The Secret That Transforms Homework: Growth Mindset
Is homework at your house a time of calm, enjoyable learning? Or resistance and defeatism? Or defiance and tantrums? Many children hate homework, with good reason. After working hard all day at school, children really need to spend their afternoons outside, running around.
But virtually all schools assign homework, so if your child is in a school that expects them to do homework, you as the parent will need to support your child to get it done. And that's a tall order, because kids often resist parental involvement in their schoolwork. Sometimes that's because they find learning so difficult. But sometimes it's because they worry that they won't do a good job, and you'll figure out that they aren't so smart after all. That would be disastrous. So to keep that from happening, they don't even try. They would rather you think they're lazy than discover they aren't smart.
Crazy, right? But many kids hide this secret, so it's important you know about it. To settle down and learn, your child has to be convinced that you love them unconditionally, and that you're totally unconcerned if they struggle to understand something or aren't magically good at something -- because you know they are more than smart enough, exactly as they are.
The reason you're comfortable with your child not yet knowing many things and not yet having many skills is that you know they're a kid -- they're still learning. You also know that it's fine that your child has to work hard at knowing those things and developing those skills. That doesn't mean they're not "smart." It means they're normal.
In fact, it's time to move beyond the whole concept of "smart," which implies that kids are either intelligent or they're not. That's one of the beliefs that makes kids give up on learning, and it turns out to be false. The truth is that our brains are always growing in response to our experience, so we can always work on getting better at things. So it's never about being smart, it's about growing your brain.
This way of viewing our brains is called "Growth Mindset" and knowing that the brain is always growing actually helps children's brains learn! It's also an essential antidote to self-judgment and fears about achievement.
When you talk with your child about this, you can use the example of building muscles by working out. You wouldn't try lifting a huge weight and then give up "because I'm just not strong!" You would work at it until you met your goals. Similarly, your mind grows and gets better at solving problems and learning new things the more you practice.
This means that your most important job in supporting your child to learn is NOT to teach. It's to connect! That's what helps your child feels safer and more secure, less likely to go off the deep end when he struggles to understand something.
To decrease anxiety and increase cooperation, step back from evaluating your child in any way. That's the teacher's job. Your job is to celebrate every step in the right direction, with constant encouragement for your child’s efforts.
So focus on actions your child can control:
- Practicing skills
- Managing their frustration when they encounter a challenge.
Instead of pointing out which problems your child got wrong, focus on what they got right, and ask them how they they think can build on what they already know, so they can learn even more. Point out that challenges are brain stretchers!
Next time your child insists that they just aren't good at something -- Math, for instance -- You might say "You just don't feel comfortable with math YET! Do you remember how you used to struggle to draw a heart, but then you tried every day and now you make a great heart? Math is the same! A little bit each day will grow your brain so math gets easier and easier -- and more fun!"
Empathize when it’s hard, and point out that heavy lifting is what builds mental muscle. Tell your child that you have seen them do many hard things, and you're there to support them. What will help them do this hard thing? Having you sit next to them? Doing the first few problems together? Tackling one problem at a time, then putting on music to dance to their favorite song, then facing the next problem?
Sure, your child might say they need ice cream to cope with math, and you may not agree to ice cream after each problem, but you may well let them choose a special treat when they complete their math assignment for the day.
Over time, your child will gain more confidence in their ability to solve problems, and more frustration tolerance when things are tough. But for now, you're just giving them support to manage themselves through their fear of not being good enough, so they can tackle the work.