Wednesday, March 2, 2011

To help or not to help, that is the question

The question of whether and how much to help kids with homework has come up in numerous boards and blogs I have been on in the past couple of weeks.  Those who read my last post can see that Dylan struggles with homework and really getting what he is being taught.  So, should we sit with them, coach them through their homework?  Or, do we stand back, let the teachers do their jobs, and let them succeed - or fail - on their own?

There is no easy answer.

If we help, we can:
  • Learn what they understand and don't understand.
  • Teach or reteach the material.
  • Try to help develop good study skills.
  • Keep them on task.
But at the same time, are we:
  • Stunting their independence?
  • Setting them up for future failure when we cannot help them?
  • Keeping the teacher from seeing first hand what they understand and don't understand?
  • Doubling work when their might be a better way to teach the material the first time, in class?
If we let them do homework entirely on their own, the positives could be:
  • Developing independence and helping them discover their own study methods.
  • Encouraging self-motivated problem solving.
  • Teaching through results.
  • Allowing the teachers to see what material is not sinking in.
But at the same time, we might be:
  • Diminishing self-esteem.
  • Setting up a negative cycle that will be hard to overcome in the future.
  • Sending an unintended message to teachers that we don't back them up at home.
  • Ensuring that they don't get the material in either setting - at school or at home.
As I said, there is no easy solution.  It's almost like a can't win/always lose scenario.  As a parent, you almost always feel you are on the wrong end of it.

Before diagnosis and medication, we would sit with Dylan for hours - as far back as first grade - struggling to help him get through homework.  I sort of wish we knew then what we know now.  Would we be further along?

Since diagnosis, things have gotten progressively - albeit very very slowly - better.  We started off the year with those long, drawn-out evenings of homework.  At that time, the teachers said to let the kids do their own homework. It was pretty much impossible to completely let Dylan do it on his own, and he certainly didn't want it to be that way.  Even if you weren't technically helping, he wanted  you right-there next to him.  (Perhaps a case of body double?)  After some conversations with the teacher, we tried to plan on homework taking an hour and dividing subjects accordingly.  But when it takes you 15 minutes to get going on a subject you've allotted 15 for, does that mean your done before you've even begun?

Now, on sufficient medication and on a good day, Dylan complete much if not all of his homework in aftercare.  The teacher wants us to review it and sometimes we do.  But honestly, sometimes we knowingly don't.  For one, Dylan hates it.  Now part of that is his fear that it will be wrong and his aversion to redoing anything he's done.  He also knows that the teachers started off the year telling us to let him do his own work and he sees reviewing homework as a breach of that verbal contract (completely ignoring any direct help he gets).  But sometimes...I'm just tired.  I'm just happy he's done his homework and thankful for the opportunity, after a long day at work, to sit with my son and play a game.

Of course, we still have bad days.  And I know that even if he's finished his homework, that doesn't always mean he "got" it.  And there are tests.  And more tests.  And exams.  (And don't mix the two up - Dylan will call you to the carpet!).

I struggle with the "right" thing to do.  It changes for me, and maybe that's as it should be.   I don't want to feel as if I have to reteach my son every evening, but I also know that I am the most committed teacher he could ever have.  No teacher, no matter how good or caring, could want Dylan to succeed as much as I do.  I want - and try to - encourage independence.  But I want to preserve self-esteem.  I let some things go so the teacher can see what he doesn't know, but try to teach other things, so he will learn it when all is said and done.

And Hamlet thought he had it rough.

NOTE:  For those few regular readers here, my apologies for the gap in the blog.  We have been very busy here, and will get busier in the coming days as Carnival heats up.  Folks outside of New Orleans may think, "But wait!  Mardi Gras isn't until next Tuesday."  But Carnival is a season, not a day; a marathon, not a sprint.  We'll be parading and costuming. Perhaps I'll have tales of ADHD on the parade route...

1 comment:

  1. We don't do the struggles and fighting. He does the work, we check it. We help him with what he got wrong. If he argues or refuses to finish, etc., we allow him the natural consequence (i.e., he gets a zero from the teacher). He doesn't want that natural consequence, so homework isn't as bad as it could be. If he truly doesn't understand and we can't help him understand, we send him back to the teacher for more ... teaching.