A common parental lament is that kids have too much homework, particularly at the elementary school level. Complaining doesn’t help; sympathizing with your child does, however, and like it or not, they’ve still got to do it.
Homework is often a challenge for kids who participate in one or more after school activity. To ease this time crunch, many parents help them finish their homework. If you’re one of these parents, then you’ve earned a new title, “Helicopter Homework Parent.”
Do you know that your well-meaning but over-controlling interference may have a negative effect on your child? Several recent research studies suggest that you may unknowingly be doing more harm than good.
One study, “Over Parenting and Homework: The Student’s Task, but Everyone’s Responsibility,” was conducted by Australian clinical psychologist Dr. Judith Locke. She concluded that “too much parental involvement may create students who struggle or are incapable of taking responsibility for themselves. This assistance may cease to be beneficial, especially as children reach adolescence and young adulthood and result in poor resilience, a feeling of entitlement and reduced sense of responsibility.” She emphasized that when done independently, homework will help students develop self-directed learning skills, initiative, independence and confidence, as well as give them a sense of control.
This is not advocating a total hands-off approach, however, especially in the primary grades. Yes, it’s reasonable to quiz your child on spelling words the evening before the test, review salient points on a social studies quiz, tell them the correct spelling of an unknown word (rather than waste time and concentration telling them to “look it up”), and help them structure long-term assignments. Sitting down with them to correct every error, though, is a mistake and curtails the teacher’s ability to identify trouble spots. Homework with no errors gives a false impression.
So how do you become a guide on the side rather than the director? Setting the right environment is key. If your child has a desk in his or her room, he or she may choose to do homework there, but beware, distractions abound. Best to check on kids periodically to see if they’re on task. The kitchen table is also fine, but the trick here is not to hover; keep busy peeling the potatoes, but don’t distract your child by talking on the phone. If your child wants to chat, encourage him to wait until homework is finished. You’re teaching them concentration, which is a life skill. Frequently and sincerely praise his good work. Withhold it, however, when it’s sloppy. Tell them they can do better — then let it go. If you force your child to re-do messy papers, it feels like punishment.
Once children take the steps from elementary school to middle and then to high school, your involvement should decrease, meaning that constant meddling in an adolescent’s school assignments is age inappropriate. You’d be wiser to let kids this age take the initiative and learn the consequences of not preparing adequately or getting things done on time, suggests Dr. Locke. Even if you do want to help, and most Helicopter Homework Parents do, methods of teaching have changed and your “this is how you do it” interference is unwelcome and could actually work against your child.
Another study, one of the largest administered, measured the effect of parental involvement on academic achievement. Researchers Keith Robinson, (University of Texas, Austin) and Angel L. Harris, (Duke University), authors of The Broken Compass: Parental Involvement with Children’s’ Education (Harvard University Press, 2014), analyzed nearly 25,000 student surveys from the U.S. National Center for Education. These surveys included family questionnaires that included 63 measures of parental involvement, one of which was helping with homework. They were surprised to learn that this assistance resulted in few academic dividends, and in some instances, even backfired. Once children entered middle school it had the negative effect of bringing down test scores. Parental help is mostly inconsequential and sometimes can even hurt, the study concluded.
If you’re like most parents, you’ll willingly drive your kids to soccer practice, buy them the latest sports equipment, invest in the newest technology, keep the refrigerator stocked with their favorite foods, and lavish them with love and encouragement. When it comes to homework assistance, however, the yellow caution flag needs to be waved, before it turns red.