My fifth-grader is having a school meltdown. I’m reminded of those toddler tantantrums of yesteryear that I thought were behind me.
“I can’t take it anymore. I hate school. I want to be home schooled,” She wails and rants.
I watch her scribble her homework out and then accuse me of “not caring.” Tears roll down her cheeks as she tells me “I don’t get it” and “I don’t understand.” The reality is I DO care and I DO get it. Learning life lessons is hard. Watching her learn them is painful, but I know that I can’t and probably shouldn’t protect her from them. Not everything comes easily. Instructions aren’t always clear. Distractions make it hard to concentrate. Deadlines are stressful. Sometimes, you have to do things you don’t always like to do. Not everyone is “nice,” including teachers.
As I retreat into my mind, I get quiet and thoughtful trying to figure out a way to help her deal with her emotions when she’s frustrated. I try to put myself in her place. What was fifth grade like when I was a kid? It’s a foggy haze that I vaguely remember. Was fifth grade this traumatic for my older daughter? I can’t remember. For my youngest though the struggle is very real. The part that breaks my heart most is when I hear the words “I can’t” come out of her mouth. Because, I know she most definitely CAN.
“What are you going to do?” she pleads with me.
“What do want me to do?” I ask.
“I don’t know. S-O-M-E-T-H-I-N-G!!! I need help!” she shrieks.
“What do you need help with?” I try to stay calm.
“I don’t know!” she screams.
I get down on her level and read through the math problems. Patiently, I try to explain the word problem to her. She tells me I am wrong and refuses to listen to me. (I am reminded of the scene in Airplane where the woman is hysterical (you know the woman with eggs coming out of her mouth) and a line of people are waiting to ‘help’ her get a grip.) My daughter won’t be reasoned with. I want her to calm down and listen to me, but instead she screams at me, breaks her pencil and storms out of the room. I’m frustrated and she’s frustrated. I’m at a loss on how to make homework time go smoother. Should I punish her? Reason with her? Ignore her?
She is very conscientious and is far from lazy. She gets down on herself when she gets a “B” and is afraid of being let behind. I’ve told her time after time I am proud of her for the effort she puts forth. She doesn’t need to strive for perfection. She responds well to positive reinforcement. Last year she thrived trying to get the most “Dojo points.” She’d get excited to do extra math problems to earn “dojos.” It got to the point where I’d ask her if it was “real” homework or just extra credit for dojo. She’d get that look on her face and I’d know it was for dojo. Even though her motivation was to earn dojo’s, she was learning and excelling in her classes along the way. She loved to go to school and she loved to learn.
This year the paradigm has shifted. Instead of being rewarded for positive behaviors, the students (at least from her perspective) are punished for negative behaviors. She is fearful of doing wrong and getting “yelled” at. This is probably the most frustrating part for me as a parent. Failure is part of the learning process. Failure leads to growth. I want her to be encouraged to fail and try again. I dont’ want her to be afraid to fail. I want her to be afraid to stop trying. I want her to thrive. I don’t want her love for learning to be squashed by fear. I also know that you don’t get a gold star for everything positive you do either. It’s a fine line.
Eventually she calms down enough to finish her homework and apologizes to me for taking her frustrations out on me. I give her a hug and accept her apology. I tell her I care and encourage her to focus on what she does like about school instead. If only we could skip over that hard part inbetween and get to the hugs quicker. I guess that can be said about most difficulties in life.
One thing’s for sure, I’ll be glad when fifth grade is over!
Does any one have any helpful tips for getting through homework? Is fifth grade harder or is it just me?