It is a typical nightmare in almost all Egyptian households with school-age children. The kids have hardly finished with their afternoon meals when mothers start grappling with homework battles and study issues. It’s almost the same scenario everywhere: most children simply want to play, watch TV, meet or text friends or do just about anything other than study or do homework.
“Parents often feel it’s their job to get their kids to do well in school,” notes Debbie Pincus, a life-coach, on empoweringparents.com. But as Pincus has found throughout her 25 years of experience in the field, when parents feel it’s their responsibility to get their kids to achieve, they can get entrenched in a battle over control.
Parents want their children to work harder to get higher grades, while children start fighting to have more control over their choices in life and tend to act defiantly “in attempts to hold onto the little control they have,” Pincus said. Anxious parents often feel frustrated, lose control and start nagging, threatening, punishing and arguing with their children.
“So you both fight harder, and it turns into a war in your home,” Pincus told visitors to empoweringparents.com. But “the hard truth is that you cannot make your children do anything, let alone homework. Instead, the idea is to set limits, respect their individual choices, and help motivate them to motivate themselves.”
There is almost a consensus among experts that pressuring kids to study and do homework often backfires and makes things worse.
“Understand that kids need to buy into the value of doing well. Think about it in terms of your own life: even as an adult, you may know it’s best to eat right, but actually following through is another story! In a way, your child must own the importance of doing well himself.”
Janet Lehman, another advising coach on empoweringparents.com, similarly insists that getting entrenched in power battles over academic achievement is a losing battle. “Some kids are even able to manipulate parents this way, because they know the battle over homework may result in your giving up on expectations to get it done,” she said.
Ibtisam Rabie, a consultant on parenting and psychological issues, could not agree more. “By placing too much focus on grades and scholarly achievement, mothers are actually damaging their children’s ability to think critically, be creative, and develop other important cognitive and social skills,” Rabie said. After all, Rabie argued, “out of the millions of doctors and engineers we have here in Egypt, only a rare few are actually professional and even those may still lack the necessary life and social skills needed to lead a happy and balanced life.”
“So parents need to pause and think about the true purpose of education and balance it with other activities, social skills and creative work, which are equally important to build an emotionally balanced, successful and happy adult,” Rabie went on.
“Focussing too much on grades and academics could do the reverse, especially in the primary stage, because it sends many negative messages to small kids. Suddenly, children feel that school and homework have deprived them of all the pleasures of life: Play, fun, friends and sometimes even the love of their mothers during homework fights.”
Some kids, according to Pincus, might “avoid homework like the plague” because of their subconscious feelings of anxiety and shame about academics and school work. When mothers misinterpret that anxiety as laziness or irresponsibility, they tend to react to it by yelling or criticising. The result? “Your child will manage his anxiety by distancing himself from it, and from you, more,” said Pincus.
“While a little anxiety can motivate, too much blocks your child’s ability to think and to have access to the part of the brain that helps him with motivation,” Pincus warned. Both Rabie and Lehman agree that a parent’s job should thus stop at teaching kids how to follow through on expectations and be accountable. The following are some tips that can help mothers motivate their kids to achieve and reduce battles over homework.
Guide, but don’t control, your child: As Pincus puts it, “get out of his box” and let him own his choices and feel the consequences himself. “The message you need to deliver to your child is that grades are a reflection of his own, not your, success and that he is the one to choose whether he is satisfied with the grades or whether he needs to work harder to make them better,” Rabie said.
“It’s also important to understand that caring and motivation come from ownership,” Pincus agreed. “You can help your child be motivated by allowing him to own his life more. So let him own his disappointment over his grades. Don’t feel it more than he does. Let him choose what he will do or not do about his homework and face the consequences of those choices. Now he will begin to feel ownership, which may lead to caring.”
Stop the fights and set goals: “What goals you need to achieve and how you do so are where you should start,” Rabie advised. “Help your child set a goal for what he wants to be in the future and orient him on how much work he needs to do to achieve that goal.”
Know your child’s learning style: It’s important to know your child and his or her strengths and struggles and how these help him to achieve. “See if your child learns better through hands-on experience, or via auditory or visual techniques, and try to tell this to his teachers to enhance his academic achievement,” Rabie said.
Set consistent homework rules: Choose a suitable place for homework and try to stick to a routine as much as possible. Switch off the TV and computer and give younger siblings similar tasks to do. Some kids need small breaks throughout a session, while others may need the task to be broken down into smaller pieces. In all cases, start with the easier parts because this will motivate the child to carry on with the rest of his homework.
Encourage positive behaviour and introduce fun into learning: Reduce criticism and try to remind your child of his former successes and areas of strength to motivate positive behaviour.
Don’t forget that you are a mother: “Mothers are often the worst teachers of their children when it comes to academics,” Rabie joked. “But it is of paramount importance that mothers fulfil the emotional needs of their children before they start their home study. Cuddling and kissing are important for younger kids, while being a good listener is even more important for older ones.”
Thus, the consensus is that your child needs to feel your compassion all the time and that you are on his side, working on his team, and that he does not lose this because of his grades. Building a healthy relationship with your child and the emotional satisfaction that comes with it are important boosters for your child’s academic achievement and normally reduce the discipline and pressure needed to make him study and do his homework.