Has this ever happened to you? You told your child to do his homework. He looked like he was doing his homework. He promised that he completed his homework. And then you get the call, the dreaded call from his teacher:
He didn’t do the homework.
And if it’s not a phone call, it may be a surprising parent-teacher conference. Your child, who told you that everything at school was going great, isn’t doing that well after all. For working parents, it can be an especially disconcerting moment.
I meet parents in this predicament all the time. I’m a parent myself, and though my son is now 25 and beyond homework, I still am surrounded by school-age children. I run a company that helps schools improve learning outcomes for children. Over the years, I’ve realized that one of the best predictors of a child’s success is the evening routine at home on school nights.
Here’s a quick example: Some parents think that if they’ve told their children to do their homework, then they’ve done their job. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. The simple truth is that if your child is between the ages of 5 and 13, you need to consider yourself the project manager of your child’s homework. And that involves sitting with them or near them as they complete the work, checking it for “quality control” and ensuring that it is neatly put away.
Ever see a child with a perfectly packed backpack? Ever wish your child could be more organized like her? Just realize: the child in question is not necessarily an organizational guru. There is every likelihood that her parent took several minutes helping her pack her bag for the next morning. Sure—you could argue that kids need to learn to do this themselves, but they won’t. Organization tends to be a skill taught more at home than at school. This is probably why it’s so frequently mistaken as a personality trait rather than a taught skill.
Because I’m so aware of how important parents are to children’s success, I designed a two-hour school night routine. It’s called Prime-Time Parenting. It starts around 6 p.m. and ends around 8 p.m. In between, parents put away cell phones and screens of all kinds. The kids put them away too (unless they’re needed for homework).
During that two-hour window, parents focus exclusively on their children. It may sound like a long time, but it enables parents to take care of the significant parenting duties that come their way each evening:
● Hearing about your child’s day
● Cooking a healthy dinner
● Enjoying dinner as a family
● Getting kids started with homework
● Ensuring that homework is completed and put away neatly
● Helping their child pack their bag for school to prevent “morning madness”
● Reading with their child
● Guiding their child through a bath-book bedtime routine
● Turning “lights out” on the kids no later than 8:30 p.m.
The outcome of this routine? Better-rested children who are less impulsive, more cheerful and resilient and ready to rise and shine the next day. And every bit as importantly, parents have had a couple of luxurious hours of peace and quiet for themselves.
With the kids in bed by 8:30, you have ample time to plan the next day, tidy up, reconnect with other adults, and relax before heading off to bed yourself. We live in a time of widespread sleep deprivation. So many adults have trouble sleeping—and it’s in large part because we don’t set regular bedtimes for ourselves or practice good sleep hygiene. Most of us are not unlike children when it comes to sleep: like them, we benefit from a 30-minute pre-sleep routine that helps us transition into a state of unconsciousness.
While an evening routine may seem confining, it is just the opposite. Routines and rituals save us energy and enable us to live out our deepest values on a daily basis. Children thrive when they know what is going to happen next. And it just so happens that parents do too.
Heather Miller is the Director of LePage-Miller, an education firm based in New York City. Her book, Prime-Time Parenting, is available for sale wherever books are sold.