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Before third grade I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to what my kids were doing in school (I know, I know – but I just couldn’t make myself care that much). They were both doing well-to-great with the schoolwork as far as I could tell, and when I went to parent-teacher conferences for Jake it was usually more about behavioral stuff than academics (he had a hitting problem when he was younger – if your child is going through it, take heart, mine grew out of it).
But the homework? Whatever. They were learning how to read and add and all of the things they were supposed to be doing at that age, and if they didn’t do their homework each day I couldn’t get myself too worked up about it. I mean, when your kid is six or seven, how hard are you really going to come down on them about homework? They both liked school, they were both doing well, and I just left it at that.
Once third grade came along though, everything changed. First of all, standardized tests were on the horizon, and whether I agreed with their existence or not, I wanted my kids to do well. Second of all, I knew that middle schools would be looking at their report cards from fourth and fifth grades, and I looked at third grade as our chance to get our act together and get ready.
Homework was now something that I paid more attention to, and Jake got into the swing of things pretty quickly. But when February rolled around that year, everything started to fall apart. I was getting notes from his teacher that his homework wasn’t done, or wasn’t done well. I took away all of his screen time during the week until his teacher said he was doing much better, I think it took about three weeks. And then it was done. Things were normal again, with homework grades back up and no more notes from the teacher.
The next February – fourth grade – it happened again. And again, I had to come down on him hard until he made a course correction. By fifth grade I was looking for it, and nipped it in the bud pretty quickly.
Now he’s in middle school, and it happened again. Same month, same thing! His middle school uses a great website that allows me to check daily whether he has any missing assignments – no more waiting for the teachers to contact me. I could see him racking up late assignments and I started to get a little worried. And then a new semester started last week, and let me tell you, when you’re only two or three days in and you miss an assignment, that’s basically your whole grade at that point. Seeing a couple of F last week was scary. I knew it was just because he had no tests or other work to even out the missing assignments, but still, it just looked terrible.
Since I could monitor the situation so much closer this year, I decided to do things on a day-by-day basis. I told him clearly: any day you have a missing assignment, no screen time. I reminded him every morning this week. And on Wednesday after school, before he even said hi, he told me he had forgotten to do something last night and he was going to do it right away and could he PLEASE have TV tonight?!?
I don’t know what in our shared history made him think I would go back on the punishment. And it was a bad night for him to have this punishment. Thanks to a rescheduled drum lesson he had absolutely nothing after homework and chores. I felt horrible, but I’ve never let that stop me from being consistent.
He was fine, he practiced flute for an hour and read and played with some toys. He has no trouble amusing himself without a screen, but he’d SO much rather be playing video games or watching TV. He got things back on track the next day. I’ll keep watching things closely.
So why February? I think it’s a combination of things. The weather is crappy and it’s so tempting to just lie around doing almost nothing. You’re between Christmas break and February break and it’s hard to get any momentum going. Luckily Fiona doesn’t seem to be falling into the February trap, but she’s in third grade now, so I’m definitely watching.
It’s also worth noting that Jake gave me a huge, unexplained hug with tears in his eyes at the end of the night. He knows I care about him, he knows I hate punishing him, and he knows I always try to do what’s best for him, even if it hurts both of us. And he knows I’m paying attention.
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