preferences sends the message that you may not
trust her judgment and takes much of the joy out of learning. Similarly, be
open-minded about how she studies. Just because you can’t concentrate on a
project when there’s music playing in the background doesn’t mean you should
make it off limits to your child. (Do make sure, of course, that when you
check in on her, she’s working, not dancing around the room.) Similarly, if
she says she likes preparing for tests together with friends, let her do it;
it’ll be more fun for her, and she may learn more effectively that way.
MISTAKE #5: HAVING UNREASONABLY HIGH
Many parents don’t have realistic academic goals for their
kids. To see if you’re one of them, ask yourself:
Am I expecting the same grades, creativity, and academic
interests for my child as those of my neighbors’, friends’, or relatives’
Do I assume that all my kids will have similar levels of
achievement — that is, in advanced classes that carry high academic
Am I disappointed when my child receives a B on a major
project, even if he seems thrilled with the grade?
Do I expect my son to have the same academic interests I had
as a child?
Am I fighting for advanced-placement curriculum while my son
seems content with his regular classes?
Am I embarrassed that my kid doesn’t seem to read as quickly
or memorize math facts as readily as some of the others in the car pool?
Does my child seem stressed by being placed in the tougher
courses at school (for instance, he’s become moodier, cries easily, and says
that he feels “stupid”)?
If two or more of these sound familiar, your expectations are
probably out of whack. To know where to set the bar, take a good look at your
child. Does learning come easily for him? Does he understand abstractions
quickly, enjoy education for the sake of gaining knowledge, and whiz through
assignments? Or does he tend to memorize facts, take a little longer to
understand a concept, and need lots of repetition and practice? (Both of these
are common and perfectly valid learning styles.)
Another clue to what to expect from your child academically is
how he views projects. A lover-of-knowledge type will most likely go beyond
what’s assigned, use additional resources in gathering information, and bring
in a touch of creativity (including, say, an audio tape of Grandpa’s
recollection of his Iwo Jima landing to accompany a World War II report). By
contrast, the child who’s just trying to keep his head above water and get a
decent grade will most likely have a pattern of simply completing assignments
to the letter.
Finally, talk with the teacher about whether your child is
thriving, just getting by, or struggling. And talk with your child; see how he
feels about his work habits, the amount of time spent on schoolwork, and his
grades. Then keep your expectations in check.
MISTAKE #6: ASSUMING HOMEWORK WILL BE
Most parents think that if their child has done her homework,
it will make it to the teacher’s in-box. But lots of kids are disorganized or
busy yakking with their friends when the teacher calls for the work — or just
too lazy to unzip their book bag to get it out!
If the above sounds a bit like your child, make it easier for
her to find her papers. Set up a folder (one with pockets on each side) for
each subject and designate the right-hand side for “Work to be Done at Home”
and the left-hand side for “Work to be Turned In the Next Day.”
Or use one large binder with several sections for each subject
and place a clear pocket in each section. Write “Homework to be Turned In” on
Every night before she goes to bed, have your child show you
that the homework has been placed in the proper folder or pocket. If
something’s missing, that’s the time to remedy the situation.
Article appears as seen in the September 2003 issue of Redbook magazine. For
more information about Redbook, please visit their Web site at:
Ruth A. Peters, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist and regular contributor to
“Today.” Copyright 2003 by Ruth A. Peters, Ph.D. All rights reserved. For more
information you can visit her Web site at: www.ruthpeters.com.