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Hounded by Homework

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By Kabir Pathak

Parent Contributor

Hours spent over homework assignments. What’s due? How much have you done? Chasing the kids every minute they are home to make sure schoolwork is completed—bribing them, threatening them, pampering them. And then the dreaded EXAM time—cancellations of all social engagements, going into a cocoon with all ‘wasteful’ activities banned; the whole family’s focus shifting to exam preparation. Instilling of competitive demanding targets: “You must be number one. You must beat so and so on this exam. We will be shamed if you don’t!”

Does this sound familiar? Have you been guilty of all or any of the above?

Did you ever sit and wonder where it all led? Was this the most effective method? Was your child number one in class always? What was the psychological effect on the child? Did you help or hinder him or her?

I have not conducted any research on the matter nor read any voluminous works that guided my behaviour but can only speak from experience of bringing up two daughters. I found the experience not only enriching and rewarding but sufficiently different from that described above with tangible enough results to want to share with other parents who hopefully may find it useful.

The first principle with which I grew up in my own school was that nothing can be taught. It may sound frivolous or pompous, but from the time of Socrates until now there has been a belief that a teacher should be more of a guide than an instructor.

The principle assumes that humans are born with knowledge and the teacher’s function is to encourage the student to think for himself /herself, to work out the solution from what they know already, and to build on it through the years. The teacher’s job becomes not only interesting, but also challenging.

Applying this to the problem of homework or studies generally, the first thing I did was to never chase the children about their schoolwork. They had to understand and practice from a very young age that they, and they alone, were responsible for completing their assignments on time. If they did not, they had to face the teachers and whatever penalties the teachers decided. These formed their first steps in becoming aware of the responsibilities of their own actions.

The other uncommon method used was that I declined to intervene unless they themselves asked me to. If they did not understand some concepts or subject matter at school, or had difficulties in figuring out what their homework was about, I would only then spend as many hours as necessary to get them to figure out the solution, or explain the concepts in different ways until they themselves grasped it.

In our home there was never any sense of panic at exam time. As parents we did not feel pressurised with anything related to school. In fact it was an opportunity to refresh old forgotten knowledge and learn new things all the time.

And the result of what many may consider a lazy, irresponsible laissez-faire attitude? Both shone throughout their school years, and have now obtained postgraduate degrees from the two highest ranked universities in the world! Not from any brilliant coaching on our part, but from their inborn thirst for knowledge and self-disciplined approach to work and life.

In fact, so consistent was their success at school that their mother often reminded them to let others shine as well. “You have been blessed enough!” she would say.

They developed humility and sympathy to those less fortunate than themselves and continue to do their best to help others.

In practice, what I have suggested may be too bold and difficult for some. It may take considerable time and effort for parents to detach themselves from their self-perceived duty as lifelong “teachers” of their children. But it is my firm belief that those who do so will see the benefits of their changed manner of guidance.

A few tips to remember:

➢ Don’t put pressure on your kids in any form.

➢ Help them when required, but patiently, in a calm atmosphere. This is the time and opportunity to give your best.

➢ Let them see school and education in a broader context, not only as an opportunity to prepare for a career but as first steps in a constantly learning experience about life in all its forms. Let them feel the thrill of Knowledge.

➢ Above all, learn together.

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8 Responses to Hounded by Homework

  1. Anonymous January 17, 2010 at 4:26 pm #

    I found your first principle about not chasing children to do homework the most crucial.
    I have seen many children who are highly pressurized by their parents ‘succeed’ in early school years – but when they reach college/university level, and their parents are not always there to watch them with the same vigilance, they often fall behind or lose their academic standing, or worse – their academic passion. Not because they are not smart, but because they are so used to studying or peforming FOR someone else, and not for themselves.
    As you clearly pointed out – this homework lesson applies to life. The earlier you allow your child to be independent and responsible for themselves, the earlier they will learn important lessons in life to succeed, however they choose to define success.

  2. armada January 19, 2010 at 6:46 am #

    Mr. Pathak, your approach may work for kids who are self-motivated. I have two boys (16 and 12) and my husband and I have implicitly stuck to the more laissez-faire attitude and even sometimes feel that we are too hands off. Great. This approach has worked very well with our older son. There is never a day when we have to prod him to complete his work or prepare for a test. The same approach is failing with our younger son who is 4 years younger. Prodding or no prodding, he simply doesn’t want to do anything. Left to his devices, he will probably continue on this path. We simply state to him about the action and consequences equation. But he is very adept at wriggling out of situations and doing the minimum to get by. What would you do with such kids? My sons are completely different beings. So my point here is that one size does not fit all. But yes, I do agree that we must not breathe down our kids’s necks. But where is the middle ground? How does one deal with kids who are very complascent?

    • South Asian Parent January 19, 2010 at 11:07 am #

      Armada, you are right that we can not always have one size that fits all children. Things are never quite so black and white. As you also noted, Kabir’s intention was to point out that we should not suffocate our children to the extent that they give up their desire to learn.

      One suggestion for how to find the middle ground would be this: just like Kabir said, you want to instill in your child the desire to learn, not just the subject material he/she is learning. In order to do that, you may have to experiment a little with your younger son and find learning/teaching methods that are a bit more unique, and might captivate his attention more. To give you some simple examples, many children are tactile learners, and learn concepts better when they have a material representation for it. So, if you wanted to explain a mathematical concept, maybe use a sandbox and get him to write out formulas with his finger in the sand. Or use fun objects to count and calculate–things like that, but obviously catered to the age and interests of your own child.

      It should not be assumed that he is not self-motivated; instead, what you’re in the process of discovering is that you just need to help him find a way in which his personal motivation will be triggered.

      Maybe look at what his hobbies are and find a way to incorporate that same interest into helping him learn things he needs to for school.

      It is a constant learning process when there is more than one child, as similarities and differences between siblings really make us think about the care and sensitivity with which we have to act as parents.

      • armada January 20, 2010 at 7:22 am #

        Thanks South Asian Parent, for the suggestions. As you have mentioned, I am seeing him in a completely different light. I realize that I have to adopt a unique approach, but the thing that frustrates me is his inconsistency. One day, he remembers to do his work, while the next, he has fallen off the wagon. We are through with reminder notes, gentle reprimands, taking away priveleges etc. He is perfectly happy being where he is. He has no urge to excel or compete in anything. But I am ok with this but just fear that this peace with oneself is not laziness in disguise. The minute I stop monitoring him, he goes under the radar. Afterall everyone is unique. He is amazingly socially savvy. I wonder though as to why he has not yet developed any interests or passion. He has a fleeting hobby every once in a while, but that too fades into oblivion. I guess he hasn’t found his passion. So, I am back to the drawing board. Do we gently nudge him or just allow him to find his calling? Thanks for all your insights.

  3. AIS-R student April 20, 2010 at 7:23 am #

    Most parents pressure their kids about doing homework and getting good grades in school. They chase their kids constantly to make sure their schoolwork is done. Some parents even bribe their kids, threaten them, and spoil them.
    What parents don’t think of is that their children need to understand that they are getting good grades for themselves and not for anyone else. They should work alone, and be responsible for completing their assignments on time. Parents should only intervene when their child asks them for help. If children are studying for their parents when they reach college or university, they often don’t do as well, in some cases they may even drop out. This is because their parents are not always there to watch them and make sure they get their work done. It has nothing to do with smartness; it is because they are so used to studying for their parents, and not for themselves.

  4. Turani April 20, 2010 at 10:09 am #

    Many parents pressure their kids to study, do the homework and get good grades. It gets to the point that parents are paying the kid to do good or grounding him, and this is causing other problems such as spoilage.
    When we are off to university or to live alone, continue our life without our parents with us. Who is going to push us to do something? Who will stay behind our backs to do our job? No one! And we will fail because we are used to having someone telling us what to do and all of a sudden he’s out of your life, he’s gone. The kid will fall behind and get lost because he is used to do the work for his parents not for himself. Parents should help the kids not force them to study. You should help them learn to be independent rather than be depending on you and this way they will learn much more in their life. Help the kid learn at an early stage to depend on themselves. So that you don’t need to tell them to study or prepare for a test, they will do everything on their own and succeed in life not just in school.
    😉 <3 manyak and bazzi <3

  5. !xobile April 21, 2010 at 3:15 am #

    I agree with this article completely. Parents should always expect the best from their children however many parents these days expect too much. Maybe your child’s best isn’t as good as you want it to be, there’s nothing you can do about it. Parents these days shouldn’t pressurize their children as much as they do. A little bit of pressure is good, so that the student keeps trying, but the amounts parents put on them now is just unbelievable. I am a student now and you can take it from me, there is just way too much pressure on us. Sometimes I just feel like leaving the house because they never put themselves in our shoes. They are always teaching us about empathy and yet, they never follow it. They expect way too much from us.

  6. Anonymous November 19, 2010 at 11:10 am #

    “It’s not only children who grow. Parents do too. As much as we watch to see what our children do with their lives, they are watching us to see what we do with ours. I can’t tell my children to reach for the sun. All I can do is reach for it, myself.”
    -Joyce Maynard
    The article on ‘Hounded by homework’ by Kabir Pathak is extremely striking as it talks about a unique topic-the way parents from South Asia treat their children with respect to homework.
    I think that the points mentioned in this article are extremely realistic. Till recently, my mother used to chase me for my homework and she would continuously inquire about what had been taught in school. But, she never pressurized me during tests.
    Lately, she has started using the recommended methods (much more abundantly) of- how to train and educate your children for academics and maturing into a responsible, ethical global citizen. She has stopped intervening in my study matters completely. At times, I feel that it was better when she would guide and instruct me- as I did not need to think about my work schedule.
    I will earnestly try to be more organized while making choices. I guess that working independently will prove to be beneficial for me by making me a free-minded, self-governing individual.

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