Homework doesn’t have to be a game with winners and losers. Identifying specific struggles that a student might have with homework is a great first step to teaming up for success.
As with any good team, it really helps to understand what motivates your teammate. Understanding how your teen approaches homework might be the best clue as to how to encourage them and draw out their best performance. At Shelterwood, we have found that teens typically fall into four very different approaches.
The Motivated Student: This student has an internal drive to achieve, and independently pursues academic excellence. Resourcing this student with time, space to make decisions, and regular encouragement can help him maximize his full potential.
The Motivated, Accommodated Student: This student wants to do well, but may have struggles in one or more subjects. She receives help in school, and is striving to achieve even with limitations. We have found that frequently reminding this student of the full arc of her improvements can be very helpful. It is important not to do this in an empty vague way, but to instead truly celebrate success with real specific affirmations and rewards. If this student falls into the trap of simply looking at day-to-day successes and failures, goals become may become foggy, frustration will set in and progress often becomes stalled. Tutoring and peer study groups are often a valuable resource for this student as she struggles to maintain motivation for difficult subjects.
The Procrastinating Student: This struggle might be the most confusing to parents and often creates a tremendous amount of frustration within the family. When students wait until the last second to do projects and daily work, it is often difficult to determine when they are falling behind until progress reports are sent home. This student is his own worst enemy, and though he may not struggle with the material, he digs himself into a hole. Issues arise when parents aren’t aware that their student has been procrastinating until the last minute, and this erodes trust. Asking the student homework related questions daily, communicating with teachers, and helping with scheduling assists this student greatly. But be careful with oversight; it is easy to fall into the trap of taking on too much. Instead of allowing the teen to defer responsibility, begin to discuss the fear that is behind the procrastination. Often the desire to see a teen maximize his abilities hinders parents’ ability to see procrastination as anything beyond laziness, falsely believing that his effort and ability to complete assignments is completely under his control. Instead, these parents need to open their hearts to the idea that maybe fear and self-doubt, not laziness, might be paralyzing his progress.
The Combative/Resisting Student: At Shelterwood, we have found that students that have become agitated and upset by the very mention of homework are often troubled by a deeper dynamic. There are many possible reasons that a student is combative when it comes to homework: struggles with content, frustration over lack of study skills, power struggles, undiagnosed learning disabilities, emotional struggles. Instead of engaging in the battle, empathy and loving engagement is really the only solution for parents. Setting aside the homework and focusing on the individual will help parents get to the bottom of things and eventually help their teen. Professional assessment may be needed to see if there are diagnosable issues at play. Resistant angry teens can be a real challenge and often push parents into expressing their own anger. The tension might dissipate if the parents can distance themselves from their teen, but it might leave them feeling like victims and walled up in their own homes. It is always better to not take a teen’s opposition personally, but to instead recognize that the teen is actually in a critical place and in desperate need of help.
Homework doesn’t have to be a battle, and parents can take control of the situation by knowing where their student’s strengths and weaknesses are, what their motivations are, and how to best communicate with them. Like a cruise liner, it takes time to steer the ship in a different direction, but take heart. It is doable!