Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2007

Homework can be a hassle for parents and students

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Going into a new school year, Potomac resident Victoria Plaza wanted to know how much she should help her three children with their homework and what they should be capable of doing themselves.

So on Aug. 21, Plaza attended ‘‘Homework Hassles: Parent Strategies”, a one-night workshop hosted by the YMCA Youth and Family Services at the Bethesda Library. The event was designed to teach parents about how to best get their children to do homework, to avoid power struggles and to recognize if they are helping too much. More than 25 parents attended.

‘‘I came primarily because I wanted to know how much I should help my kids with homework and how much they should be responsible for themselves,” Plaza said.

The workshop was taught by Rob Guttenberg, director of parenting education for the YMCA’s family program, and is one of seven workshops scheduled across the county into November. Others include ‘‘Respect: Dealing with the Attitude,” ‘‘Choosing, Making and Keeping Friends”, and ‘‘Communicating Success to Children.”

He told parents that their children are more capable of doing their own homework, getting themselves up in the morning and disciplining themselves they often think.

One of the most difficult things about being a parent is answering the question, ‘‘Is your child drowning, or are they learning to swim?” Guttenberg said. ‘‘It helps to know other parents are going through the same thing.”

According to Guttenberg, three main things that parents should remember is don’t do homework for your youngsters and only help them if they ask, don’t pamper them too much and don’t set the bar too high so that they can never reach goals.

‘‘I found it useful to have the advice children should be responsible for their own homework and be responsible for the whole process of getting up and going to school in the morning,” said Bethesda resident Patti Waldmeir. ‘‘It isn’t just about what they’re learning, it’s about time management skills.”

If children feel that they have some control over their lives and that they can achieve their goals, they will be more likely to want to work hard and succeed, Guttenberg said.

But many students just have too much homework to finish without help, according to Plaza, who doesn’t remember having nearly as much as her children, ages 6, 9 and 11.

‘‘I do think there is more homework then there used to be and schedules are just busier,” she said. ‘‘Maybe it’s becoming more difficult to get homework done.”

Waldmeir agrees, saying the arguing with her 7-year-old daughter began during the summer when she didn’t want to do the assigned 200 pages of homework.

‘‘I think that Montgomery County gives way too much homework and the fact that they give too much homework led to power struggles with my daughter,” she said.

Some parents also feel that there is nothing they can do to make their child even care about school.

‘‘I’ve explained to him, the better you do now, the more choices you’ll have later in life,” said one parent during the workshop. ‘‘It doesn’t seem to mean anything at this point.”

Then it’s time to implement some form of punishment, said Guttenberg, who added that children should have a role in deciding what punishment is appropriate for each situation.

And don’t threaten your child, he said.

Don’t tell them to do their homework now or you’ll take away the television, say when you finish your homework then you can watch television, he said

Some parents left the workshop feeling that they learned a lot while others found the information useful but thought it could be difficult to change the way they parent.

‘‘If you’ve grown up with one parenting model it’s difficult to retrain yourself,” Plaza said. ‘‘But it does give them something else they can use.”