The last issue to consider regarding schoolwork, at least for this series of posts, is what to do when schoolwork is not finished or it is not done well. Let me sound a strong word of caution: this is a complex topic. Parents, you must sort out what are matters that pertain to the struggles with sin and growth that your child has and what are the matters that are related to his schoolwork.
Schoolwork assignments add another set of variables that goes beyond the immediate scope of the parent-child relationship. If you tell your child to take out the garbage, or take a few minutes to read to his little brother, the interaction is primarily between you and your son. However, if the task is to complete a schoolwork assignment, there may be important factors influencing your child of which you are not immediately aware. This is true even for homeschoolers.
Any time your child interacts with an outside source of direction or information, wisdom, discernment, and patience are required to understand your child’s reaction to that outside source. A child in a school setting could be impacted by any number of variables that affect the way he works. Your child may not have understood his teacher, or perhaps he was distracted by problems with other kids in the classroom. So if your child is slow or troubled by a schoolwork assignment, don’t automatically assume he is being lazy or irresponsible.
Passages like Ephesians 4:29 and Proverbs 18:13 must be carefully considered.
It is important to take the time to understand why the assignment is not going well. Discipline appropriate to schoolwork struggles, discipline that benefits your child and honors God, is an art form all on its own.
Problems with schoolwork that are not resolved on a relational level can lead to broken and bitter teenage years. Simply giving terse directives may get the immediate assignment done, but that approach could also result in the beginning of a relational hindrance between you and your child. Such a hindrance could seriously undermine your ability to influence and help your child when he really needs parental direction and concern. It is not uncommon for parents to genuinely desire a closer relationship with their children, but then find that their children have come to believe that their parents don’t really care because of misunderstood interactions regarding schoolwork.
Here is an example of what I mean. Your 5th grader is reading a short story about which he is then supposed to write a paragraph. There is an element to the story that disturbs him, but this is not immediately obvious to you. His mind begins to focus on the troubling element. He may connect it with something in his life that is disturbing to him—but he is embarrassed to tell you. So when you notice he is working slowly, or perhaps drifting, you encourage him to get back to work and focus on his task. He says okay, but still can’t focus. You direct him again to regain his focus. You ask him what the problem is. He says, “Nothing, really.” You encourage him to stay with it.
Eventually he finishes, but he is late finishing, you are frustrated, and he is reserved. You are thinking why can’t he just do his work and he is wishing he could talk about the disturbing thoughts he is having about the story, but he is embarrassed to do so. As a result you are both unsettled. Even though the assignment is finished an important opportunity has been lost for both parent and child.
This example is meant to be illustrative of a myriad of situations in which schoolwork issues are not what they may appear to be on the surface. In giving instruction you want to follow the principle of using pleasant words. You also want to spend enough time to know when your child’s subtle mood changes might indicate internal problems that need to be addressed. The principles of listening well and knowing your child are important if you are going to be a wise shepherd and build a strong relationship with him. You
want him (or her) to talk freely with you about the things that trouble them but are hard to talk about. This takes time to establish. As I said, this sort of interactive discipline is an art.
It is vital to realize that the most important issue in schoolwork is one of relationship. Don’t isolate school from the rest of life. If there is a breakdown in the area of school it will impact the rest of your child’s life. Yes, you want your child to do well in school. But along the way don’t lose sight of the importance of your relationship with your child. A breakdown here will lead to significant spiritual struggles.
Much of what I have addressed in this post is obvious. Yet in the crush of modern life, the obvious is frequently ignored. When this happens relational pain then becomes all too obvious.
In the next post we will look at some practical ways to help school work be a blessing to you and your children.