My first day of elementary school, something incredible happened. I felt big. I felt strong. I felt empowered. I was no longer a member of the early childhood clan—and boy, did it feel liberating!

Of course, soon after the year began, another new and unexpected twist sprang up with it. Homework! I figured that it was all a big trick, this homework business, and that it would one day go away. Far, far away. Well, it didn’t.

After a full day at school, doing homework was not exactly how I wanted to spend my free time. As you can imagine, I’m not proud of the scenes I made over finishing assignments. No bueno.

My mom sat with me until I completed it all. Lots of times she had to help me out. Maybe she even wrote some of my English reports later in sixth grade. (OK, she actually did write them.) When my teacher told me that my writing was mature beyond my years, I knew why.

I’m grateful to my mom for every minute she devoted to me because she did it out of total love. She didn’t want me to take a fall.

But you know something? With all that help, instead of taking a fall—I took a hit.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not my mom’s fault and this isn’t about blaming anyone. I totally get why she painstakingly nailed me down to my seat to help me.

Yet my internal dialogue ran something like this: “Mommy better help me because it’s clear that I can’t do this work on my own.” Or “I’ll just let my mom write this for me. She’s so much better at it than I am.” Do you see where I’m going with this?

The single most undermining deed a parent can commit is to take away a child’s feeling that they can do something on their own.

Just tonight, I read a mom’s post on Facebook saying that she hates homework more now than when she was a kid. Umm…Really? I wanted to tell her: “That’s interesting because it’s not your homework anymore.”

I mean it. I don’t mean it meanly or judgmentally. I mean that if you hate your child’s homework (note emphasis), something nonconstructive is going on. Guaranteed!

Without claiming to be an expert on homework (I am definitely not!), here is what has worked for us to make homework an empowering experience. To give you an idea, my kids come home and on their own want to get their homework out of the way. I don’t force them. I don’t bribe them. They are intrinsically motivated, which is the ideal incentive. Yes. We are perfect. Just ask my kids. (And then I will run and hide.)

So try this and let me know if you see any changes (i.e. altered states of consciousness, an improved perspective, a sudden need to toss back a shot, a subtle shift, nothing at all but mild indigestion—all are possibilities).

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Step One

CREATE A CONDUCIVE ENVIRONMENT FOR DOING HOMEWORK. If your kids walk in the door from school and find the TV or computers are on, you just lost them. Right now, my kids know that there is no TV/video time during the week at all. However, if you do allow some viewing or playing time and want them to finish their homework, there are few greater motivators to doing homework than knowing that until it’s done, there’s no electronics time. Trust me.

If “electronics time” isn’t an appropriate motivator, I like using “game time,” ice cream dates, arts and crafts, meeting friends, and other fun activities instead. All those happen when homework is finished. Totally worth doing it, right?

Another factor is location. I like to set them up in the kitchen near me while I’m making dinner. That way I get to hear their reading or answer any questions as needed. It’s quiet. I’m available but not hovering. They know it’s up to them to finish the job. And I get to cook dinner, so that’s an added bonus.

If home is too distracting, sometimes sitting at Barnes & Noble or a coffee shop forces kids to stay in place and also gives a time limit. They know that eventually you’re going to want to get outta there.

Step Two

HOMEWORK ATTITUDES. If you find homework a drag, chances are your kids will too. Your complaints become your kids’ ammunition. You can bet that they will view it as a nuisance and will want to avoid it. So let’s break it down (and try to separate our own nightmarish homework memories).

Homework is merely a task that needs to get done. Period. Most teachers nowadays are pretty sensitive to kids and don’t assign that much work. It’s really not that bad and should not take too long.

Technically, homework is supposed to be a review of the work they did in school. It’s not new material (at least it shouldn’t be). That means they should be able to get it done on their own—that is, if they’re paying attention in school and the teacher is doing the job right. If it is too hard or your child doesn’t know what’s flying, it’s time to move into step three.

Step Three

PARTNER WITH YOUR CHILD’S TEACHER. Remember Finding Nemo? The shark’s mantra went something like: “Fish are friends, not food.” Similarly, teachers are friends, not enemies. A decent teacher wants to see your child succeed A) because they care (hopefully) and B) because that means they’re doing a good job. Teachers are people too, and they were students at one point who may or may not have struggled in the same way as your children. If your children can’t do the homework on their own, then some detective work is in order.

It does not mean that you have to do the assignments for them! I can’t stress this enough.

However, this IS prime time for finding out how your child learns best. Take it.

It is a great opportunity to advocate on behalf of your children and find out what they’re not understanding at school. Not every child learns best in a large classroom setting. Some students need to study in smaller groups in order to stay focused. Most schools offer additional services to assist kids in need. A few of my kids have benefited from these groups, and now they don’t need them anymore.

If your child is having a hard time sitting down to do homework, discuss that with the teacher and perhaps a qualified guidance counselor too. There is nothing wrong with getting assistance to bolster your child’s learning.

Step Four

LET YOUR CHILD TAKE A FALL. This one is a biggie and you may not like the sound of it. For some reason, today’s society thinks that we have to swoop in and rescue our kids so that they won’t get hurt. Sadly, this well-intentioned behavior hurts your children even more. Facing challenges builds character and gives children opportunities to grow, learn, and overcome hardship. No. It isn’t easy to stand by and watch. Yes, it is a wonderful chance to model compassion, love, and support.

Bringing this sweeping statement back to homework, if your kids won’t do it, that’s their choice. Let me emphasize the word “choice” here. It’s a biggie in empowering your little one. Your child decides not to do the homework. Let the teacher decide how to handle it. As long as you do your part in facilitating the homework environment, if your children refuse to do it, move into an attitude of openness on their behalf. It could be that they are unconsciously asking for a valuable learning experience.

It’s about letting them bake a batch of cookies on their own—even if they get some measurements wrong—and then tasting the batter.

Don’t get me wrong. I am totally on it when my kids need my support. If there is a legitimate excuse why they can’t complete their homework, I stand behind them all the way. This is not about letting kids get away with not doing homework either.

Years ago I read a book called Love and Logic by Drs. Jim Fay and Charles Fay. While I don’t always agree with the method, the main point drives home the value of allowing kids to experience a logical progression of their actions. This helps them see the connection between their choices and the outcome.  I find that to be an instrumental life lesson. It’s not mean, cruel, or callous. Sometimes they will choose wisely and sometimes they won’t.  Either way, they get to discover the results of their actions themselves. It will bite them at times, but the converse is also true. When those cookies come out tasting amazing, it is their accomplishment…not mine.

Step Five

EMPOWER YOUR CHILD WITH A CAN DO ATTITUDE. Take it from me. When other people did the homework for me, I felt inadequate. It made me feel like I was not capable of accomplishing it on my own. Yes, of course, that was my subconscious interpretation and not the desired goal. I probably couldn’t even articulate how I felt about it until much later.

Make sure you show your kids that you trust them enough to be able to do the work themselves. Their answers don’t have to be right. The math problems can show mistakes. Who cares? Because here’s another lil ole secret. I can’t remember most of the things I got right in school (or in life really). But when I made mistakes, you can bet I remember those. It’s a whacky system and I have no idea why it works like that. It just does.

Don’t deprive your kids of their mistakes. There are a world of lessons in every batch.