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Do you know a good... homework therapist?

Do you know a good... homework therapist?

Want help with coaching your kids through chemistry? Try Bari Hillman

Want help with coaching your kids through chemistry? Try Bari Hillman

Catherine Nixey | June/July 2020

Meet Bari Hillman, psychologist. A woman who can help you coach your kids through chemistry without explosions and navigate history while avoiding world war three.

Why should I trust her? Because she can treat PTSD, so she can probably just about handle homework. Because people pay her $425 for 75 minutes so she must know something. And because now schools are shut you’d frankly pay that sort of money to a stranger off the street if they promised to take your kid off your hands for an hour.

So she’s a tutor? Absolutely not. Nor does she like to be called a homework therapist. She provides “therapeutically informed assistance with homework”.

Which means what? Bari is there not to put information into your child, but to help release the information already within. Think of her as General George Patton rolling in to liberate the light of knowledge from the dark forces of intellectual oppression. Or, as parents commonly call such forces, Snapchat and Instagram.

Can’t I just confiscate her iPhone? Punishment, says Bari, “is not necessarily helpful” with children. Nor, apparently, are other tried and tested parenting techniques such as threats, shouting and (the old staple) getting really cross and spitting a bit when you talk.

So what’s left? Bari instead recommends coming “from a place of empathy and trying to understand how the other person works”. Or, indeed, doesn’t work.

Yes. Because they’re lazy little blighters. Bari doesn’t like the term “lazy”. Though she wasn’t questioned on this, one suspects she wouldn’t use the term “little blighters” either. She tends to refer to children with “executive-functioning difficulty”.

Remind me… When children are doing homework, executive-functioning difficulty manifests itself in behaviours such as task avoidance and missed deadlines. In homeworking adults, executive-functioning difficulty manifests as that moment when you find yourself standing in the kitchen, dipping a banana in peanut butter and wondering how you got there.

Bari can help me stop that? Bari can save you from the bananas. Not to mention from the compulsive eating of raisins, your sudden obsession with laundry and from cleaning the bathroom taps with a toothbrush. Bari understands well that “apartments are never cleaner” than when a deadline looms.

How does she treat this? Colour-coded homework timetables? When questioned on this particular therapeutic technique Bari replied: “I don’t do that as much,” (this is Bari-speak for don’t be absurd).

So what works? Lots of things. Productivity apps that shut down distracting websites; the “Pomodoro” technique (25-minute chunks of work interspersed with brief breaks), and of course “external reinforcements”.

What are “external reinforcements”? Bribes, of course. But Bari also tries to help her students understand the psychology of shirking. She too occasionally slips. She can, she admits, be a little late with thank-you notes at times.

Can she cure me? Bari doesn’t use the word “cure”. Everyone is different. Take Bari and her husband. They met at university in a library “at three in the morning”. She was working on something that was due in three weeks. He, however, “was working on something that was due the next day”.

So has she changed him? Alas no. He is still, she admits, “a work in progress”.