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Sixth-grade homework, chores and other parental bummers

"WE already have a science project," said one mom.

Another asked, "Who did YOU get for language arts?"

It was Back to School night at the middle school, and there seemed to be whole host of parents who thought they were entering the sixth grade as well.

One mom asked, "How much time should WE be spending on homework each night?"

Then there were the slackers, like me, wondering why in the heck my kid's homework was anything I should have to worry about. Sixth grade was bad enough the first time; did these people really think I was going to repeat it?

The parents seemed pretty evenly split between the hoverers, who tracked every assignment, and the hassled, those of us who can barely manage our own jobs, and who defensively cling to the mantra "my parents weren't involved in my schoolwork."

And there-in lies the great parenting quagmire: When do you manage and when do you let go?

It shows up at every age, from chores and sibling conflicts to schoolwork and table manners. How do you know when to step in and when to step back?

Parenting expert Amy McCready, the founder of Positive Parenting Solutions, says, "Parenting is not intuitive, just because we're smart and educated and loving doesn't mean we have the tools to handle these things."

Now they tell me. Who knew that being a parent meant agonizing over whether or not to stay up until midnight re-gluing a Styrofoam solar system, or letting your kid turn in a ring-less Saturn? (And fail out of school, and never go to college, and probably wind up as a pole dancer living in your basement).

McCready says, "As parents, we often wait until things go wrong and then we clamp down. But it doesn't work because whether it's nagging a 5-year-old to clean their room or a 20-year-old to pay their light bill, as long as the parent owns the issue, the child is never going to take personal responsibility for it."

In our case, the great sixth-grade homework debacle came to a head late one night after a few missed assignments resulted in a fight, some tears (I'm not saying whose) and a child determined to prove that her mother wasn't going to control her life.

McCready, whose company (www.PostiveParentingSolutions.com) provides personal coaching and online workshops this once slacker mom is now eagerly utilizing, says that the secret is getting the monkey off your back and onto your kid where it belongs. She offers these tips for parents:

· Crystal Clear Expectations: Be specific about what a "clean room" means to you.

· Take Time for Training: Set her up for success. If she hasn't done laundry before, take 10 minutes to train her on the steps from A to Z.

· Reveal in Advance: Let kids know - in advance - the consequence for not doing the behavior/task.

· Repeat Back: You want your child to repeat back the consequence - not you.

So with McCready's coaching we've created a homework schedule, done a little study skills training and established clear consequences, consequences that middle-schooler repeated back to me, versus me nagging her a million times.

Is it hard work? You better believe it is. It's harder than ignoring and it's harder than hovering. But it sure beats staying up all night working on a science project.

Snellville resident Lisa Earle McLeod is a nationally recognized speaker and the author of "Forget Perfect." Contact her at www.forgetperfect.com.