Helping With Homework

By Sharon Naylor

June 10, 2011 5 min read

As a parent, you want to help and protect your child, but when it comes to kids' homework, the experts agree that too much help can actually hurt your child.

According to a recent Shine survey, the majority of parents frequently supervise their kids doing homework, and a third of parents report that they always supervise. Even the minority of parents who do not personally supervise homework time claim that their spouse/partner or another trusted adult does. More often, it's the mom (76 percent) helping with homework than the dad (61 percent). Here are additional results from the survey:

--Thirty-five percent of parents avoid helping their kids with homework or school projects because they feel kids need to do these things on their own. Dads feel a bit more strongly (40 percent) about this than moms (32 percent).

--Fourteen percent of parents avoid helping with homework or school projects because they are too busy or don't know how to help.

"Helping children too much with their homework is detrimental in a number of ways," says Dr. Sue Mandel, a licensed marriage and family therapist with a doctorate in clinical child psychology. "First and foremost, children (who get a lot of help) often wind up feeling incompetent, defeated and unmotivated, even if they appear relieved at the time. Guide them in their work if they need help, answering questions only after they have demonstrated sincere effort and have partially solved the problem."

Mandel says that if a child is truly struggling, then the parents can sit down with their child and demonstrate their confidence that the child can help find a solution to his or her own problem. "Brainstorm as to 1) what the problem is; 2) what you think would help; 3) how you think you as parents can help while not doing it for your child; and 4) what system you could devise for the future so that help is gotten as it is needed. Perhaps the child needs to start sooner, study harder, find guidance from a book, or seek assistance from a teacher or a tutor. By a parent's helping too much, the child's belief becomes 'I'm not good enough' or 'I'm just a loser,'" perhaps developing the thought of "Why bother?"

Instead, says Charity Preston of theorganizedclassroomblog.com, "think of yourself as a project manager. You keep the big picture in mind: time management, multiple due dates, resources and supplies. They do the work. When report card time comes, your child (for better or worse) needs to know that the GPA reflects his own abilities and efforts. Otherwise, your child can easily get into a cycle of learned helplessness."

Preston, a mother of four, says teachers give homework to make sure the students have mastered certain concepts. "If your child hasn't but you interfere in the feedback loop, she may not get the help she needs from a teacher because the teacher doesn't know she needs it."

The dangers of over-helping your child with homework, even homework that you deem to be "busy work," also may induce the notion that someone -- you -- will always step in to handle responsibilities, and over time, the child may develop some manipulative tendencies that extend beyond schoolwork. If a child learns that whining and giving up right away will get you to fly to the rescue, he or she will not develop coping and creativity skills that will help him or her excel in higher grade levels, college, a future career and even relationships.

"I have had coaching clients get into huge conflicts with their children on this issue and completely rob them of their ownership of their work," says parent coach Tina Feigal. "They set up a homework fear that isn't necessary and cause too much pressure on their kids. The kids end up doing everything but homework, spending their evenings filled with avoidance and anxiety. The mornings are then set up for panic and tears."

If you have been helping your child too much with homework, this new school year is the perfect clean slate, a start to a new homework rule: "This year, your homework is your responsibility. Your grades are yours to earn, and the pride in good performance is all yours. I know you can do it." Expect some resistance to the new rules, as well as some less than stellar grades at first as the child adjusts. Talk to his or her teacher about your new policy so that he or she understands your child's adjustment period and provides positive reinforcement as the child grows more confident in taking ownership of school assignments.

It can be difficult to step back and let your child succeed or struggle, but the sooner you teach this valuable life lesson the better.

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