Recently after commenting on KJ Dell’Antonia’s FaceBook page about how I manage homework in my house, she asked me to explain my ten minute per subject rule better. She said it didn’t sound possible (it isn’t always). We took an hour to chat about it. She told me my concepts and parenting methods sounded a bit like this book:

I hadn’t heard about this book, so I ordered it. I’ve been slowly making my way through it as I reflect on what I believe about homework and parenting gifted children. Wishing I could share parts of it with my husband, but knowing he’d raise his eyebrows and tell me he knew this all along (he didn’t).

I also read several of KJ’s blog posts and New York Times articles about kids and homework because it’s a topic that parents and teachers and kids think and talk about for much of the week.

Both of my children have been identified by their school district as gifted, but in very different ways. After they were identified, I moved from being a classroom teacher to a teacher of gifted children thinking it might help me parent them more effectively. 

Now I have a better idea of the variety of needs that gifted children have around homework. 
I hear from their parents. 
I hear from the kids. 
I watch these kids’ very real struggle to achieve academically in a world where people expect more from them…and tell them so. 
“I thought you were gifted?”
“You’re gifted, so this should be simple for you.”

Contrary to popular belief, gifted children have uniquely special needs that often make accomplishing tasks like homework very difficult. My son Felix might take 45 minutes to complete ten math problems, though math is one of his strengths. He agonizes over each problem, looking at it from different angles and making the task far more complex than it needs to be.

This usually becomes a two part scenario. First, he asks for my help but yells at me for giving it––often crying out of frustration. Second, he accepts my suggestion whereupon I race out of the room so he can work by himself.

What do I wish? I wish he could just do a few problems instead of the 20-30 typically required to show mastery, so time doesn’t become the issue. But this isn’t the case. So often I must either beg him to speak with his teacher (he won’t) or secretly email her (I do). Neither is very effective. As the book KJ recommended (and I agree), we must empower our children to take responsibility for their work. This is very difficult for me given his needs, but in the end his needs are a part of him and he must take responsibility for that as well. Saving him is serving no purpose. He and I both know that unless he does the work, he won’t learn. He wants to learn––desperately.

So I work hard to give him rules about his homework. He must begin it at a certain time. He must work straight in a focused way for ten minutes. I don’t put out a timer, we just glance at the clock. We work hard together to identify and reflect on when he is focused and when he has gone off on a tangent triggered by something he is doing for homework. His mind works in illogical connections. It takes him time to untangle them so that he can feel “knot” free and ready to get back to the task at hand. I hate that I have to discourage this often brilliant connected experience for him, but I know he must learn to focus and get the work accomplished. He can also do more in ten focused minutes than many other typically developing children. After ten minutes, he gets a break. Then we refocus and do it all over again. It’s exhausting, but it’s working. He is finally creating the study habits that he will need longer term when I am not there to poke and prod.

My daughter, well she’s a story for another day. Perfectionism has a different set of needs.