Five Ways Parents Hurt Homework

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

You want to help your child succeed in school. You take your role to support their success - and their homework completion – seriously.

Not all parent homework help is truly helpful. There are ways that parents can harm their children's homework and the learning that the homework should produce.

The following are five common errors that parents make in supporting their child's homework completion, and what you should do instead.

 Don't Do Your Child's Homework For Them  

When your child is struggling with their homework, it is tempting to just tell your child the answer, or even to do the work for them. Don't do it!  The only thing your child learns from this is to run to you for the answer.  Give them some space to feel the frustration that is a normal part of the learning process.  

Instead:  Give your child some time to work through the problem.  This will help your child learn to persevere in completing their work.  If your child is spending a great deal of time on their homework each night, more than 10 minutes per grade level, talk with your child's teacher to see if the work needs to be reduced or if there is a different approach to doing the work that your child needs to try.

Don't Ignore Your Child's Request for Help

Letting your child figure things out on their own can help them become more independent in completing their work. The key to this is that they are able to and actually complete their homework. If your child can't complete their work, they risk falling behind and missing out on learning the skills to move forward in school.

Instead: Find out from your child why they feel they need help. Once your child has specified exactly what they are having a problem with to do their homework, see if you can brainstorm with them how they can complete the assignment. 

Some possible brainstorming questions are:

  • Can you re-read the directions?
  • Can you find an example to follow in your textbook or online?
  • Do you have all of the supplies and information needed for the assignment?
  • Is there a friend or school staff person who can help?

If your child still doesn't know what to do after trying three different resources, it's okay to help them with the assignment. Provide guidance and explanations on how to do the work. 

Talk with your child's teacher if your child continues to have problems completing their homework at a level of independence appropriate for their grade.

Don't Tell Your Child Not to Worry About This One Assignment  

Once again, if your child is totally overwhelmed you can be tempted to tell them to just blow off this one assignment. Maybe your child has procrastinated doing a piece of work, or it just seems like one small skill they will pick up later. You could be very wrong about the chance to learn it another time.

When your child doesn't do that particular assignment their grade suffers. Often, children think that they are bad at a subject when they receive a lower grade in that subject. The low grade could be the result of incomplete work.

For example, if the do not write their first five-paragraph essay that is assigned, they will earn a bad grade in English, and then your child believes they are bad at English. 

In reality, they didn't do the assignment so they don't really know if they are bad at it or not. Additionally, they missed out on that first bit of practice that the other students did complete. When the next essay is assigned, the rest of the class will have the experience from the previous one.  Your child will be struggling as they did the first time it was assigned, while also struggling with the idea that they are "bad at English" from the low grade.  It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy

Instead:  Make sure your child has a regular time and place to complete their homework assignments.  If they have been ill or find an assignment particularly difficult, get in touch with your child's teacher right away to find out what you can do.

Don't Tell Your Child the Directions Are Wrong    

No doubt about it, today's homework looks different than it did when we were going through school.  There are several reasons for this. Today's teachers have found new methods and approaches to teaching.  The current nationwide shift to   Common Core State Standards also changes the focus of student work away from rote memorization to deeper thinking processes.  

 What happens when parents try to override the teacher's instructions on an assignment is that the child often winds up more confused or totally missing the point of the assignment. You may have good intentions, but you shouldn't assume that you have a better idea of what the teacher meant then what the teacher actually said.

For example, when we were in middle school, we were taught to divide fractions by cross multiplying. Teachers have started using a less-confusing method since then. Most schools now teach children to rewrite the problem and multiply the reciprocal of the second fraction (change the divide to multiply and flip the second fraction.)  

When I worked as a middle school tutor I would see students each year who would try to cross-multiply because their parents told them the teacher is wrong and cross-multiplying is the only way to divide fractions. These students would end up confused, and get a wrong answer. 

These children had worked hard and gone to someone they deeply respect and love - their parent - for help with their work. To receive a poor grade or asked to redo the assignment can be frustrating and demoralizing for the child.

Instead:  Do your best to follow the directions provided by the teacher. If the assignment presents a new method or question that differs from what you remember from school, consider that this may be the new standards and expectations.  If you and your child cannot understand what needs to happen to complete an assignment, then it is time to communicate with the teacher for clarification or help.

Don't Say Flat out Disrespectful Things of the Teacher

You might be tempted to say some nasty things about the teacher who assigned the homework in the first place. Maybe you want your child to feel better, and scapegoating the teacher is an easy way to do that. Perhaps you really don't see the value of the assignment, why it was assigned, are think the teacher could have done a better job making the assignment.

Even if the assignment is poorly written or has a pointless goal, complaining to your child about it is not the solution. Your child is expected to complete this assignment. 

Instead: Help your child complete the assignment. You can empathize with your child about how they may feel about the assignment, but don't cross the line into showing disrespect or disdain for the teacher. Children and teens alike pick up what their parents value. Showing disrespect for the teacher can lead your child to stop listening and learning from the teacher. After all, if you don't respect the teacher – why should they?

If you really do have concerns about the goals or nature of the homework that is assigned, find a time to discuss your concerns with the teacher.

Parents and family members provide important support for children and teens in school. By keeping your focus on encouragement and support of getting the homework assigned completed, you are giving your child the best chances for success in school.

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