Building Independence & Problem Solving in Kids

Feb 21, 2024 | Southland

Building Independence & Problem Solving in Kids January 10, 2024

By Julie Binmore, Parenting Consultant, Intentional Parenting.

Sometimes it’s hard to say who dreads the homework routine more, kids or their parents or guardians! One thing that can help everybody is to see the routine as more than just a school obligation and a routine to get through every night. Time spent doing homework can actually be a way for kids to build the skills they need to have a happy and successful life. We know that when kids set goals and work towards them, they are developing intrinsic motivation, an ability to persist, problem solve and self-regulate. This change in the way adults frame the task can help kids to see their efforts through the lens of a growth versus fixed mindset, viewing it as a worthwhile, meaningful task that may involve some struggle, but which can be overcome with the right support.

So, how do we get our kids there? The first step is for us to see homework as their responsibility, not ours. We can help kids to understand that we are available to help, but that getting tasks done, making sure that they understand the concepts and handing in assignments, is their job. By clarifying the roles, we are setting our kids on a (gradual) path toward independence and showing them that we believe that they are capable. To achieve this, we need to hold firm boundaries, give loving support and make room for our kids to make mistakes and learn from them. To nurture the development of independence, we can expect them to:

Unpack their backpack each afternoon, taking out assignments and forms to sign and putting them in the homework area. Start homework at approximately the same time every afternoon. This can be in a certain order, for example, after playing with the dog or at a specific time like 4:30. Whatever works for your family. Take responsibility to try things on their own. When kids hit an inevitable road bump, it’s appropriate to ask them to try to regulate and manage their frustration with deep breaths and other strategies before proceeding. We can model things we do when feeling stressed or overwhelmed and remind kids that it is easier to solve problems once the prefrontal cortex is in charge, not the amygdala. Once kids are feeling ready, they can re-read instructions or a problem while the adult listens. Adults can further support kids by prompting them with thoughtful questions like: 

“Hmm, I wonder what that means? It sounds like a problem you solved earlier.”  “What strategies have you used before?” “When is this assignment due? How much time do you predict you’ll need to get it done? Parents and guardians can also notice and “sportscast” when they see their child persisting and problem-solving and they can offer stories about their own struggles to persist at work or when they were little.

It can take a long time for kids to learn time management. We can help by coaching them to predict how long a task will take and then comparing the actual time it took with the estimate. This provides a way to use math with a practical application, build up time management skills and reflect about learning. 

We get closer to harmony at home when we empower kids with age-appropriate responsibilities. When we see the homework routine as a way to build independence and academic skills, we are helping our kids to develop confidence and competence and your family can feel like a team working towards shared goals. Adults will feel relief when they take themselves out of the role of drill sergeant and try on the new role of supportive coach!