Support implies that we are present, but not hovering. Nearby, but not intrusive. Doing our own thing while they do theirs. When parents hover over kids, we imply that we will be there immediately with advice or help, maybe even before they have to ask for it. When we step back, and show that we have our own work to do and our own interests, we signal that we trust them to do their work on their own, without our constant prodding and nagging.
Every kid, no matter how gifted, no matter how brilliant, will eventually need help, and when that moment arrives, parents should aim to encourage, not rescue. A call for help with homework is not a signal to take hold of the pencil or solve the problem; it’s an opportunity to teach that child how to approach the problem or the misunderstanding from another direction. As psychologist, author, and school counselor Michael Thompson suggests in his book, The Pressured Child, “Children need us to recognize their struggle and pay attention to it. That doesn’t mean to intervene immediately or to start yelling or panicking, or to come to a premature conclusion.” When we do intervene, we communicate to our children that we don’t trust them, and that we don’t believe that they are competent enough to handle the problem themselves. When we encourage them to keep trying, to push through frustration to learning, we implicitly tell them that we know they can succeed and have the tools to persevere.
Frustrated kids are not hopeless kids; often, all they need is a redirection – a leading question that reveals an error in thinking or the repetition of a direction in order to bring the problem into sharper focus. When we redirect, rather than save our kids when they get stuck, we teach them that they can succeed eventually, given some persistence and fortitude. Even better, we raise the odds that they will be able to redirect themselves the next time around.
This is, after all, our job. Not to eliminate all frustration from our children’s lives, but to show them how to cope with it when they inevitably face it. It’s our job to give them the tools, techniques and tricks they will need to succeed on their own, without our help.
It’s so much easier to establish these priorities from the beginning, in the context of elementary school worksheets and addition flashcards, rather than later on, when increased difficulty and higher academic and emotional stakes can distract everyone from these long-term goals.
When homework time gets frustrating for everyone, and you are tempted to prioritize your child’s short-term happiness over their long-term competence, remember: parenting is a long-haul job. We owe it to our kids to take every opportunity to show them that grades, scores and points are not the final destination. Any kid can learn how to play that game. No, we expect more.
We expect them to learn.