So let me start by saying that I am not a therapist, I have zero idea what I am doing.
Obviously I’m making a shit ton of mistakes (like most parents, even though most loathe to admit it) so by no means am I advocating what to do. That being said, this might resonate with some and if anything give you a laugh at what a shit show it has become.
So 5 months ago we decided to put our 8yo daughter in Kumon – the reading program. We were like, so obvs she needs help to read because she would sit there and stare at the wall making up words and then when calling out her mistakes, she would scream and throw her book down telling us she IS READING. Riiiiight.
We made the decision, signed her up and thought we are the best parents in the world – she is going to rock grade 3! We were WINNING…
Except we weren’t.
Kumon is a daily assignment that never ends. They teach self regulation and ‘go at your own pace’ learning which is cool…unless you have a Wren. I mean, let’s be real, most kids would think holy fuck I don’t get any days off of homework? This blows! But what choices did we have? We were positive this would help and she would be like – wow all that hard work paid off, thanks mom and dad! HA HA HA HA that still makes me laugh.
My daughter does NOT like to be told what to do, but also has trouble focusing. She will sharpen a pencil for 12 minutes and then throw that lovely sharp pencil to the floor when you ask her to focus and keep going. When she is frustrated she will say she’s stuck even before opening a book. When you politely tell her she hasn’t tried, that book is thrown to join the floor pencil.
She also does NOT like to be doing homework every day when her brother does fuck all after school, I mean, fair, I don’t blame her on that one. I’ve learned through many years of struggle that she needs a choice system. She requires a certain level of control over her life or she implodes in frustration.
This is true in all aspects in her life. When getting ready for school she would physically slow down if I told her to hurry up. If I told her to brush her teeth 75 million times she probably heard me say it once. But if I said, ‘ok, if you brush your teeth then I will help you with one extra task before school’, that would get her going. If there is choice, she assumes some power, all is happy.
When faced with her resistance over Kumon we would bargain, reward with weekly prizes, coerce, beg, play music, eventually we would yell (sometimes a lot), and some days when she felt like doing it, she could be done a 10 page booklet in 12 minutes. Yes, TWELVE FUCKING MINUTES…but sometimes, well perhaps 50% of the time, she sat there with one booklet for 2 hours. I knew she knew what to do. I KNEW it. But since it wasn’t a choice for her, she fought tooth and nail. She would focus on what she didn’t get or what she could be doing and no amount of reasoning would work.
She would throw fits. Break pencils in half, chuck her booklet in the air. Scratch her paper so hard it would be ripped to shreds. Oh hey Kumon teacher, wrens book looks like a tiger attacked it, yes we know…
I would sit with her, sometimes for hours to complete one book. It was painful for us as parents, but also for her brother who NEVER has homework and would have to sit there while she hated her life, taking the stress on himself by begging her to complete the damn book so that they both could watch TV. If I let him watch TV in another room while she was trying to do Kumon, well, it would be akin to asking her to sit still while I peeled her finger nails off.
I tried to draw with Finn while she did her work so he could be amused, no dice, she wanted to draw with us. I switched to making him do math or spelling but then she constantly asked for my help even when she knew the answer just to get my attention. She was dictating our whole family dynamic and that made me furious. And yes I know that you can’t do that, that you have to be the parent but let me tell you that unless you have dealt with this type of child before, you have no idea what a 4 hour tantrum looks like, and what it does mentally to a family.
All this being said, Kumon fucking works. She went from basically a kindergarten level of reading (at the beginning of grade 3) to chapter books in just 5 months. It’s fantastic….for a lot of kids. Not for mine.
So as I sat (hid) in my room this past weekend, after a 4 hour power struggle/fight over Kumon…I frantically googled WHAT THE FUCK AM I SUPPOSED TO DO WHEN YOUR KID HATES HOMEWORK.
I expected a bunch of ‘they have to to suck it up’, ‘sit until it’s done’, ‘they don’t get privileges until it’s done’ type advice because that’s what I heard as a kid and it fucking worked. Instead I got some tidbits of incite that resonated…
Kids are born with free will.
HELLO, sort of a simple statement but honestly as a parent sometimes you forget that YOU DON’T CONTROL YOUR KIDS. I mean you can direct them not to touch a hot stove or stick a penny up their nose but kids don’t learn free will, they are born with it and some kids want it immediately. Other kids, like my 11yo, could happily give up their free will, live at home in a trailer in our back yard to get mommy cuddles until he is 50…yes, this is his life plan to date.
So as much as I want Wren to understand how important homework is, I can’t make her want to do it. I mean, crossing fingers, but they say that if she starts to fail, she will recognize on her own that she is fucking it up and will make that ultimate decision to be better. I mean, in theory right? But it makes sense. If I don’t let her choose to want to learn, she may end up living with her brother in that trailer in the back yard, not by choice, but as an effect of her never choosing to learn.
Parents have got to stop placing the kids success on their shoulders.
We felt massive guilt over her reading issues even though we read to her all the time. We did all the steps you are supposed to do to get them to read but somewhere along the way she fell through the school cracks and reading turned into a punishment for her. We pushed her into Kumon thinking it would solve the issue and while it forced her to learn to read, she now hates to learn…see the problem I’m getting at?
I felt this same anxiety this year with my 11yo’s class speech. Normally I sit with him, help him craft the right words, insert timely jokes, and really enjoy the time I get to spend wordsmithing with my kid. This year he wanted to do it all on his own and I had to step off and let it go.
It was fecking hard.
Especially when his speech turned into a Ted Talk/Improv comedy act with some sort of Geronimo exit/tumble back to his seat at the end. But his success has to be because he wants it. I will not always be there telling him to re-write that part or to do a little bit more work on XYZ. I need to step back and let him reap the rewards for good work he is solely responsible for but also process the disappointment from a shit mark if he cuts corners. He needs to learn what failure feels like to crave success.
I can’t force Wren to love reading. She may or may not ever love it. I can’t control her, I never could and that is a hard pill to swallow. So with a cringe in my jaw, and a forced pleasantness I went to ask my daughter whether she wants to continue with Kumon as we were finally going to give her that choice. Of corse she emphatically leaped with joy and quit immediately.
I shared a pained and furious look with Troy but we both zipped our lips and contained our disdain. We are angry but we are also recognizing that this pattern can’t continue. It hasn’t gotten better, but feels like it’s gotten worse. Instead we gave her the choice to quit, but to gain an hour of daily study time each day to work on anything she likes. She can chose whatever she wants to do in that hour, but all electronics are off and both kids have to work on something. Once that hour is up they can do whatever they want, and I can finally go and finish The Marvellous Mrs. Maisel.
I have no idea if this is the right thing to do, but fuck it, it can’t be worse then listening to a 4 hour tantrum over how her life is ruined because of a 10 page booklet. You’re 8, life is about to get a whole lot fucking harder little kid so buckle up and choose your battles.