Using Basic Psychology Can Help Improve Your Child’s Grades This Quarter
By Michael Abruzzese, Ph.D.
© Copyright 2021 Vista Health Services, Inc.
Posted February 5, 2021
“It is good to rub and polish our brain against that of others.” – Michel de Montaigne
Parents and homework have always had a “love/hate” relationship. Parents want their kids to do well in school and, since teachers want kids to do homework, parents have been turned into the Homework Police. Kids don’t like doing homework. How can anyone (that is, teachers, school superintendents, school committees) think that this situation ends well? It usually doesn’t Especially during the COVID restriction, parents have a new respect for teachers and the stressors that affect kids and schoolwork everyday.
Now, however, those stressors have struck home and parents realize just how difficult school – and homework – is for most kids. Who knew? Well, learning specialists and child psychologists knew. But who listened? Now everyone is listening… to the kids when they complain about how difficult learning can be, to parents, child psychologists and (gasp!) even teachers when they complain about the difficulties of teaching and homework in the COVID age.
Some basic psychology can help in this area. Psychological knowledge is both old and new. Some things seem to be common sense and others are counter-intuitive (not common sense), but the thing about psychology is that you should use it to make your life better. In this post, I cover a basic, four step process to help you improve your kid’s grades this very report card period. What is this magic? A golden-oldie: helping with homework!
I know what you’re thinking: Homework? Is he crazy? Relax. This article doesn’t give you a full “How To Study” program, because I expect you already have one that you are using. This article will help fill in some gaps in the program that you are using and it just gives you a simple, straight forward action plan to help improve your child’s grades right now – in this report card period. The key is for the parent(s) to change their own behavior first.
It’s a S.N.A.P.
S – SUPPORT your child’s homework routine! Make sure your child has a space in the house that is set aside for her or him to actually do their homework. You’d be surprised how few kids have a regular time and area set aside for them to get their homework done. This is a small and easy-to-do detail that most parents, believe it or not, fail to arrange for their children. So the first thing is to be sure to set aside a particular time period and specific area for the homework to be done. Try and get agreement, if you can, with your child about the time period in which to do the homework. Try not to interfere with after school activities your child highly values, such as sports, music lessons or other specialized interests. A specific, designated homework area can be anywhere, really, including a part of the kitchen or dining room table. Just be sure your child has his or her own place to work undisturbed.
Also, make sure it is QUIET for your favorite student to CONCENTRATE and FOCUS on what he or she must read or think about it. Noise is very distracting to young brains that are trying to concentrate. It’s also distracting to, ahem, old brains – no offense, Moms and Dads. Really, get your kid’s homework organized by starting out with a set time and space especially for homework completion. This indicates to your child how important parents think homework is. Homework can account for as much as 60% of a student’s overall grade and if the student is having academic trouble in class because of medical absences, poor test grades or similar classroom work difficulties, good ol’ fashioned HOMEWORK completion is what many schools often look to as an indication of curricular accomplishment and performance.
This is especially true if there are projects or other out-of-class assignments that have been made. If your kid misses many of these (and sometimes even only a few of them) there may be NO WAY to make them up in class or after the deadline has passed. So homework counts.
N – NO YELLING! (This means YOU, Dad and/or Mom.) What’s that? You never yell? Ah, yes you do yell – but here’s the tricky part. While most parents don’t think that they yell at their kids – most kids think they do yell! How can that be? Simple – kids and adults have different definitions of “yelling.”
To KIDS, “yelling” can include a parent using a loud voice, or a stern voice, or a certain tone of voice, or even just a perceived attitude that the parent has and, sometimes, even just the words that parents may use – even if there is no increase in loudness. To PARENTS, of course, yelling is….YELLING!
But not to kids. So take note: No Yelling. If in doubt, ask the expert – your kid! Just ask, “Um, does it sound as though I’m yelling at you about your homework?” Don’t be offended when your kid says (or yells), “Yes!”
A – ACTIVELY participate in your child’s homework. How well is your kid doing with homework and academic assignments in general? You’d be surprised how many parents do not take the time to even be informed about what homework actually is due – let alone try to help their kids with it. Many parents complain that even they do not understand the math problems that are sent home for homework. Even worse, many schools no longer send home math books that explain how to do the math problems.
Often, kids just get a few worksheets with math problems taken out-of-context. This is a real, real bad academic practice that many schools have adopted. If your school district has adopted this practice, I’d like to suggest that you simply speak to your kid’s teacher and explain your concerns, but the teacher may not have any control over the matter. In that case, you have adopt “guerrilla” tactics and either go online to get support for the match subject you kid is studying or go to the local library and get one of the many subject books now available for home schooling students.
Education is in a period of flux and parents must be sure their student is not left behind. So avoid a possible trouble area and talk to the teachers about how you, the parent, can always know what has been assigned for homework. And, while we’re on the subject, always notice how your child is doing with their homework. Seek teacher-parent conferences, look at the work your child brings home and review it. In general, take an interest in what your child is doing in school and especially notice their homework.
When you take the time with your child and show an interest in what they are doing, just by showing some positive attention (that means, ahem, NO YELLING – see above, Dads) a kid’s self-esteem can really improve and so can their effort. Teachers will also notice your involvement and most teachers may be very happy to have a parent who actively supports what the teacher is trying to do in the classroom. Most teachers – but, sadly, NOT ALL teachers.
Surprisingly enough, there may be MANY teachers who will not like the parent “interfering” with the child’s school and learning behavior. “It’s the child’s responsibility,” the teacher may say. “They need to learn to be responsible without someone looking over their shoulder.” In other words, the teacher is telling you to “butt out” of an important part of your kid’s development. Don’t buy into such nonsense. By paying attention to what your kid’s homework assignments are, you are ALSO keeping tabs on how the teacher and school are preparing your child (or NOT preparing your child) for the next grade and for his or her future LIFE!
P – POWER up your kid’s homework performance! No, I’m not telling you to do your kid’s homework with them – you might not understand it all, anyway. No; what I’m saying is to use your knowledge as a parent who has taken notice of what the homework is and is therefore showing support for your kid’s best efforts to complete his or her homework and who has also talked to the teachers about the homework and academic expectations. If you can, of course, then by all means help your child as the child does the homework, but don’t do the homework for the child.
If you can’t help – and many parents just can’t help their kid with homework because the parent or child gets too frustrated or tearful or there is too much conflict – then parents can help their kids by just find someone else who can help your child with their homework. This is easier than you may think – an uncle, an aunt, an older student from the high school or college, extra help from the school – all these ways are possible and advisable. Don’t let your child struggle with homework or academic work: GET HELP and get it sooner, not later.
If you don’t know how to start, start by asking your school. If your school is not helpful – and believe me, lots of schools across the country aren’t – you may have to contact an education advocate. In some states, you can enlist the help of the state Department of Education. Homework is where most of the learning gets done, after all, because all learning is really self-learning! Teachers can either HELP students learn (that is, make it easier for them) or HINDER students from learning (that is, make it harder for them) simply by the way the teachers organize and present things to a student or a class.
But in order to truly LEARN anything (that is, to really UNDERSTAND and KNOW something) we all have to “get it” somehow and make it ours. Homework is the best way to do that, because homework is simply independent learning.
It’s Your Turn Now, Mom and Dad… Remember, the more time you spend working on a task – working on it CORRECTLY, that is – the more likely you are to be successful at accomplishing that task. THINKING is very important and is ALWAYS a good place to start any activity, but thinking without ACTION will not change your life very much. It is the EXPERIENCE of putting positive thoughts into positive actions that can improve our quality of life.
So SUPPORT your kid’s homework efforts, with NO YELLING as you do. ACTIVELY participate in your child’s educational process and POWER UP your kid’s performance by paying attention to when they are struggling and getting help for them sooner, not later.
It’s a S.N.A.P.
* A slightly different version of this article appears in the book, 10 Lessons in Power Psychology Using Power Psychology Techniques to Improve The Quality Of Your Life, by Dr. Michael Abruzzese ISBN-13: 978-0-9910117-0-4
Michael Abruzzese, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist on Cape Cod and a former Clinical Instructor at Harvard Medical School. He is the author of Ten Lessons in Power Psychology; Psychology Tips and Techniques For People Who Would Never Visit a Psychologist’s Office. https://www.amazon.com/Lessons-Power-Psychology-Techniques-Pscychologists/dp/0991011708