♥ When your child struggles with homework

Often times as a nanny, I am responsible for helping kiddos with homework after school. One of my mommy clients once wrote me an email letter asking me for help because her son was struggling with his homework. Not necessarily with the content of the homework itself (he was a very smart/advanced student in the gifted program at his private school) His struggle was rather just the process of "homework time" in general. The routine of setting up his work space, sharpening his pencil, keeping his papers organized in his folder, making sure it gets put in his back pack and sitting still at his work table and staying focused. Typical kid stuff. 

Below is an email I wrote back to my mommy client explaining some of my thoughts and ideas to help with homework time struggles - as well as my offer to help with some suggestions and tips to get her son focused. For their privacy, I have replaced their names with generic names like “mommy client” and “little Johnny”.

♥  Dear “mommy client”,
Sorry you're having a tough time with “little Johnny”  and his homework. It's completely understandable that you are frustrated. (as well as “little Johnny” being frustrated also…) I've seen this so many (countless) times with kiddos going thru professional tutoring, one-on-one homework coaching and ABA therapy (…none of them as young as “little Johnny” tho.) 

Yes, I’ve seen “little Johnny” do the stall tactic thing where he tries writing outside of the box or purposely makes mistakes. (sometimes slowly, almost seemingly looking at me out of the corner of his eye waiting for a reaction) like: "Ok Jen, I'm gonna make a mistake now… ready? Here I go, I'm gonna mess up now… you see me?" I think he's testing us; to see if we will correct him, or ignore his mistake, not notice it at all or just snap and lose it altogether. I wonder how his tutor reacts when he does these intentional mistakes & stall tactics like asking to go to the bathroom or wanting to sharpen his pencil (again). Wish we could be a fly on the wall at homework club to see what his tutor says. Maybe you could ask his tutor how he/she handles it. Maybe he doesn't do that with his tutor at all!

Question for ya: How do you and/or daddy react when he starts goofing off and making mistakes on purpose when I'm not there? Is he getting some kind of "different" attention? Is he getting out of doing homework for even a second? (Or longer by going into time-outs?) I've seen kiddos in ABA sessions purposely make mistakes or intentionally get the answer wrong just because the result is a different outcome. A change that creates a bit of a mental break, a "different" kind of attention. Even if it’s a punishment... he/she gets out of the monotony of the boring/repetitious homework - even if only for a moment. Somehow breaking the pattern of predictability makes things interesting for them - a challenge, like a game or maybe even controlling the situation, the outcome, or the tutor. It's all very psychological. To “little Johnny” - you are the role of mamma. It's hard (confusing?) for a child to switch back and forth from mamma to teacher/tutor/nanny.

I do know this: In ABA (applied behavioral analysis) they only use positive reinforcement. Never (ever) negative reinforcement or punishment. (ever) They simply stick to it, keep smiling, continue moving forward, never negotiate or make deals/bribes and never let the child see that you are rattled or getting impatient. He might just be trying to get a reaction out of you. This could be a control thing. Most importantly the tutor/therapist always says: "let's try again" - that way he knows you are not going to give up on him, you are not going to quit, or walk away or stop homework time. You are going to keep going until the homework is done. You'll need to have inexhaustible persistence. Consistently - every time. (Which is exactly why mommies hire professional tutors to help! Who has time for all that?? ha ha!)

I feel the whole practice of homework for a child this age is not about getting it right or doing it perfectly. It's more about the learning how to get into the routine, self correcting, self discipline, working on focus, attention span, learning that the fun stuff comes AFTER our homework is done. The basic psychology of ABA is "First this then that…" So: first homework then… snack, reward, treat, play, fun, trampoline, bike, etc.  Whatever it is he's excited about that particular day. Keep the proverbial carrot dangling in front of him throughout the entire homework session. (eg: “…one more page and we get a cookie!”  “Good job buddy, two more math answers and we get to go outside to play!” or “one more booklet and we get a lollipop…”) Whatever works. Just keeping it upbeat and encouraging!

One thing I always keep in mind with “little Johnny”  is that he is very smart. (and he’s only 4) He might very well be above and beyond this math level of homework already. He may be bored! The handwriting is understandably frustrating for him because as we all know with “little Johnny”  - if he isn't good at it = he doesn't like doing it! Then he wants to give up.

Just know that I will do whatever I can to help. We are both on the same team with the same ultimate goal. 

Jen ♥ 

💗 Nanny Knowledge with Miss Jen
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