How Involved should Parents be in Kids Homework

Helping With Homework: Don’t Let Go of the Handle Bars Too Soon!

The Problem
Homework is better known to most of us as the “Ahhh I have to?!” problem. I stumbled onto something that definitely helps with younger children, elementary school age. However, it is not a panacea.

Learning to Ride a Bike
I liken homework to teaching a child how to ride a two wheel bike. More on exactly what this has to do with homework in a moment. First step in learning to ride a bike is having the child ride with the training wheels on. Then the training wheels come off, and we as parents take their place, running alongside the child, helping them steer. Slowly we let go of the handle bars, but keep our hands perched right above them in case the child should unexpectedly swerve in one direction and need immediate assistance. Soon our child progresses and we let go of the handle bars and watch with pride as they ride off and no longer need our assistance. It seems to us like the next moment they are riding the bike all over the neighborhood, without giving it a second thought

OK so now what does learning how to ride a bike have to do with assisting children with homework? The process is a little bit the same. The difference is we sometimes forget the middle steps when we help our children with assignments. What does that mean?
Don’t Let Go of the Handle Bars Too Soon!
With the example of the bike we make sure our child can ride before we stop running beside them as they steer. We don’t want them to fall and get hurt. With homework, failure is not quite so dramatic. There is no physical pain involved; the consequences of failure are not so immediate. If our child has trouble learning to ride we will hear them call for help immediately, loudly and clearly, because they’re afraid of falling. But with school work elementary school children may not always know what the problem is, or the underlying reasons they don’t want to do it. It’s a little more subtle with homework. All they know is that it’s a bitter pill, almost as bad as getting a needle at a doctor’s appointment. So, it’s up to us to play detective.

What I Learned About Homework
I used to think that if a child was pretty mature in several areas, that was a telltale sign, that that “stick-to-it” ability should carry over to homework; not always the case. I learned that just because a child can work independently, say complete a 50-100 piece puzzle, or read a book for 45 minutes at a stretch without supervision, it may be entirely different when it comes to homework. I learned that knowing that an assignment is due, understanding how to do it, and having a clean, quiet place to work is simply not all a child may need.

What else could possibly be lacking? In a word, us. So here’s the key point. Remember the bike example? We continue to run alongside our child even when they first seem to have the knack of riding. Why? Insurance. We want to make sure they do. Children need the same kind of assistance with homework. Although they can sit and attend to many things by themselves, they may need for us to sit and “participate” in the process at homework time. This does not mean becoming a drill sergeant. Nor does it mean giving them the answers, or just checking them when the child is finished. It does not mean sitting with them and talking on the telephone while we do. It means sitting with them AND participating. It means that homework becomes a parent-child activity. In the beginning this may mean every night. Of course, this is not always practical or possible. But what’s important is that as parents we develop a mindset about the nuances of parent participation and how it impacts our child’s learning process in significant ways.

Attitude is Everything
In short, be proactive in the process. That means being physically present, in earnest, while a child does homework. How? Well, by asking them relevant questions, praising their effort when they do an assignment well, helping them organize it. Or, it could include explaining a concept they don’t understand, or helping them practice something until they get the idea. It could even mean briefly telling them what a particular assignment was like for you as a child.

Won’t This Cause Other Problems?
For us such participation appears to be so incredibly simplistic that we assume it to be completely unnecessary, especially when dealing with an older elementary school child. And too, we fear that such intense parent participation may encourage a child to exhibit attention-seeking misbehavior at those times when we can’t be so directly involved. Also, we worry that parent participation in this fashion will facilitate a dependent attitude resulting in a situation where the youngster may never do homework by him/herself. Not true; just the opposite happens.

The Benefits of This Kind of Parent Participation in the Homework Process
For a child, such parent participation can mean everything. Yes it’s giving them structure at as level we would expect only a younger child to need. But they’re not going to need this level of intervention forever. This is just the stage where we’re running alongside the child with our hands perched above the steering wheel in case they start to fall off the bike. If we let go too soon they do. The same thing happens with homework. If we aren’t hands on long enough they don’t “take off” so to speak, in the same way they do when learning to ride a bike. Moreover, once they do learn to ride we only need check on them occasionally. The same thing happens with homework. The pros of doing this, which have lasting positive effects by the way, far outweigh the cons. By example, our participation helps them:

Develop good study habits from the start

Develop a good attitude about homework

Develop their organizational skills

Learn to reason better and to think more logically

Build motivation and, confidence in their own ability

Want to keep trying when they don’t get it right the first time

Increase their rate of learning

In short it works! As adults we sometimes procrastinate. When we do, it may take a spouse or a friend to talk us through something, or some other kind of direct involvement on their part. We know we are perfectly capable of doing whatever it is alone, but, we don’t. The support someone gives us, just by talking us through something, can make all the difference. With children it can be the same thing with homework. They will never be able to articulate this to us. As parents it is our role to figure it out.