How Parents Can Find the Right Balance When Giving Kids Homework Help

Mother and child working on homework
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Finding the right balance when giving kids homework help is tricky. We want our kids to succeed, and in the short term, it is tempting to help kids with homework a little too much. After all, incomplete homework will drag down grades, and homework is a daily task that must be done before everyone can relax.

However, too much help can mean, in the short term, that the day's lesson is not reinforced, which is the point of homework. In the long term, if parents are overseeing homework too much, kids won’t learn the organizational skills they need. They can become disconnected from understanding their responsibilities when it comes to homework.

All that said, kids are individuals with different strengths and weaknesses. Though the level of organization required to complete assignments should be on par with a child’s grade level, kids with learning or organizational issues may need more help from parents. That help, though, should be geared toward teaching kids how to succeed on their own rather than simply getting through the lessons.

Ways You Can Help Your Child With Their Homework

Use these tips for helping your kids with their homework.

Let Your Child Take the Lead

One of the skills homework teaches is how to tackle unpleasant tasks. Guide your child in learning this, but don’t do it for him. For instance, don’t open your child’s backpack, pull out the homework book, read off the assignments and check that all the needed materials came home. Though it will be much faster if you do it, this is your child’s job.

If necessary, prompt your child to do this and ask him or her to predict how long each assignment will take. Ask questions about upcoming projects and assignments and have your child spell out the plan for completing these before you make any suggestions regarding them. Make your questions open-ended ("What assignments do you have due next week?") rather than specific ("Don’t you have a book report due next Friday?") so your child can learn to think of these questions on his own.

If procrastination is an issue, set a time frame for starting homework and consequences for not starting within that time frame. Consult with your child about when the starting time should be. If you disagree on when is best, maybe try your child’s schedule first with the stipulation that if procrastinating continues your schedule will be instituted. Also, discuss how much time assignments should take and emphasize that procrastination only prolongs the time spent on homework.

Create a Productive Homework Environment

Setting up a homework space for your child does not mean you need to devote a room to homework. The most important thing is that the area is free of distractions, like the TV.

Collect up the things needed for homework--paper, pencils, calculators, rulers, protractors, compass, etc.--and keep them together. Looking for supplies is a classic homework avoidance technique.

Make Use of Homework Blogs, Parent Portals, and School Websites

These are great sources of information about homework and general communication between home and school. The problem with these electronic resources, though, is that schools and teachers can be sporadic about updating them. So kids should always write down assignments at school.

As a parent, knowing assignments and due dates can be invaluable in guiding your child. And a child who knows that parents may well double check online what's written in the homework book will take care to be accurate. Don't let this technology mean it becomes parents' job to constantly check up on homework.

Use a Homework Contract

A little external motivation can help kids appreciate the long-term benefits of completing homework, and this is where a homework contract can help out. In this agreement between kids and parents, what is expected of kids is clearly laid out as well as any rewards they might receive.

Hire Homework Help

Sometimes parents and kids just don't make the best homework partners. Parental help can sometimes harm their child's success, and this may be a reason to find a different homework helper.

Some kids may just learn better from someone else. Some kids may need subject-specific help. This could mean hiring anyone from a specialized tutor to a responsible teen to help with homework. Or, a parent might want to consider enrolling kids in an after-school program that includes homework help.

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