Do you have a child who can’t work alone? Do you wish you could load the dishwasher or make that phone call you’ve been meaning to get to while they do their schoolwork? Other parents may tell you this desire is normal and that you can. I’m not one of them.

Understanding the Struggle

If your child has attention issues due to autism or ADHD, they may truly need you to sit with them while they work. Some kids don’t have the internal drive and executive function to stay on task while they work. They need visual and verbal reminders of what they are doing to be able to complete a task. They need you to tell them to do the rest of the math problems or the back of the worksheet. They need you to ask them if they wrote a conclusion to their story. Because if you don’t ask, they may not remember to do those things. Their brain just can’t do it.

This is a problem unique to homeschoolers because our students do not have the natural peer pressure of a classroom to keep them on track.  In a classroom setting, there are other students who are working on the same assignments all at once. This means your student isn’t left alone to do their work. They are able to ask the student beside them questions. They might be in trouble for talking in class, but they can ask. They may also lean over to see what other students are doing. “Oh, she’s coloring in the graph. Were we supposed to color the graph? I guess I better do that” says their internal voice. The same goes for noticing that the child next to them flipped over the worksheet or has a longer essay. Comparison can clue them into what they need to do. The classroom also provides peer pressure to stay seated and working.

Providing Quiet Support

In your home, you, the parent, have to provide all the peer pressure and all the instructions. If your child’s attention wanders, they can’t look around at other students for clues on what they were supposed to be doing. This means they need you to be there to remind them. To answer questions and help them get the work done.

But how old will they be when they CAN work on their own? You won’t like my answer. They may never get there. You may need to find a hobby to work on while you sit near your high school senior while they do their math or write their essay. Not because you are doing it for them, but because your presence provides the reminder they are supposed to work on this until they are done.

My teens have asked me to watch a video with them for class or sit near them while they do work for other teachers because it helps them focus. Sitting alone to work is too distracting. Sitting near me is calming and gives them the reminder they need to stay on task.  Even for classes that I’m not teaching, I don’t understand the assignments. But yes, I can sit with you. I can do that.

Making it Work

Does this seem fair? No. It isn’t. I know your friend has a child who is 8 and can do all their school work independently. But that isn’t possible for all children. Your child needs you to be there for their education at the level they need support. Some babies need to be held more. Some kids need more attention and help to focus on their school work. Just like it doesn’t do any good to tell your baby they do not in fact need held, you can’t just tell your teen they don’t need you to be there while they do school.

So, relax about it. Find a hobby you can do while they work. Read, crochet, knit, or work crossword puzzles. It will be ok.

About the Author

Laura Sowdon, OTR/L is an occupational therapist, writer, speaker, educator and creator of the Five Senses Literature Lessons homeschool curriculum. She has worked as an occupational therapist with children in public and private schools, as well as private practice. Laura has taught and managed homeschool co-ops as well as homeschooling her own three children. Laura is dedicated to the idea of educating children at a pace that aligns with brain and physical development milestones and respects neurodiversity in all its forms.

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