Summer has come and gone, and it’s time for another school year. Unfortunately, that means it’s also time for a task that parents might dread just as much as students: homework. Often, homework means stress, frustration, arguments, and the inevitable question: Should parents help with homework?
Parents have a natural desire to intervene when they see their children struggle. Plus, helping saves time and decreases “homework tantrums.” On the other hand, some argue that homework “help” actually does more harm than good.
So…Should Parents Help With Homework?
The short answer is: Not much. As difficult as it is for parents to let go, children won’t learn if they don’t do the homework themselves.
And this isn’t just speculation; it’s science. When we work on an activity, our brain sends messages from one neuron to another. Repeat the same activity enough times, and our brain builds a connection (or pathway) between these neurons. Now, the activity is much easier! With repeated practice, we become better and better at even the most challenging skill.
When it comes to homework, we want to build connections in the brain–our children’s brains, not ours. In addition, research shows that parental involvement, including homework help, can negatively impact a child’s academic achievement.
Of course, not helping with homework is easier said than done. Homework is a daily struggle in homes around the world. That’s why we won’t just tell you not to help; we’ll also offer tips on supporting your child the right way!
5 Tips on Dealing with Homework
1. Figure out what works best for your child.
Is your child more productive in the afternoon or evening? For some children, getting homework done right after school is the only way to get it done at all. Others might work better after having time to play, spend time with family, and eat a nutritious dinner. To ensure your children aren’t waiting too late, you might set a limit (e.g., “You can choose when to do your homework, but six ‘o clock is the latest time to start”).
Where does your child work best? Instead of assigning a designated homework area, let your child choose a comfortable space, as long as it’s clean and well-lit.
2. Make a plan.
If your child is feeling overwhelmed, sit down and help make a checklist. Crossing items off as they’re completed produces a satisfying sense of accomplishment. You can also plan five-minute breaks every thirty minutes to limit mental fatigue and increase productivity.
If you have older children with major projects, assist in breaking the project down into smaller, more manageable tasks.
3. Offer empathy.
After a long day of work in the adult world, it can be frustrating to hear your child complain about a worksheet or two. Still, try to take a deep breath and empathize: “That does sound like a lot of work. You sound upset.”
This sets the tone for cooperation instead of conflict, and it’s likely to cut your child’s complaining session short (or at least shorter).
4. Try “Five Minutes of Fury”
Sometimes, your child is simply having trouble getting started. In this case, Ann Dolin, author of Homework Made Simple, recommends trying “Five Minutes of Fury.”
Set a timer for five minutes, then shout, “Go!” Let your child complete as much work as possible before the timer goes off. After that, your child can choose to continue working or take a break. Believe it or not, many children choose to keep working–the problem was starting.
5. If you have to step in, let the teacher know.
What about those times when your child is completely lost?
If your child needs extra help or genuinely doesn’t understand something, send a note to your child’s teacher or write an e-mail. Michael Thompson, Ph.D, says you can also jot a note at the top of the assignment that says, “Done with parental help.”
This way, even if you had to provide a lot of help, your child can get the additional support he or she needs to truly grasp the material.
Should Parents Help With Homework? Final Thoughts
If you’re asking, “Should parents help with homework?” the answer is, “Not really.” As tempting as it is to help with (or even take over), your child’s homework, offer support and minimal guidance instead.
By using the tips listed here, you can make homework less of a hassle while still ensuring that it achieves its purpose: helping your child learn!