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The Dog Ate It
by Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, Emuna Braverman

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Homework doesn't have to be a major source of struggle between parents and children.

"Could you edit my English essay?" "I need help with my algebra." "What do you know about the industrial revolution?" "I don't see the point of memorizing this table of chemical elements." "Can you review with me?"

The nights are a blur of questions and a clamor of voices as you tick off the days until summer vacation...

Homework can be a major source of struggle between parents and children of all ages. But that need not be the case.

As with any other challenge, half the battle is to honestly and reflectively assess the situation. The following analogy may help you to understand some of the do's and don't of effective homework time with your children. Walking a mile in your child's shoes may, in fact help you gain insight into the challenges you and your child face as homework time approaches.

For the past ten years, you have hired an accountant to prepare your tax returns. This year, you decided to try to fill out your 1040 tax forms on your own. You attended a three-hour seminar but you still have some questions. Who do you ask? You have some friends who are knowledgeable in the field of tax law. Some are brilliant and very knowledgeable but impatient and distracted. Others are average in their knowledge but are more patient and focused. Which qualities most inform your decision? As an exercise, please list the important of each quality below, rating it from 1 to 10 with 10 being the highest score:

Teaching skills..............................________
Acknowledged expert.....................________
Ability to give undivided attention......________

When I conduct parenting classes on effective homework techniques, I often ask parents to self-assess in these areas. The vast majority of parents maintain that the last 3 attributes; patience and tolerance are far more important to them that expertise. After all, the questions they would pose are not that complicated. Therefore, the first order of business when doing homework with your child is to make every effort to present yourself as a resource, not a tester.

Your attitude to your adolescent's school and homework is another important factor. If you are frequently critical of your daughter's teacher, if you are dismissive of your son's English studies, your children may adopt the same attitude. It is important that you model respect for their studies and for their faculty members. Your child is entitled to get emotional and perhaps indignant about something his or her teacher may have said or done that day. Calmly listen -- well -- to what your child has to say. Try to present an alternative view of things. Try to have your son or daughter step back a bit and try to remove the emotion and anger from their reactions.

If your child is overwhelmed with the amount of homework he or she has, contact the teacher. If, in fact, most of the classmates are able to complete the homework in less time, you may choose to look into this matter more carefully. In the meantime, perhaps consider asking the teacher to accept a note from you that your child spent an appropriate time on homework, and have him or her do part of the work, say, every second math problem.

Set goals for your children, but try hard not to compare them to their siblings or to other children. Maybe your friend has a son who is very committed to and excited by learning. Don't expect your son to respond in similar fashion. Just focus on what's special about your son or daughter

It is difficult to force your teenagers to be someone they're not. You can help direct them but, as the Vilna Gaon cautions us, it is nearly impossible to change their basic nature. Don't hurt them or yourself by trying. If your teenager is unmotivated, harness the power of incentives. At all ages, incentives can be very effective. Maimonides speaks of long-term and short-term goals with children. He cautions parents not to confuse the two, and not to expect all children to be self-motivated at a young age. Not all incentives need be monetary in nature. Time spent with you is a powerful incentive as well.

If you find that you have neither academic tools nor the requisite patience to help your child effectively, consider hiring a tutor. Do not allow homework time to become a battlefield. Don't replay the same scenario daily. Your relationship with your child is far too important to have it eroded by daily struggles over homework.

One final point: Use this time to instill in your child a lifetime love for learning. Try not to 'only answer the questions', but rather add color to the canvas of your child's learning experience. Good luck!!

© 2005 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved

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