Overdoing Homework Help

family doing homework together

Parents who take on the job as their children's "homework coach", often are confused about exactly what this responsibility entails. With homework assignments now coming home with kindergartners as well as upper graders, parents often wonder exactly how involved they should be in helping their children with assignments. Memories of their own elementary school days are more carefree, involving much less homework than they see their own children being required to complete.

Parent Availability With Homework

The homework quandary is one all parents struggle with. They want to be available to help their children but hesitate to be too involved for fear of developing a child-parent dependency with school responsibilities. Since younger children are in need of more help when first starting homework, a pattern may get established of constant availability with a kindergartner that may carry on too long into the upper elementary years. There is a need for parental awareness about weaning a child from leaning too heavily on the parent for homework help, as an older child who progresses in competency should be functioning well on their own.

Child's Homework Reflects on the Parent

Teachers usually encourage their upper elementary students to try to "go it alone", however it is the parent who is on the firing line at home, dealing with a child who may not understand the assignment, may lack motivation, or be a painfully slow worker. Feeling their child's frustration, the parent often caves in and becomes overly involved in the homework completion process.

mom helping son with homework

Most parents are fairly invested in wanting homework finished and sent to school the next day looking good. In a sense, many parents think their child's homework reflects their own level of parenting. Sloppy and unfinished work on the part of the child may signal to the teacher that there is a lack of supervision at home. For this reason, many parents become too involved at homework time, micro-managing the process to the point of occasionally doing work for the child.

Establishing Place and Time for Homework

A parent's responsibility for kindergartners through 3rd graders is to establish a homework routine which, when it becomes automatic, will benefit the child into the upper grades and well into high school. A designated place should be established for working on schoolwork, either at a desk, the kitchen table, or any place with adequate light and supplies. A beginning time for homework should also be decided on. This could follow an afterschool snack, a short outdoor play break, or be an hour before dinner. Whatever time is chosen, homework should always begin as close to the specified time as possible.

Parent as Troubleshooter

Children should be familiar with the homework assignment since work that is sent home is generally meant to provide reinforcement for concepts already learned in the classroom. It will rarely be new material. At the start of the homework hour, a parent could be available to answer questions and offer encouragement. After communicating the expectation that the child is capable of doing the work alone, the parent should go about their business as the children proceed, appearing only if needed as a troubleshooter.

Celebrate the Confident Student

I recently talked with a mom who was concerned that her 6th-grade son was refusing to show her his completed homework. When I learned that he was a responsible student who had done well the year before, I encouraged her to step back and let him fly on his own. This is a good age for a child to experience consequences if his homework is not completed satisfactorily. This mom had done a good job of helping to establish homework habits, and her son felt capable enough to turn in his work without her help. This was something worth celebrating!

As a child's homework coach, a parent should expect to spend more time at first with a kindergartner, as new habits are just being established. However, a fourth grader should be quite used to homework by now and able to work alone, except for asking an occasional question. A parent's support and encouragement will get everyone off on a positive note.

mom helping son with homework

Practical Parenting Pointers:

  • Provide a quiet and organized space for homework, and notify your children when it is time to begin.

  • Check to see if the children have what they need, if they understand the assignment, and if they have any questions.

  • Allow children to work on their own, instructing them to do as much as they can by themselves.

  • Check back later to help with problems.

  • For longer assignments, set a timer to provide the opportunity for a short break.

  • If a child doesn't understand the majority of the homework or takes an unreasonable amount of time to complete it, send a note to the teacher the next day explaining the problem.

  • For young children, use a chart with stars to motivate and reinforce good homework habits that are being established.

  • Older elementary children need reassurance that they are capable of working alone, and then lots of praise when they do.

About the Author:

Jan Roberts is a parent educator, a parent coach, and a weekly newspaper columnist. She teaches parenting classes and is a frequent speaker on family traditions and all aspects of family life.