Not Waving But Drowning.

hand of drowning man in sea asking for help

Not waving but drowning


I was much further out than you thought

And not waving but drowning.

This Stevie Smith poem just sprang into my mind when I started to muse about this weeks post. It’s hard to tell sometimes.

Waving? Drowning?

That’s what it felt like this week, as I watched my youngest son  start to drown in the relentless tide of homework.

Berry started secondary school 4 weeks ago and has been metaphorically waving at me for a while.

I waved merrily back, but in hindsight there were clues that his waving might well have been a last-ditch attempt to save himself from drowning. But having been a helicopter mum once too often, I know that jumping in too soon is counter productive.

This was tough love, sink or swim! It looked like swimming, for a while.

When asked, ‘Do you have any homework?’ responses have varied from ‘yes’ in week 1, to a ‘probably’ in week 2 until last week it was a ‘I have no idea’!

That’s when I knew he wasn’t waving, but drowning.


I threw him a life line in the form of early bedtimes and removal of distractions at home. But soon it became clear that I was going to have to swim out to him and use survival stroke to bring him in. He was drowning in a sea of forgotten emails, missed deadlines and general confusion.

The transition from primary to secondary school is as much about self management as it is about an increasingly academic curriculum. Berry was used to receiving a weeks worth of homework on a Monday, and working steadily to complete it throughout the week. Now he was faced with the challenge of checking a school messaging system that was updated with homework on any given day. On top of that teachers gave verbal messages about homework in class, and for those students prone to daydreaming lapses in concentration, these were easily missed!

Although I’d like to say that I was immediately supportive and sympathetic, it just isn’t true!

I spent a few days stamping my feet and ranting about paying attention, making notes and checking messages. It seemed that Berry’s take on homework was simple – if the deadline had been missed then that work didn’t need to be done anymore and it went off his radar! Now I was starting to see where the problem had begun.

How do I help my 12-year-old without taking over?

How can we work together so that ultimately he can manage the work by himself?

These were the questions that bothered me, so I made a plan!


Tips to Win the War on Homework:


  • Know your enemy – I tacked down every piece of homework that had been set since week 1
  • Speak the same language – I made sure Berry and I agreed on what homework included (all set homework tasks, unfinished classwork, revision and reading)
  • Identify the stakes – to motivate my boy I made sure he knew that there would be no X-Box or socials until homework was finished!
  • Plan the offensive – I created a weekly homework planner that is on the fridge that clearly identifies the hours available for homework.
  • Prioritise your treatment – I worked with Berry to triage the homework like a Field Hospital, those that could be saved from over-due penalties got treatment first, hopeless cases we  dealt with last!



homework planning

Weekly home work planner

We used post-it notes to add each new piece of homework as it arrived. Berry took great satisfaction in screwing them up and throwing them away once he’d completed them! The system is teaching him to plan, prioritise and face the challenge head-on, whilst I am able to stay informed and assess if he’s on track with a glance at the number of post-its!

Each evening I ask him to rate how he’s feeling about his homework on a 0-10 score, 0 = drowning 10 = waving.

Monday night it was a 3, two days later it was a 5.

He’s getting there. We’re getting there. Together.


  1. Marie says:

    What a great solution. My boys are now teenager and in high school and I can make sure they get the work done, but they don’t always turn it in. Which I completely don’t understand.

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