The Dos and Don’ts When Helping Your Child With Homework


It’s exam season and most children in school are doing tests or exams. Almost every parent knows what it feels like to know that their child has a test the following morning and their child is not prepared. Just this last week, I have taken double the amount of calls I usually take to put worried parents’ minds at ease. Homework is a common cause of arguments in homes and we’ve all fallen into that trap where parents nag about homework and children ignore……

Does your child expect you to help them with homework? Have you ever done your child’s homework for them because you thought it was too hard? And how do you tread that fine line between helping your child with homework and interfering/doing the homework for them?

Homework has many purposes; the main one I think is to re-enforce what has been learnt in school. It teaches children how to work independently and finally it teaches them to be responsible.

At my centre, we give homework for all of the above reasons and our policy is to allow the children to do their homework without ANY intervention from parents. Parents are encouraged to check that the homework is done and that it is done to a suitable standard, but not to sit with their child while the homework is being done. If a parent has to intervene, then we ask them to highlight or mark the questions they helped with so that we are aware of any areas of difficulty.

Sometimes parents don’t even realise that they are helping. Take the following scenario for example:

Child: Mum I can’t do this question.

Mum: I can’t help you, but I will read out the question for you. The question says “Katie has 5 apples and Tom has 6 apples, how many apples is that altogether?”. So Katie has 5 apples, can you picture that in your brain?

Child: Yes.

Mum: Good. And Tom has 6 apples, can you picture that?

Child: Good. Now work out how much that is altogether.

Without even realising the parent had broken down this question into simpler words and steps.

When parents do help, then it can cause many problems:

1. The parents try to teach the child their way.

The way that you and I learnt how to do simple arithmetic is totally different to the way it is taught now. For example, the traditional method of adding up is to add in columns, but many schools use the “partitioning” method to teach addition. If your child has been taught partitioning and you are trying to teach them the traditional “column” method (maybe because you think it’s simpler), then you could end up confusing your child. Confusion can lead to mistakes, which can lead to loss of confidence. So ask your child how they work things out at school. Use the method they use at school first and if your child is confident with it, then you can teach your method.

2. The parents have to learn all about the topic first.

This takes time and it is difficult to know what the expectations are. In such cases, the parent’s anxiety can spread to the child. If you don’t know about the topic, then don’t use search engines to gather information so that you can help your child. It’s better to help your brainstorm what they know about the topic and start from there. Teach them how to look up information and develop their research skills instead so that they are the ones looking things up on search engines and not you.

3. The children start to rely on help from parents.

Some children are reluctant to ask their teacher for help at school so they will ask mum or dad because it’s much easier. So a shy child may not have understood what she was doing in class earlier that day, she didn’t ask for help from the teacher and therefore waited until she got home to get mum to explain it better. Encourage your child to ask for help from the teacher first. Be firm and resist the urge to help, and that way, if they don’t get help from you, they are more likely to ask in school.

In contrast, I think that teachers should only set homework that they know the child will be able to do. It mustn’t be too easy either. I have often changed the planned homework at the last minute because I knew that the child was not confident enough to do it by themselves at home.

4. The children learn that at the first sign of trouble, mum or dad will bail them out.

Children need to take responsibility for their own learning. The homework belongs to the child and should be completed by the child. Some children need re-assurance and there’s no harm in explaining how to do the homework so that the child can get started. One parent told me that when her daughter was doing her maths homework, she asked for help. The homework was on long multiplication which involves many steps and so, the mother sat down with her daughter and wrote down all the steps involved. She then sat there until the daughter worked out the second problem correctly. Then she decided to leave the room and within seconds, her daughter said “mum this is too hard, I’m stuck”! The mother still left the room and the daughter completed the rest by herself – CORRECTLY.

5. Parents end up nagging and bullying their children into doing homework.

This can lead to resentment and sets homework in a negative light.

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3 comments on “The Dos and Don’ts When Helping Your Child With Homework

  1. Reblogged this on North West UK Tutors and commented:
    This is an excellent article written by a colleague in Luton South about what parents should and should not do when helping children with homework. At our Kip McGrath centres children are given a small amount of homework which they are encouraged to complete themselves without parental assistance. If a question is unanswered or wrong, it helps us gather a clear picture of a child’s understanding of the subject. Sometimes parents can fall into the trap of helping their children with homework too much but in the long term, this is not helpful to your child.

  2. I am a single parent who suffers from anxiety and depression sometimes,i have a hard time helping my son with his homework as I cant really consentrate either I feel like I dont help at all and I end up crying every time..how,can I help him without passing on my stress or making him feel bad..help please 😦

    • I think the key is to do little and often. Work with him for 20 minutes max, and then stop and allow him to complete himself. If he cannot complete because it’s too hard, then leave it and let his school teacher decide on more suitable homework. If you set aside 20 minutes a day for working with him, whether he has homework or not, then it will become routine. If 20 minutes is still too much then start off with 15 minutes and see what happens.

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