THE BATTLE OF THE HOMEWORK ASSIGNMENT
Who we are when no one is looking says everything about our character.
Yesterday was the start to our official public school distance learning from home. We've been working on "busy work" assignments for the past several weeks, but now we had real, teacher-driven assignments.
It's hard enough trying to juggle parenting while working from home, but the added pressure of trying to 1) understand the material yourself, 2) assist your child in completing said material, and 3) keep your cool while doing all of the above is a lot to ask of us moms (and dads!).
So of course, we decided to start with his favorite subject (insert sarcasm here)-- Writing. The assignment was to write about a topic you know a lot about and to use subtitles to educate about specific aspects of the topic. Easy enough, right? One would think, not my kid though.
He decided to write about soccer, a topic I know nothing about except for screaming from the sidelines at a bunch of kids who won maybe 3 games an entire season. I asked him how he wanted to organize his writing, "What subtopics are you going to write about? Positions? Rules of the game? Teams? Teamwork?" He was stumped. He stared at me blank-faced then threw his paper across the table, crossed his arms and said, "I hate writing! This is stupid."
Ok. So this is how we're gonna play this. We're going to quit before we've written a single word. Got it. "Is it too early for a Bloody Mary? Too Wednesday for one?" I didn't...you can quit your judging.
"Nate, we haven't even started yet. We're just thinking now. Maybe we can think of a simpler topic? There's so much we can say about soccer. How about dogs? Or Star Wars? Or Legos? Or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches?"
"Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches?"
"Yes. It's the easiest thing you can write about. Tell me, how do you make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich?"
"That won't take up three pages! You just take two pieces of bread and..."
"Why two? Why not one and fold it in half? Do you leave the crust? Do you butter both breads or just one? Do you cut it? What type of jelly do you use? What..."
"OK!!! I can write three pages on peanut butter and jelly!"
So he started writing, and I went back into the dining room to catch up on my work.
About thirty minutes later I came out to check on him. "Let's see what you have."
One sentence. That's what he had. One sentence.
"This is too hard! I don't understand why we have to do this if we don't even have to turn it in?! We're not getting graded! Can't we just say I did it?"
If you could have seen my face...
I was mad.
I was annoyed at what this quarantine life had become, me having to play teacher, and mom, and Realtor, but now I was MAD. My kid was not going to be the kid who quit before he started. And he certainly was not going to be the kid who only showed up when he got credit for it. I spent too much of my life doing things for recognition, not because I cared about the quality of work I was putting in, or what it said about me as a person; but because I was getting measured or paid for the work.
"Are you saying you should get credit for something when you didn't do the work?"
He looked at me with a smile full of mischief. A scared smile. He knew I was mad.
"The person you are when you show up for a competition should be no different than the person you are when no one is looking. That's your character. Do you not wash your hands when no one is looking? Do you not treat people kindly when I'm not watching? Should I not pick up Luna's poop because no one can see me? Should I not hold the door for others because one time someone didn't say 'Thank you'? Should I keep going?"
"No. I get it. You should be the same even when no one is watching."
We're all guilty
We can all take a lesson from this. I'm guilty of it. You're probably guilty of it. We know better. We just choose the behavior that seems easiest in the moment. Impulsive decisions are made on emotion, not logic. We do what feels good in the moment, even if it makes us feel guilty later. We make decisions to avoid pain and we are instantly rewarded with the alternative. [Side note: Don't allow guilt to consume you. If you made a bad decision, enjoy it in the moment and move on. Tomorrow is a new day.]
If I eat this donut in the parking lot no one will ever know.
I can count walking the dog as a workout today.
If I move my mouse every half-hour they'll never know I'm not working.
Rewards vs Consequences
Our brains are wired to seek rewards. We want instant gratification. If something is hard, it causes pain, which we want to avoid at all costs. If I wasn't checking in on Nate's progress, he would have tried to get away with not doing the assignment. Kids do this. Everything is a negotiation. I did it when I was a kid. Your kid will test you as well.
He wasn't motivated to do the work because 1) It was hard for him, 2) It didn't serve him., 3) He couldn't see a reward
It's hard for kids to understand consequences beyond getting "in trouble". We as adults know that bad habits affect our health and our wealth and our goals. We can see the long-term effect. Kids can't see that far into the future. They will change their costume ten or more times before Halloween. So how do we motivate them to be the person who does the right thing when no one is looking?
There's no right or wrong answer. Stick with what's most consistent with your parenting values. Some use religion. Some reward behaviors. Some punish. For us, we try to lead by example and relate it to something that interests them, or someone they admire. Nate loves The Rock. He aspires to be strong like him and a role model like him. He's like a real life super hero. We share his Instagram posts with Nate so he sees how disciplined he is. We teach him that you have to do the boring things to earn the cool things. We watch movies where The Rock had hair and was thinner and less muscular. The Rock is a product of boring, daily, hard work that has resulted in the person we all have come to admire. The Great have the character to do the hard things when no one is watching.