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The school year. The excitement of new notebooks and new pens and colored pencils. The fun of seeing friends after the summer and settling back into a routine. The thrill for parents of micromanaging the details of their child’s homework, sports schedules, play practices, and club meetings. What, you don’t love micromanaging all of this? Where is your helicopter? If the anticipation of the school year keeps you awake at night, we have some ideas for you. What if this year you transition your student to owning his or her homework, grades, and activities? “Seriously?” you ask. “Let Mark remember to bring his practice uniform on soccer days and bring it home to be washed? He might scare off all the ladies with his three day sweat-infused socks. Count on Michaela to pack her backpack the night before so she is on time to homeroom? Without reminding her? Are you kidding?” No. Not kidding. Depending on the age of your son or daughter, it is very likely that you are clinging to some responsibilities that would be better transitioned over to them.

Let’s think about what it looks like to step back so your child steps forward. What is one school responsibility you have been holding onto that your son or daughter could totally manage? Consider these and other possibilities:

Remember, it is not about knowing they can successfully manage their school responsibilities today. It’s about giving them the opportunities to grow into successfully managing them. There will probably be some mistakes and maybe (if needed) some coaching along the way—but that’s part of learning how to step forward on their own with confidence.

As a foster parent, psychotherapist, and expert in family and teen therapy, Amy Morin—author of 13 Things Mentally Strong Parents Don’t Do—has witnessed first-hand what works: “When children have the skills they need to deal with challenges in their everyday lives, they can flourish socially, emotionally, behaviorally, and academically. With appropriate support, encouragement, and guidance from adults, kids grow stronger and become better.”

Talk with your kids about what they think they can manage themselves. Ask them how they will transition to own this skill. What do they want from you and what can you count on them for? Do they (or you) need a check-off list or chart? If so, ask them to make it. Do they need a reminder? What would a good reminder be (sticky note on the door or mirror, alarm on their phone or automated reminder on the phone, note on the fridge)? Have them set it up and take ownership of it.

Try your best not to nag, remind, helicopter, over-check, or do any of these things while pretending not to. This is letting them learn. Giving them the chance to succeed or fail or fall somewhere in between. It is ok. The stakes are small. This does not go on your permanent record (and even if it does, it is better to have a ding on a school record than to start one with the police). If you set a reasonable timeframe for them to manage this skill, you can have a check-in conversation at the end. If they make a mistake in the middle, refrain from correcting. It’s fine to ask if they need any help, but unless they say “yes,” back away and continue to let them work toward owning this. If they blow it, give them a Mulligan. This is the crux of leading your child on the path toward responsible, unentitled adulthood. They have to try hard things and feel the full brunt of their decisions and actions. They have to feel the feeling of achievement when they succeed without any parental involvement. This is the “high” we want them to feel. This is what we want them to seek more of. You will be amazed when they get going on this and start to take on more and more responsibility without your help in the process.

The rewards for this are monumental. They feel proud of their maturity. You feel proud of their accomplishment. This builds trust and mutual respect for your ongoing relationship. They feel empowered to move on to bigger and better things. You can enjoy the break from feeling responsible for everything. The goal becomes finding new things to move from your plate to theirs. The helicopter has landed.

Since school has started, my inbox has been flooded with questions about homework from my non-educator friends. Homework should have an actual purpose and there are developmentally appropriate amounts of times for their grade level. That also means that not every single child is ready for that developmental stage.

According to the National Education Association, over the last 50 years, most US students spend less than an hour a night on homework. But in the last 20 years, that time has increased in the lower grades. Researcher Harris Cooper set guidelines for homework of 10-20 minutes of homework for first grade and adding 10 minutes each year all the way through high school with the exception being high school students taking advanced courses. I thought most schools followed these guidelines, but according to my inbox, that is not the case.

What is the point of homework? Homework should be a form of practice or enrichment of what was taught during the school day. It should be short and purposeful. There is absolutely no reason for a student to have 90 math problems for homework or any other time, for that matter.

Elementary children should reading every single night. The U. S. Department of Education America Reads Challenge states that students who read 20 minutes a day get exposed to 1.8 million words and will score better on achievement tests.

If homework is a problem in your home and is taking you two hours to complete, it is important to start trying to get to the root of the issue. Start with what is happening at home. Try a few of these steps:

If you have tried to change things at home and homework is still a struggle, then it is time to meet with the teacher. When you meet with the teacher here are some suggestions of questions to discuss:

Homework should not be ruling your child’s life. Staying up late to finish homework leads to sleepy children that are not paying attention in class when new material is taught, and they are caught in a vicious cycle. Stay in communication with the teacher to protect your child’s stress level and your family time.


Many elementary-grade and middle school children spend their afternoons in an afterschool program. Often these programs are conducted right on the school campus but usually they are presented by an outside group.

As one might expect, the quality of these programs is important but the quality varies. How can you be sure your own child’s afterschool experience is a good one? How can you be sure it doesn’t actually contribute to children’s bad behavior?

A recent study in the American Journal of Community Psychology set out to discover if afterschool programs support a sense of community among the children. Feelings of belonging and shared values have been found in the past to be important in adult social organizations. Children in second through fifth grades in three Pennsylvania schools were asked how connected they felt to the other children in the program, how willing they were to intervene if another child was behaving badly and the types of bad behavior they themselves had committed in the afterschool setting.

The researchers found that the more connected kids felt to other children in the program, the more likely they were to uphold behavior standards of the group and the less likely they were to get in trouble themselves. Feeling a sense of community made children act better.

But, “Too often, we don’t create a place where youth can grow, develop and have a hand in shaping their own environments,” the principal researcher Emilie Smith said. She goes on to note that afterschool programs should include practices that support a sense of community among the children and encourage their engagement with the staff and with each other.

If your child attends an afterschool program, what should you look for?

  1. Adequate staffing. The more staff, the more likely children will be well-supervised, the more likely bullying behavior will be minimal, and the more likely it is that staff will themselves be unstressed and able to respond calmly. When you walk in, can you quickly find a staff member?
  2. Well-trained staff. Of course, afterschool programs tend to hire the most inexpensive, inexperienced employees they can find: high school students, college students, and low-skill adults. So the need for good training is important, along with careful supervision by a highly-qualified leader. Ask about staff training and ask about the credentials of the program director.
  3. Humane interactions. Children will copy what they see adults doing, so if staff seem controlling, harsh, or disinterested, children will be mean to each other, uninterested in others’ difficulties, and disengaged from the program itself. When you visit, notice how staff interact with children. Are they modeling respectful, pleasant behavior?
  4. Activities that are fun for everyone. Not every child enjoys competitive sports, competitive games, and other activities that pit one child or team against another. Make certain that a variety of activities is offered and that competition is kept to a minimum.
  5. Help with homework that is truly helpful. Most afterschool programs dedicate some time to completing homework. How this is handled can affect not only your child’s afternoon but his success in school. So homework supervision that is actually helpful and develops kids’ study skills and abilities is important. Ask how homework is handled before you enroll your child.

Certainly, families who use afterschool care need afterschool care – it’s not optional. And certainly there usually is only one program offered convenient to a child’s school. It’s unlikely that your family will have much choice in the matter.

But that’s not to say you don’t have influence. If the afterschool program at your child’s school seems inadequate, talk to the program director and to the school principal. The value of good afterschool programs is clear.

Good afterschool programs make children feel good about themselves and each other. Good afterschool programs inspire children to behave well. It’s worth it to make certain your child’s afterschool experience is a good one.


© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Developmentally Appropriate Parenting, at your favorite bookstore.

You’ve probably seen a television ad for a national chain of tutoring centers: an older boy has a question about his math homework, but his mother takes one horrified look at the textbook and runs out of the house, straight to a tutoring center. Surely there’s a different, less-costly and more immediately-helpful response. But when the homework’s too hard – even for you – what else can you do?

First off, set some mental parameters for yourself.
•   Shake off your own memories of freshman algebra or English 101 and focus on your child, not yourself.
•   Make the quite reasonable assumption that the work really isn’t too hard for your child. Your kid is smart enough right? She does okay in other things, right? She can get this.
•   Understand that it’s okay that you don’t have all the answers. You can learn along with your child. In doing so, you demonstrate how to tackle tough assignments and plow through to success.
•   Do not transfer your dislike for a subject or your helplessly confused feelings to your child. Don’t be like the mother in that ad.


Second, follow some specific steps when your child throws down his pencil and yells for your help.

1. Make time for hard stuff. Set the hard work aside, do the other homework and reserve an hour or two for the tricky thing. Just doing this takes some pressure off and opens up the space for thinking. Putting the work aside for a while, calms the head and also lets the unconscious brain come up with answers.

2. Read through the assignment directions or problem together. What is asked for? Where is the disconnect between what your child understands and what she’s expected to know or do?

3. Read through the chapter together. You can read it aloud, stopping to discuss the text with your child. Realize that most likely the key to the homework’s solution is in the text.

4. Read through the assignment directions or problem again. Does the assignment remind you of anything you just read together from the text? Is it clearer now what the child needs to do? If not, where is the disconnect? Go back and figure things out.

5. By now, things should be pretty clear. If they’re still not clear, now is the time to pick up your Southwestern Advantage books, log-in to, activate your school’s homework hotline or call the reference desk at your local public library. Dial up a friend from class and see how he’s managing this assignment. The reason for waiting to activate these “lifelines” is this: now your child will be able to evaluate the suggestions he gets and understand how they are reasonable or off-base. He will be able to talk intelligently about the assignment and the content it represents. Even if your child doesn’t wind up doing the assignment correctly, he will understand the correct solution once he gets it.

One word of caution. Often, halfway through these steps, a child will say, “Oh, I get it!” and dismiss you from the homework table. This might be because he doesn’t want you to help anymore or because he really has figured it out. Either way, this is your cue to say, “Fine! Let me know if you need me later….” and get out of the way.

And a second caution. Resist the impulse to check your child’s work. If she asks you to, that’s fine, but only point out where you think she might have taken a wrong turn. Don’t actually fix her answers. And if she doesn’t ask you to check her work, don’t do it. This is her work, not yours.

Your role here is not one of supplying the answers. You don’t need to know anything about the subject at all. And getting everything right in the homework is not so important as understanding how to tackle tough assignments and get them done.

Your role is to be a calm supporter, who works alongside the child in figuring things out.

© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.

If getting everyone up and out the door on time is becoming more and more difficult every day, you’re justified in feeling frustrated and angry.

But you’ve probably also noticed that yelling at the kids and nagging them isn’t working. It doesn’t get the day launched happily and it makes you feel worse, not better. So what can you do differently? How can you quit being a witch and still get the children to the bus stop on time?


A good start to the day begins the night before. The time to finish homework is before going to bed, not after getting up from it. Make it a habit (for you) to check on homework well before bedtime to make certain that nothing’s been forgotten. Evening also is the time to check the backpack for notes that need your signature and to inquire about what’s going on at school the next day. The time to find out about the field trip to a marsh for which boots and gloves will be needed is well before the morning light.


In addition, the night before is when you need to know about issues your child might have about clothes for the next day (is it school spirit day and the only shirt in a school color is in the wash?) or about a broken zipper on her jacket and other issues. Make it a habit, as the day winds down, to talk over the next day with your child in time for her to remember what she’s going to need or want. If it helps you, create a checklist:

Ask your child to set out his backpack and other things needed for school the next day. If your has troubled deciding what to wear in the morning, help him to make his choices at night and lay out clothes, ready to go, the evening before.

Make certain kids get to bed and turn off the light early enough to allow for enough sleep before morning. Children need between 10 and 12 hours of sleep throughout the elementary school  years and teens need nine to 10 hours. Many children don’t get all the sleep they need, and this makes it very hard for them to wake up on time and feel alert and ready.

In the morning, make certain you and your kids get up with plenty of time to do what needs to be done before the day begins. This includes dressing and breakfasting, of course, but it might also include walking the dog, feeding the cat, brushing snow off the car, and other routine tasks. If you’re always rushed, you might just need more time. Get up early enough to have time for what is needed.

Keep off distracting electronics. Make it a rule that the television and computer stay off, tablets and handhelds put away until after the kids are dressed and fed, brushed and organized, ready to go. This has the double advantage of limiting distractions to necessary tasks and also adding an incentive to accomplish tasks efficiently.

Give everyone a couple minutes’ warning ahead of the actual out-the-door moment. Set a timer to beep at the right time and then reset it for two minutes later. Kids tend to obey the impersonal sound of a timer better than your own voice.

Finally, factor in the time needed to actually get going. You know this isn’t instantaneous! Depending on the weather, children may need more or less time to get their coats and boots on. If you’ve got everything ready the night before, no one will need to hunt for essentials. But kids – especially preschoolers – need time to pull on their jackets and zip them up. Give them the time they need to do it themselves if they must.

Once you’ve got things down to a routine, your mornings will flow like a gentle breeze. Get the day off right for everyone with a little planning and care.


© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Parenting: A Field Guide, at your favorite bookstore.

Sometime soon your child will have a project-type assignment for school. It might be a major paper, a poster or demonstration, or something she needs to complete as part of a group. Whatever the project, you know the risk: that your child will leave this until the last minute and you will find yourself getting over-involved just to help your child get it done.

Over-involvement is something you want to avoid. Your child’s teacher will not be impressed if he suspects Mom or Dad did more of the work than the child did herself. And, of course, the purpose of the project is to aid in your child’s learning. Giving too much help robs your child of a great opportunity to add to her skills.

Your role is to teach skills here too – skills in organization and time management. Here’s how you do that.
1. Start the minute you know a big project is due. Sit down with your child when you have 20 or 30 minutes to think and talk over the whats and the whens.

2. Break the project down into its component parts. There might be library or Internet research, notetaking, creating the final project, and planning a presentation. Look over the assignment  together and figure out what steps need to be accomplished in what order. If there are questions about the assignment, now is the time to make note of these so your child can ask his teacher.

3. Figure out how long each step might take. Work backwards from the project’s due date, filling in on a calendar what has to be started by when. Be sure to add in some time for unexpected setbacks and take note of any interruptions, like vacations or other events, that you know will get in the way. You should end up with a calendar that has the big due date on it for the project itself and a lot of little due dates for each step along the way.

4. Plan how to work on the project a little bit every day. The secret to getting a big assignment done on time is to work on it steadily. That way, there are no surprises when one part is more difficult than expected and there is plenty of time to adjust.

5. Make it clear that your role is one of support person and advisor but not one of participant. You will not do the project and you will not tell your child how to do the project the way you would do it. You will help him stay on track and will troubleshoot challenges that come up but the project, from concept to completion, is your child’s responsibility.

If your child is supposed to complete the project as part of a group, the same steps apply. If you are worried about the group’s ability to deliver, then get off to a good start by hosting a planning session along the lines just described. But resist the temptation to become the leader of the group or to thrust your child into the leader role. Group projects are valuable because kids have to negotiate responsibilities. Don’t deny your child and his classmates this learning experience by taking it over.

Some parents worry that other families will “cheat” and do a project for their children. They think that they have to cheat too, just to keep their child competitive. Please try to avoid this sort of thinking. Remember that your child needs to learn how to manage her time and organize her work. No matter what other kids do, don’t short-change your child but teach her what she needs to know to be a success now and into the future.

© 2012, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.