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How Parents Can Help With Homework (Without Taking Over)

After a long day at school, the last thing my kids want to do is tackle their assignments. And after a long day at work, arguing with them about homework is the last thing my husband and I want to do. But we’ve always thought that the more involved we were, the better off they’d be.

It turns out that that isn’t necessarily true: After looking at 30 years’ worth of studies, researchers concluded that in most cases, such parental interest actually doesn’t help raise test scores or grades — and sometimes backfires. The reason: When parents are overly immersed in homework, they deny kids the chance to become more independent and confident. Worse, it can breed anxiety along the way.

Of course, backing off is easier said than done. So we asked education pros to share their secrets for helping kids study without hovering. Use these techniques to bring peace to your evenings — starting tonight!

Old way:  Sit beside your child so you can answer questions and fix his mistakes. New way:  Stay available by doing chores nearby.

When you hover, you essentially send the message to your kid that you don’t think he can do the work. To empower him instead, stay busy and wait until he asks for your help, says Miriam Liss, Ph.D., author of Balancing the Big Stuff: Finding Happiness in Work, Family, and Life.

For example, say your child is stumped by a math problem. You could ask questions (“So how many groups of two equal eight?”). If he says, “Got it,” leave him alone. If he continues to struggle, make suggestions (“Hey, do you want to use baby carrots as manipulatives?”). He’ll feel a greater sense of accomplishment if he’s worked for the answer mostly on his own.

Also avoid stepping in to correct every mistake without your child’s input. “Homework is a chance for a child to practice what he’s learned in class,” explains Jacqueline Cross, a fourth-grade teacher in Hingham, MA. “If he’s really challenged by long division, I’d like to know that so I can help.”

If your child asks you to look over his worksheet, point out the errors in a subtle way. Say, “Can you go back and see where you went wrong here?” or even do a quick reminder of the point of the exercise (“Remember, you’re supposed to be finding coins that add up to four dollars. Want to count these numbers out loud and I’ll listen?”).

Old way:  Nag until your child starts working. New way:  Set up a no-nonsense routine.

“Make it clear that everyone has obligations — and your child’s include things like going to school, working with her teacher, and doing the best she can on her homework,” says Susan Kuczmarski, Ed.D, author of The Sacred Flight of the Teenager: A Parent’s Guide to Stepping Back and Letting Go.

Doing her best includes buckling down to finish her assignments without constant check-ins from you. Together, figure out a specific time and place for her to work. It’s okay if she needs a little while to recharge after school before starting, but be sure she knows that four o’clock (or whatever time is best for your fam) is non-negotiable.

Once you’ve established a firm homework routine, make it a habit that happens every day. “Kids can whine, but they just won’t get to watch their TV show or whatever else they’d like to do until the homework is done. Period,” says Dr. Liss. (There goes your need to nag!)

And if your kid doesn’t do an assignment because you failed to remind her? As tough as it is, let her deal with the consequences. You won’t always be around to stay on top of her, and learning responsibility is a cornerstone of education.

Old way:  Lecture your kid for waiting until the night before to study for the spelling test. New way:  Teach time-management skills.

Scolding just makes your child feel bad (and he’ll tune you out, anyway). But because kids appreciate structure, teach yours how to break tasks up into more manageable chunks.

A printed calendar is a great tool for learning how to map out deadlines and a better visual reminder for grade-schoolers than the digital kind. Hang it in a prominent place. Then help your kid set daily goals, like “study four words on Monday and five on Tuesday …,” or break that science project into weekly goals, like “gather resources by the 5th, plant the seeds on the 11th.”

By giving your child control over deadlines, you remove yourself from the battle: If it’s on the calendar, he’s responsible for it. Skip handing out negative consequences for not getting things done. Instead, says Dr. Liss, you can offer him rewards for hitting each of the milestones.

Old way:  Get sucked into whine fests. New way:  Walk away.

If your child gripes about the work itself (“It’s too hard!” or “I don’t get it!”), figure out what’s behind her frustration. If it’s a lack of motivation, let her know that the sooner she applies herself, the sooner it’ll get done and the faster she can move on to something more fun. Then leave the room. After all, without an audience, she can’t complain, and you avoid getting trapped in a negative cycle.

But if the material is too difficult, that’s another story. In that case, try your hand at doing some of the problems with her (as long as you can stay calm). You may be able to make that lightbulb turn on in her head.

If not, reach out to the teacher to ask for assistance (or, if your child is over 8, suggest she speak with the teacher herself). Educators don’t want their students struggling to the point of tears, so your child’s teacher will probably be happy to clue you in to extra resources that can help your kid understand the lesson.

Old way:  Work on your kid’s project until the end product is perfect. New way:  Let your child take the lead.

“We assign projects so kids get a chance to apply new skills they’ve learned,” Cross explains. So if you’re getting super hands-on to wow the teacher, do your best to resist the urge. “We see your child every day, so we’re pretty familiar with the kind of work she does!” Cross adds.

That doesn’t mean you can’t pitch in, but let your kid be the creative force. For example, if you notice that the assignment includes a timeline and your grade-schooler skipped that step, point it out, then let her figure out which dates to include and how best to showcase them. After all, brainstorming lets your child hone her problem-solving skills and increases her confidence; hand-feeding her a solution won’t teach her anything.

When your kiddo proudly shows you the finished product, tell her something specific, like “Your report really makes me want to read that book now!” or “Wow, look at all the details you included in that flower diagram!” By saying something descriptive instead of generic (“That poster you made looks really awesome!”), you’re acknowledging the content itself and the effort your child put into it rather than just how it looks, notes Dr. Kuczmarski.

Achieving balance is key — and that’s true for all homework conundrums. Says Dr. Liss: “Your goal is to find that sweet spot of being there if your kids need you, but not being totally on top of them all the time.”

Plus: 10 Homework Help Tips The Do's and Don'ts of Homework Help

parents can help with homework

Helping Your Gradeschooler With Homework

During grade school, kids start getting homework for the first time to reinforce and extend classroom learning and help them practice important study skills.

By doing homework, kids learn how to:

It also helps them develop a sense of responsibility, pride in a job well done, and a work ethic that will benefit them well beyond the classroom.

Parents can give kids lots of homework help, primarily by making homework a priority and helping them develop good study habits.

Setting Up Shop

The kitchen or dining room table is a popular workspace for younger children; they may feel more comfortable being near you, and you can provide encouragement and assistance. Older kids might prefer to retreat to their rooms, but check in periodically and review the homework when it's completed.

Wherever kids do homework, it's important to make sure their workspace is:

If kids need a computer for schoolwork, try to set it up in a common space, not in a bedroom, so you can discourage playing video games, chatting with or emailing friends, or surfing the Internet for fun during study time. Also consider parental controls , available through your Internet service provider (ISP), and software that blocks and filters any inappropriate material. Find out which sites your kids' teachers recommend and bookmark them for easy access.

A Parent's Supporting Role

When it comes to homework, be there to offer support and guidance, answer questions, help interpret assignment instructions, and review the completed work. But resist the urge to provide the right answers or complete assignments.

Focus on helping kids develop the problem-solving skills they'll need to get through this assignment and any others, and offer your encouragement as they do. They'll develop confidence and a love of learning from doing it themselves.

Here are more tips to help make homework easier for kids:

Homework Problems

Especially as kids get older, homework can really start to add up and become harder to manage. These strategies can help:

Don't wait for report cards to find out that there are problems at school. The sooner you intervene, the sooner you can help your child get back on track.

When Kids Struggle With Homework

Consistent complaints about homework or ongoing struggles with assignments could indicate a problem.

In some cases, kids simply need to learn and practice better study habits. Be sure your kids are writing down assignments correctly and encourage them to keep a daily homework notebook, which can help both kids and parents know exactly what assignments are due and when. If a particular assignment is giving your child more trouble than others, send a note to the teacher pointing out the difficulties.

But when a kid consistently has a hard time understanding or completing homework, broader issues (such as learning disabilities, ADHD, or vision or hearing difficulties) might be interfering with academic progress.

By reviewing homework with your child and talking to your child's teacher, you can identify any learning problems and tackle them early on.

Laying the Foundation

The key to truly helping kids with homework is to know when to step in. Make sure your kids know that you're available if there's a snag, but that it's important to work independently. Encourage effort and determination — not just the grades they get.

Be a good example by showing your own love of learning. While your child does homework, do your own — read books, magazines, and newspapers; write letters, lists, and emails; use math skills to calculate expenses or balance the checkbook. By showing that learning remains important — even fun — once school's over, you'll help your kids understand that building knowledge is something to enjoy throughout life.

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Homework Help for Reluctant Children

How parents can create a nightly homework ritual that works for everyone.

mother and two daughters doing homework at kitchen table

It’s hard to fault the child who resists doing homework. After all, she has already put in a long day at school, probably been involved in afterschool activities, and, as the late afternoon spills into evening, now faces a pile of assignments. Parents feel it, too — it’s no one’s favorite time of day.

But despite its bad rap, homework plays an important role in ensuring that students can execute tasks independently. When it’s thoughtfully assigned, homework provides deeper engagement with material introduced in class. And even when it’s “just” worksheets, homework can build the automatic habits and the basic skills required to tackle more interesting endeavors. Finally, homework is a nightly test of grit. Adult life brings its share of tasks that are both compulsory and unenjoyable. Developing the discipline to fulfill our responsibilities, regardless of whether they thrill us, begins in middle childhood.

So how to help the avoidant child embrace the challenge, rather than resist it?

The first step, especially with kids 13 and under, is to have them do their homework at a communal space, like a dining room or kitchen table. If other children are in the home, they can all do their homework at the same table, and the parent can sit nearby to support the work effort. This alleviates some of the loneliness a reluctant child might associate with assignments. The alternative — doing homework at a bedroom desk — can result in the child guiltily avoiding the work for as long as possible. Like all forms of procrastination, this has the effect of making the entire process take much longer than it needs to.  

When parents turn the homework ritual into a series of conversations about what needs to be done, how, and for how long, children feel less “alone” with their nightly work, they relish the company and support of their parent, and they work better and more efficiently.

Many parents are under the impression that they shouldn’t have anything to do with their children's homework. This comes from schools emphasizing that homework is a child's responsibility, not the parents'. While it is absolutely true that parents should not do their children's homework, there is a role for parents — one that's perhaps best described as “homework project manager.” Parents can be monitoring, organizing, motivating, and praising the homework effort as it gets done. And yes, that means sitting with your child to help them stay focused and on task. Your presence sends the message that homework is important business, not to be taken lightly.

Once you’re sitting down with your child, ask him to unload his school bag and talk you through his various assignments. Maybe he has a school planner with all his homework listed, or a printout from school, or perhaps his work is listed on the classroom website. Many children attend an afterschool program where, in theory, they are doing homework. They’ll often claim that they’ve done all their homework, even though they’ve only done some. Together, make a quick and easy “Done/To Do” list. Writing down what she has finished will give her a sense of satisfaction. Identifying what she still needs to do will help her to focus on the remaining assignments. Over time, this practice will help your child build an understanding that large tasks are completed incrementally.

Next, ask your child to put the assignments in the order he’d like to do them. Encourage him to explain his thinking. Doing this helps a child feel in control of the evening’s tasks and prompts him to reflect on his work style. Discuss the first task of the night together. Ask your child to think about the supplies he is likely to need, and ensure they’re at the ready. This “pre-work” work helps a child think through a task, understand it, and prepare to execute it with gusto.

Last but not least, introduce a timer to the evening’s proceedings. Challenge your child to estimate how long the first assignment will take. Then ask, “Do you want me to set the timer for the full amount of time you think you’ll need, or a smaller amount?” Then, set the timer with the understanding that the child must work without interruption until the timer goes off. Even questions are verboten while the timer runs. The goal here is to enable the child to solve problems independently, through concentration. This not only builds concentration powers, it builds creativity, critical thinking, resilience, and resourcefulness. In my experience, the theatricality of being timed helps relax children who would otherwise feel daunted by a mountain of homework.

As each piece of work gets done, parents can add meaningful positive reinforcement. Exclaiming, “Another assignment done! And done well!” helps your child feel like what they are doing matters.

By turning the homework ritual into a series of conversations about what needs to be done, how, and for how long, children feel less “alone” with their nightly work, they relish the company and support of their parent, and they complete the work much more efficiently and at a higher standard than they might otherwise.

Additional Resource

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The Value of Parents Helping with Homework

Dr. selena kiser.

Young girl and mom high-fiving while working on homework.

The importance of parents helping with homework is invaluable. Helping with homework is an important responsibility as a parent and directly supports the learning process. Parents’ experience and expertise is priceless. One of the best predictors of success in school is learning at home and being involved in children’s education. Parental involvement with homework helps develop self-confidence and motivation in the classroom. Parents helping students with homework has a multitude of benefits including spending individual time with children, enlightening strengths and weaknesses, making learning more meaningful, and having higher aspirations.

How Parental Involvement with Homework Impacts Students

Parental involvement with homework impacts students in a positive way. One of the most important reasons for parental involvement is that it helps alleviate stress and anxiety if the students are facing challenges with specific skills or topics. Parents have experience and expertise with a variety of subject matter and life experiences to help increase relevance. Parents help their children understand content and make it more meaningful, while also helping them understand things more clearly.

Also, their involvement increases skill and subject retention. Parents get into more depth about content and allow students to take skills to a greater level. Many children will always remember the times spent together working on homework or classroom projects. Parental involvement with homework and engagement in their child’s education are related to higher academic performance, better social skills and behavior, and increased self-confidence.

Parents helping with homework allows more time to expand upon subjects or skills since learning can be accelerated in the classroom. This is especially true in today’s classrooms. The curricula in many classrooms is enhanced and requires teaching a lot of content in a small amount of time. Homework is when parents and children can spend extra time on skills and subject matter. Parents provide relatable reasons for learning skills, and children retain information in greater depth.

Parental involvement increases creativity and induces critical-thinking skills in children. This creates a positive learning environment at home and transfers into the classroom setting. Parents have perspective on their children, and this allows them to support their weaknesses while expanding upon their strengths. The time together enlightens parents as to exactly what their child’s strengths and weaknesses are.

Virtual learning is now utilized nationwide, and parents are directly involved with their child’s schoolwork and homework. Their involvement is more vital now than ever. Fostering a positive homework environment is critical in virtual learning and assists children with technological and academic material.

Strategies for Including Parents in Homework

An essential strategy for including parents in homework is sharing a responsibility to help children meet educational goals. Parents’ commitment to prioritizing their child’s educational goals, and participating in homework supports a larger objective. Teachers and parents are specific about the goals and work directly with the child with classwork and homework. Teachers and parents collaboratively working together on children’s goals have larger and more long-lasting success. This also allows parents to be strategic with homework assistance.

A few other great examples of how to involve parents in homework are conducting experiments, assignments, or project-based learning activities that parents play an active role in. Interviewing parents is a fantastic way to be directly involved in homework and allows the project to be enjoyable. Parents are honored to be interviewed, and these activities create a bond between parents and children. Students will remember these assignments for the rest of their lives.

Project-based learning activities examples are family tree projects, leaf collections, research papers, and a myriad of other hands-on learning assignments. Children love working with their parents on these assignments as they are enjoyable and fun. This type of learning and engagement also fosters other interests. Conducting research is another way parents directly impact their child’s homework. This can be a subject the child is interested in or something they are unfamiliar with. Children and parents look forward to these types of homework activities.

Parents helping students with homework has a multitude of benefits. Parental involvement and engagement have lifelong benefits and creates a pathway for success. Parents provide autonomy and support, while modeling successful homework study habits.

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parents can help with homework

How to help your kids with homework (without doing it for them)

parents can help with homework

Lecturer in the Faculty of Education, Monash University

parents can help with homework

Lecturer, Monash University

Disclosure statement

The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Monash University provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation AU.

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Parents are a child’s first and most important teachers . Parent involvement in their child’s learning can help improve how well they do in school. However, when it comes to helping kids with homework, it’s not so simple.

While it’s important to show support and model learning behaviour, there is a limit to how much help you can give without robbing your child of the opportunity to learn for themselves.

Be involved and interested

An analysis of more than 400 research studies found parent involvement, both at school and at home, could improve students’ academic achievement, engagement and motivation.

School involvement includes parents participating in events such as parent-teacher conferences and volunteering in the classroom. Home involvement includes parents talking with children about school, providing encouragement, creating stimulating environments for learning and finally – helping them with homework.

Read more: What to do at home so your kids do well at school

The paper found overall, it was consistently beneficial for parents to be involved in their child’s education, regardless of the child’s age or socioeconomic status. However, this same analysis also suggested parents should be cautious with how they approach helping with homework.

Parents helping kids with homework was linked to higher levels of motivation and engagement, but lower levels of academic achievement. This suggests too much help may take away from the child’s responsibility for their own learning.

Help them take responsibility

Most children don’t like homework. Many parents agonise over helping their children with homework. Not surprisingly, this creates a negative emotional atmosphere that often results in questioning the value of homework.

parents can help with homework

Homework has often been linked to student achievement, promoting the idea children who complete it will do better in school. The most comprehensive analysis on homework and achievement to date suggests it can influence academic achievement (like test scores), particularly for children in years seven to 12.

But more research is needed to find out about how much homework is appropriate for particular ages and what types are best to maximise home learning.

Read more: Too much help with homework can hinder your child's learning progress

When it comes to parent involvement, research suggests parents should help their child see their homework as an opportunity to learn rather than perform. For example, if a child needs to create a poster, it is more valuable the child notes the skills they develop while creating the poster rather than making the best looking poster in the class.

Instead of ensuring their child completes their homework, it’s more effective for parents to support their child to increase confidence in completing homework tasks on their own.

Here are four ways they can do this.

1. Praise and encourage your child

Your positivity will make a difference to your child’s approach to homework and learning in general. Simply, your presence and support creates a positive learning environment.

Our study involved working with recently arrived Afghani mothers who were uncertain how to help their children with school. This was because they said they could not understand the Australian education system or speak or write in English.

However, they committed to sit next to their children as they completed their homework tasks in English, asking them questions and encouraging them to discuss what they were learning in their first language.

In this way, the parents still played a role in supporting their child even without understanding the content and the children were actively engaged in their learning.

2. Model learning behaviour

Many teachers model what they would like their students to do. So, if a child has a problem they can’t work out, you can sit down and model how you would do it, then complete the next one together and then have the child do it on their own.

parents can help with homework

3. Create a homework plan

When your child becomes overly frustrated with their homework, do not force them. Instead, together create a plan to best tackle it:

read and understand the homework task

break the homework task into smaller logical chunks

discuss how much time is required to complete each chunk

work backwards from the deadline and create a timeline

put the timeline where the child can see it

encourage your child to mark completed chunks to see the progress made on the task

4. Make space for homework

Life is busy. Parents can create positive study habits by allocating family time for this. This could mean carving out one hour after dinner for your child to do homework while you engage in a study activity such as reading, rather than watching television and relaxing. You can also create a comfortable and inviting reading space for the child to learn in.

Parents’ ability to support their child’s learning goes beyond homework. Parents can engage their child in discussions, read with them, and provide them with other ongoing learning opportunities (such as going to a museum, watching a documentary or spending time online together).

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Should Parents Help Struggling Students with Homework?

parents can help with homework

It seems like children bring more homework with each passing year , and if your child is struggling, it can turn the dinner table into a battleground every afternoon. It's tough to watch your children struggle through material they don't understand, and it's natural to want to jump in and help. Before doing this, however, know when helping may actually be hurting and what to do if your child is having trouble in school.

To Help or Not to Help

Surprisingly, a study conducted by the  University of Texas at Austin and Duke University  showed that parent involvement in student's homework did not necessarily lead to better grades. In fact, children who had help did no better and sometimes did worse than children who did not receive help from their parents. The first thing to understand here is that there is a difference between helping your child with homework and doing the work — or the majority of it — for them. Telling your child what to write down or going over homework afterward and correcting all of the errors doesn't give your child the opportunity to learn the material, reinforce the concepts taught in class or discover areas that need improvement.

It's also important to understand that parents and homework just don't always mix. School, learning and homework have changed a lot in the past few decades, and the process is just as important as the answer. If you teach your child to solve a problem one way, it may be difficult for him to switch to the teacher's preferred method in class.

Helping Children with Learning Disabilities

If you are going to help, it's important to be as  hands-off as possible  and only offer as much assistance as requested and needed. If your child is doing fine on her own, there's no reason to jump in and start double checking her geography homework, but if she asks you for your input, try asking leading questions to help her arrive at the answer on her own.

If your child asks for your help with a task or you see him struggling, here are a few suggestions for how to help without causing other issues:

One final consideration: If you find that your child is really struggling with homework or seems to need more than just an occasional nudge or hint, talk to the teacher. Homework is one way the teacher assesses how well the material is being absorbed, and if she doesn't know there's an issue, she also can't do anything to fix it.

Does your child struggle to get homework done? Don't let him or her fall even further behind! Contact us online or find a center near you to learn more about how the Brain Balance Program can help.

Enjoy These Related Articles A Homework System That Works for ADHD Tools and Resources for Classroom Success for Kids with Learning Disabilities

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  6. Helping Your Child With Homework

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  8. How to help your kids with homework (without doing it for them)

    Parents' ability to support their child's learning goes beyond homework. Parents can engage their child in discussions, read with them, and

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  10. Should Parents Help Struggling Students with Homework?

    Surprisingly, a study conducted by the University of Texas at Austin and Duke University showed that parent involvement in student's homework did not