When a child comes home from school with a massive bundle of homework, it’s hard for a parent not to think, “When am I going to find time to do this?”
On paper, we know that our children’s homework is meant to be for them, but, in practice, it doesn’t always end up that way. Part of the reason we get so frustrated about the amount of homework our children get is that we know we’re going to be the ones who end up doing it.
Nearly half of all parents have done homework assignments for their kids. It’s not uncommon for a parent to scrape together a volcano for a science project and slap little Timmy’s name on it, or to fill out a few math questions your child just doesn’t have time to get through.
Even if we don’t do our kids’ homework for them, most parents believe that we need to help out. We want, after all, for our children to succeed, and what’s going to give them a better chance than an involved parent?
In theory, all of this makes sense, but, in practice, it doesn’t actually work out. Studies show that the more involved a parent is, the worse the child does.
If you want your child to do really well on their homework, the best thing you can do is back off.
Doing your kid’s homework actually makes things worse
When I was in the fifth grade, a classmate gave a presentation on the Seven Wonders of the World – with props. She insisted she’d done it all herself, but the class couldn’t help be a bit suspicious about the 10-year-old who’d hand-crafted plaster replicas of mankind’s greatest architectural achievements, to scale.
Most of her grade school work went that way, and, in a way, in worked. She ranked at the top of her fifth grade class. If that’s what her parents were going for, they succeeded. Unfortunately, though, Harvard doesn’t usually look at your fifth-grade GPA. By the time she’d made it to high school, her grades started to slip – and, today, she’s a waitress at a bar.
Studies have consistently found that getting involved doesn’t lead to better grades. It’s the opposite, in fact. We often want our kids to have the best project at the science fair or get a perfect grade, but we’re really just taking away from a learning opportunity.
When parents regularly help their kids do their work, they usually do worse. The kids with the best grades, on the other hand, usually study on their own.
Trying to teach the way you learned just confuses them
When a child comes home with Common Core Math, a lot of parents want to throw it out the window and say, “Listen, this is how I learned it, and it’s a lot better.” Even if your way really is better, though, teaching it to them that way only makes things worse.
Studies have also found that trying to teach your kids at home usually leaves them more confused. Like most studies, this is a generalization. Some parents can make it work. We are talking about most parents here, and when most parents try to show their kids how to do their work, they generally create more problems than they fix.
You also run the risk of ruining your child’s attitude toward school. Your child will adopt your attitude to homework. If you’re telling them their teacher is doing it wrong, they’re going to believe you, and they’re going to have a much harder time listening and learning in class.
Letting kids do their homework alone helps
The best way you can help, according to a review of 20 studies on parental involvement in homework, is to set rules. Don’t do the work with your kids, but do make sure they’re actually doing it, and that they have a good environment in which to get it done.
Not only do kids do better when parents back off, but it lets them grow up to be better people. Doing homework on their own teaches kids to manage their own behavior, and that’s a lot more important than getting good grades in elementary school.
You’re not going to be able to do their homework for them in college. And let’s be honest – when your kids get to high school and start bringing home two hours of homework every night, you won’t have time to do that for them, either.
How you can actually help
We parents need to back off, but that doesn’t mean we can’t help. Dr. Harris Cooper, one of the world’s leading homework experts, has a few tips on how parents can help their kids succeed when they do homework.
Set up a good environment
Make sure your child has a distraction-free zone to work. Help them manage their time and make sure they have all the materials they need.
When your child does homework, so should you
If your child is reading, read the newspaper. If your child is doing math, balance your checkbook. That way, you let your child know that these skills are going to be essential later in life.
Help your child manage frustration
Part of doing well is handling frustration. If your child struggles, let her know that’s okay, and allow her to take a break.
Kids view homework as a way to appease their parents. Keep a positive attitude about their work and, if your child improves, let them know you value their hard work by making a special meal or taking them to the park.
That’s it. That’s all you have to do. Your kids’ homework doesn’t have to take up all your time. Just make sure they’re doing it, and back off. It’s not only going to save you time; it’s the best approach, too.