School Encouragement Made Easy

Parent Involvement Approaches That Don't Work

Mom helps son with Homework
Make sure that your homework help is actually helpful. Cultura RMExclusive?Luc Besiat via Getty Images

Kids tend to succeed in school when parents are involved with their education and take an interest in their learning and progress. Some methods for being involved can do more harm than good, though. Here are some strategies that can damage children's schoolwork, according to research. Thankfully researchers have also uncovered many ways to help kids do better in school.

Avoid Telling Your Child What to do

When parents control their children's schoolwork, kids tend to get lower grades and be less motivated. Examples of controlling include telling the child what topic to research for a school project or dictating what should be written in an essay. By taking control of a child's schoolwork, parents undermine kids' burgeoning sense of autonomy. That said, kids who are struggling in school often do need close supervision to make sure they're completing all of their assignments. It's best to let the child take an active role in deciding how to actually complete the assignments, though.

Don't Focus on Outcomes

Most parents hope their kids will earn good grades and teacher approval. The best way to help your child achieve in school, though, is to reward the child's effort rather than focusing on these outcomes. For instance, a child may work very hard on an assignment and still receive a poor grade, or a poor report card. This may especially happen to kids with learning disorders. If you don't make grades or others' approval a major focus in your household, your child is more likely to stay motivated about school.​​​

Avoid Discussing Your Child's Innate Abilities

De-emphasize how inborn characteristics of your child, such as intelligence and other cognitive abilities, might impact his academic success. Parents who focus on such unchangeable features tend to have kids who are less engaged in their schoolwork. Their kids come to think that you're either smart or you're not, and you might as well not bother working hard in school if you're not "smart." In fact, effort, social skills, and self-discipline tend to matter for school success than inborn abilities.

Don't Be Negative

It seems obvious, but it's important to avoid hostility and anger when working with your child on homework or class projects. Negativity undercuts a child's desire to work. Parental criticism has also been found to decrease students' motivation and to result in lower grades. It's much better to focus on a child's strengths and to stay positive about his potential rather than to use a negative approach that focuses on his weaknesses.

Punishment Doesn't Help

Just as being negative can be harmful, punishing or scolding a child for doing poorly in school can also cause problems. Kids do better in school when their parents identify and focus on the things they did well, such as their leadership skills in PE class. Of course, the poor efforts do need to be addressed, but thinking about strategies for improvement works much better than punishing the child for not doing well.

Don't Focus on Failure

Some parents focus all of their conversations with their children on ways to avoid failure. While this may seem like a good tactic, it actually puts "failure" center stage, which seems to harm children's academic engagement. Instead of discussing how to avoid failure, talk about how to attain success. Framing things in a positive light is much more motivating to a child and can help her do better in the long run.

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Article Sources

  • Pomerantz, Eva, and Moorman, Elizabeth. The how whom, and why of parental involvement in children's academic lives: More is not always better. Review of Educational Research. 2007. 77,3: 373-410.