Should you help your children with their homework? One of the most frequent complaints that I get in my office is about homework. It might be the hours it takes to get your child to do it, their lack of motivation or interest, or the general lack of focus surrounding homework. And of course, the last minute, “I have a project due tomorrow” but I have not started yet panic.
As parents, no one wants to see their child fail. In fact, the pressure is greater than ever before to have a child that is successful in school and “college ready.” There is a feeling that making sure that your child is completing all of their homework and sitting down to help them with anything that is hard is part of the parental chores for the night.
Well, what if I told you that your help may be doing more harm than good?
Here is the truth about your “help”
The reality is that many parents either don’t really remember all the stuff that they learned in school and are not all that helpful to start out with OR they end up taking over and the child doesn’t learn very much at all.
I knew all the steps to change a flat tire for quite a while. I watched people change my flat tire for me and knew 1) jack car up 2) remove lug nuts 3) take tire off 4) put spare tire on 5) put car back down. Voila!
But, I vividly remember being stranded in a parking lot (before cell phones) with no one around and having to ACTUALLY change my flat tire. I was anxious because I wasn’t really sure if I put the jack in the right place, those lug nuts were really, really tough to get off, the old tire was still heavy and getting the spare tire on was a pain. I was dirty. I was sweaty and I was annoyed. BUT…I changed that tire by myself. I knew HOW to change a tire.
That’s the difference between ensuring that your child does their homework and helping them with it. The difference is in your child’s degree of confidence in their own abilities.
You see, you can help explain the instructions or provide some clarification. But you won’t be there when the test comes. And then, instead of feeling like he can figure it out, he feels like giving up. As much as homework is about memorizing spelling words or multiplication tables, it is about figuring things out. It is about learning how to be independent and rely on your own instincts.
Homework is about taking an idea and testing it out. It is about making mistakes and learning to correct them. And you don’t learn those lessons by watching other people make them.
I hear you:
All of those reasons make sense to me as a parent. I’m just saying that the research doesn’t support the thinking. The same research looked at all kids (those who were performing well in school and those who were struggling) and the effect was the same across the board. Not to mention that the negative interactions that you are having each night are also taking the joy out of your parent child relationship. And that concerns me.
The more help with homework a child received, the poorer the academic outcomes overall.
Essentially, helping with homework makes parents feel good. It doesn’t really help kids learn, do better in school or improve their confidence level.
Limit your involvement to making sure homework is completed (this includes setting up a routine time and place to complete homework) and holding children accountable for doing the work.
If you want to actually help your child, researchers suggest that these three things make a bigger difference than helping with homework:
Be mindful of other research that says that homework in elementary school doesn’t really have any impact on academic performance. Actually, it can make kids hate school even more and hurt them in the long run.
And consider this, would you rather your child have some bad grades in elementary or middle school while figuring all this out or do you want them to learn this lesson their first semester in college?
Jennifer Taylor, LCSW, RPT is an experienced child and family therapist and public speaker who specializes in trauma, ADHD, and conduct problems. Discover more about her diverse clinical background and family. Reach out to Jennifer with questions or comments by emailing at firstname.lastname@example.org
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