Sometimes you run out of patience, sometimes you run out of time, and sometimes you just want to make sure your child is successful. Whatever the reason, it’s easy for parents to overstep when it comes to homework.
But completing your child’s homework ultimately doesn’t do them any favors — in fact, there’s evidence that lots of parental involvement with homework can actually backfire. Instead, parents should recognize that homework exists to help children better understand the topics they’re learning in class. Letting kids figure it out for themselves, including making mistakes along the way, is an important part of the process. Beyond the academic benefits, allowing a child to complete homework alone helps him gain important life skills like self-sufficiency, problem-solving and time management.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be involved at all. The key is to provide support and guidance while setting boundaries and reinforcing that homework is your child’s responsibility, not yours. Try these strategies to help your child do their homework without doing it for them.
Set up a homework routine.
Help your child get assignments done with less angst (or tears) by setting up and maintaining a homework routine. Figure out when your child is best able to concentrate — that may be right after school or scheduled activities, or he may need an hour of downtime at home before returning to school work. If your child spends time with an after-school sitter or in an after-care program, decide how much homework should be completed during that time.
You’ll also need to choose a location in your home where your child can work with minimal distraction. Some children thrive at a desk in their bedroom, away from siblings and other family members; others happily and productively work at the dining room table or kitchen island while mom or dad makes dinner. Whatever spot works for your child, make sure school supplies are within reach.
Most importantly, homework time needs to be free of television, video games, cell phones, and other media. If your child needs to access to the Internet for certain assignments, make sure the computer is in a communal area. Set boundaries around which sites your child can visit, and determine together how much time actually needs to be spent surfing the web.
Let your child’s age determine how involved you are.
It’s natural for parents to be a bit more involved when young elementary school students are still new to the concept of homework. At this age, parents or a sitter should sit down with the child to review homework and make a plan about how to tackle it. Your child needs to be an active participant in this conversation, which will help them learn how to prioritize without you.
By the time children are in junior high and high school, parents should be largely removed from the nightly homework process. Instead, be available as needed to discuss ‘big picture’ details on assignments and projects.
Don’t hover during homework time.
Be a resource when it comes to homework, not a crutch. Give your child space while she completes her homework. Do your own thing — make dinner or send work emails — but be accessible. This will encourage her to try to solve more difficult problems on her own before seeking your help.
Review good study habits.
Completing homework assignments and having good study habits aren’t necessarily the same thing, especially as children get older. Study habits include understanding how to review classroom material, take notes, stay organized and prepare for long-term projects and exams.
Parents can help teach and reinforce good study habits. Try these suggestions:
1. Talk to your kids about how these skills relate to the real world. Good study habits early on can set a student up for academic and professional success.
2. Model the behaviors you want to see in your child. While you don’t need to start pouring over a physics textbook, let your child see you balance the monthly budget, read books for pleasure, work on a big professional project or even manage the family calendar.
3. Support study habits by being present and available. Run through flashcards, administer practice questions and actively listen when your child wants to talk about the material he is learning.
Focus on healthy habits.
For children in the United States, it’s not uncommon to have several hours of homework each night as they advance in school, in addition to after-school activities, sports and other commitments. While making time and space for homework to happen is important, other habits, like sleep as well as a healthy diet, can contribute to a child’s academic success.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, first graders need up to 11 hours of sleep a night, while junior high and high school students need at least 8 hours. Over time, without sufficient sleep, kids’ attention spans and abilities to concentrate are likely to decrease. Set a bedtime for your child and stick to it. If homework is interfering with your child’s ability to get enough sleep, it may be time to talk to the teacher about whether or not the volume of homework is reasonable.
Figure out what the sticking point is.
Kids learn in different ways and at different paces. Suggest and try different methods to figure out what type of learning works best for your child. For example, if your child is struggling with algebra, try drawing a diagram or a picture to see if a visual representation will clear things up.
If a child continues to have trouble with certain subjects, he may have missed a key foundational concept from earlier lessons. No amount of “toughing it out” will work in these situations, so you may need to review materials to determine what information needs to be reviewed. Enlist help, either from a teacher or a tutor, if your child needs additional support and one-on-one attention.
Communicate with the teacher.
You and your child’s teacher are a team dedicated to your child’s academic success — and like all relationships, communication is key.
When your child has an issue with homework, resist the urge to take over and talk to the teacher instead. Teachers don’t want parents completing their students’ homework, and they typically know when a parent has intervened on an assignment. If your child is consistently struggling with her work, she may need extra help. The teacher can provide this help or assist you in identifying the right resources.
In addition, if you’re concerned about too much homework (or even too little homework), reach out to the teacher. Whatever the problem, be diplomatic — your child will be with this teacher for an entire year, so it’s important to keep the lines of communication open and productive. Together, you’ll likely be able to solve whatever homework issues arise.