When it comes to helping with homework, parents have to be careful not to help too much.
Parents, when it comes to homework, you may need to back off. Those may be harsh words to hear, but the truth is that homework is your child’s assignment, not yours.
This is not to suggest that parents can’t help their child when needed, but far too many parents believe their child’s performance is a direct reflection on them, for better or worse. In fact, how a child handles the responsibility is a more accurate reflection of parental success.
“Sometimes parents interfere by being too caring and helpful,” says Linda Ladd, Ph.D., a family sciences professor. “If parents interfere with the healthy development of children, they do tremendous damage in what should happen naturally. Children need to learn study habits that will last a lifetime,” she says.
Homework reinforces lessons taught in class and teaches children to set short-term goals. They learn about rewards for achievement and consequences for not meeting goals. If a parent steps in too early or too often, the child simply learns to procrastinate until Mom or Dad takes over to prevent her failure. Parents must establish a “no excuses” policy. Accept only results – whatever is reasonable within the child’s capability – and don’t give in to manipulative behavior (which is learned) such as whining, stalling or even tears.
Allow your child to experience both positive and negative consequences without feeling guilty yourself. Sometimes a parent will say, “I had to help. We had somewhere to be.” If you find yourself in this situation, Ladd says it is time to rethink your schedules. Life offers a wealth of good opportunities for children, but parents must limit activities according to the amount of time a child needs for homework. Observe your child carefully to know the proper balance. An elementary student may need a half-hour to “get into” homework, a half-hour to do it and then another half-hour to phase out.
Trouble develops when parents want something a child can’t produce or if they think the child can’t do it herself, says Ladd. Children think on a concrete level and may have different expectations for the assignment than parents. Mainly, parents should help children develop good study habits, and this happens when a child is allowed to learn on her own.
“Groups of parents can create a competitive situation,” says Family Therapy Professor Anne Rambo, Ph.D. In elementary school, teachers expect a certain amount of parental involvement, although some parents carry this too far. Most teachers are open to discussing assignments, so that parents can be on par with other parents, and expectations for kids are realistic. Once this is accomplished, parents should move away from active participation in homework. “Parents are nervous about that,” says Rambo, “because they view this as a competitive environment for themselves. But it’s the child’s life, and parents can’t live their own desires through their child.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics says children are more successful in school when parents take an active interest in homework, yet parents struggle to figure out by themselves how much help is appropriate, says Joyce Epstein, Ph.D., director of the Center on School, Family and Community Partnerships. Some do too little, and some do too much. It’s OK to be supportive, but don’t be impatient and jump in under the guise of helping. Learning needs to happen naturally in the child’s own time frame. Then the student will form good habits to carry her through school and beyond.
“It’s understandable to be confused and worried,” says Rambo, “because it’s a complicated issue.” However, the bottom line according to Epstein is that, “Homework is always the student’s responsibility.”
Here are appropriate ways for parents to help children manage homework.
Get to know your child’s teacher, attend school events, volunteer if you can, and stay involved. Ask about homework policies and discuss with your child what she has learned in school each day. Consider an assignment book or planner for your child – it becomes a communication tool to help eliminate forgetfulness on the student’s part and nagging on the parent’s.
Establish a Homework Routine
Make homework a priority in your family. Schedule a regular study time and place. This could be in the afternoon following a snack or later in the evening when family activities have slowed down, suggests www.kidshealth.org. Just be consistent. Turn off the TV and computer. It’s up to the parent to model how important quiet time is for productive study. Help your child find a well-lit place where distractions are minimal and where she can easily bring or keep supplies.
Early-elementary-age children often benefit from the presence of a parent nearby. Here’s a chance for you to read the newspaper or a book. Seeing you involved in learning activities reinforces the importance of homework. Resist the temptation to help when the child doesn’t need or ask for it. You can guide and make suggestions, but your child must do the thinking and learning herself in order to learn self-reliance and responsibility.
Checking your child’s work or guiding her through problem areas is OK, says elementary teacher Brandi Crouch. In fact, she should know you are willing to help when needed but that she is expected to study independently as much as possible.
Encourage Your Child’s Hard Work
Recognize effort – the process is often more important than the product. Reward responsible behavior, not just perfect marks on an assignment. When your child is especially proud of something she has accomplished, make a big deal of it. Post a spelling test or math quiz on the refrigerator. Frame that big art project. Display any awards received, and brag unmercifully to your friends and relatives.
Recognize Potential Problem Areas
Rambo encourages parents to speak out if they believe that more parental involvement is being assumed than your child can handle. “The U.S. Department of Education suggests 20 minutes of homework daily for grades one through six, so if your child is being assigned significantly more than this guideline on a regular basis or is given projects involving extensive research at the library every weekend, it may be time to speak up,” Rambo says.
If homework is a constant struggle for your child, set up a conference with the teacher. Perhaps she is having trouble seeing the board or understanding directions. She may need an evaluation for a learning problem and modifications in work requirements. Rather than harping on her for her failures, be an advocate for your child and seek the best educational environment.
Beverly Burmeier is a freelance writer.
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