Kids struggling with school homework can be hard for parents to take. We want our children to do well, we don't want them hurting. The homework might be hard, it might take a long time, it might be an emotional wall they don't want to scale. We are tempted to step in, help them along, and take over, but this an area where boundaries are needed. We can guide our children by structuring time for homework. We can acknowledge that the work is not always fun. We can be available to give advice. But our children need to own their own responsibilities. Taking over for this hurdle only makes all the hurdles harder.
It is unhealthy to take charge of your child’s homework or projects--these are their studio for developing both skills and responsibility in their work. Managing challenges is a life skill they will need forever. It might be heart-wrenching to watch, but we don’t want to be managing their homework in college, so it is wise to let them have control and responsibility from an early age. This is the beginning of moving to an advisory role as your kids grow. Here are some thoughts on why we need to let our kids do their own work, even if it sometimes means that they fail.
This is not about you, neither your reputation as a parent nor your anxiety at having unhappy kids. It might rip at your heart not to step in while they are miserable. But not all protecting is beneficial to our kids. Sometimes our over-helping actually hurts our kids and interferes with their learning from a situation. When we continually rescue our kids, they learn that they are not capable to handle things on their own. It impairs their path to growing competence and independence. Galatians 6:4-5 says, “But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load.” God has given each of us tasks to do that belong to us and not our neighbor.
Responsibility is learned when kids have ownership in the project. If we step in and interfere, our kids no longer have ownership--their homework becomes your job. They lose investment in a project in which they might otherwise have taken pride. Having ownership of a project is important. It is better for your child to get a lower grade on their own than to get a perfect grade with a parent taking over the project.
When we are stretched, we discover what we are capable of achieving. If parents step in to do everything for our kids, they lose the opportunity to struggle on their own and discover their true gifts. You will not always be able to help your child, so you need to equip them with the skills to manage--even managing frustrations-- without you. Those skills are learned through struggle. It is very hard to watch our children struggle, but it is where God grows us.
Natural consequences are great teachers. Having to stay after school because of uncompleted work or taking a bad grade for poor work can be huge motivators. Do not step in to rescue, but allow kids to experience the natural consequences of their actions. Don’t say “I told you so”, just let the consequences be the teacher. Use the leverage of consequences. If your child doesn’t care about the low grade, you can help him find more time to study by thinning his social calendar. Your response should be, “We agree that you are responsible for your grades. As long as you are pulling at least B’s you are in control. If your grades fall, we will help you clear your calendar to make more time for studying.”
The stakes are low at young ages, so don't be afraid of failure. They will learn valuable lessons--that they are responsible, they need to take control to be successful, that some things are just plain hard work, and that you love them even in failure. Failure makes clear where we need to change and improve. Be empathetic about their struggle and encourage them to see this as a learning opportunity.
Bless your children by letting them take charge of their own homework and projects. Take joy in their responsibility, following a project through to completion. In times where they fail, empathize with their pain while allowing the natural consequences to teach them. Don't do the work, but hear the heart. Acknowledge the struggle, hug the frustration, but don't let them off the hook. Don't be angry, but be firm and resolute. Later you can celebrate success and a job well done. Let them discover their capabilities and stretch themselves. This is the way God works with us. We are not rescued from challenges, but God walks alongside us through them all. Through all of our struggles, God is growing us, don’t miss the opportunity to grow your kids.
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra