Tips for Parents: Helping Children with Homework

Many children think of homework as punishment rather than reinforcing the learning done during the school day. Although designed to help develop a sense of discipline and organization, homework can trigger a power struggle between parent and child.

Because parents' constant nagging and children's avoidance of homework can generate negative attitudes toward schoolwork done at home, specific tips on helping children with their homework also helps parents approach this task more positively.

  1. Set a consistent quiet time for children to do their homework. Parents and children could decide together on a particular time. The length of this quiet time will vary with children's ages and amount of homework. For example, 6:30-7:30 every night for 12-year olds, with less time for younger children and more time for older children. Homework should be completed during this quiet time. If a child finishes homework before the allotted time is over, pleasure reading may be done. If the child's favorite television show occurs during this time, it can be videotaped and viewed later, or quiet time could be rearranged for that night to accommodate the child. Parents can model appropriate behavior for children by reading during this quiet time instead of watching television. 
    How helps the child: Child is less likely to rush through homework assignments; television viewing will be controlled.

  2. Help children complete one or two examples in homework, not every problem or question. When a child turns in homework that was done accurately, the teacher assumes the child understands the material. If the child does not really understand the material because the homework was finished by the parent, the child may become frustrated and perform poorly on subsequent assignments. 
    How this helps the child: Child gets some attention from the parent, but also develops independence in completing projects on his/her own. Teachers see the mistakes a child makes on homework and appropriately chart the child's progress in understanding concepts.

  3. Help children organize a time frame for difficult homework and long-term projects. Science projects and term papers cannot be done overnight. Help children set up specific goals for such long-term assignments (i.e., by November 15 gather information, by November 20 begin reading and summarizing information). Difficult homework may require structuring more study breaks, and may need to be done early in the evening when the child is more rested. Help children break projects into smaller steps that don't seem so overwhelming to them.
    How this helps the child: Child learns how to pace himself/herself in relation to ability and goals; learns how to organize time and complete work in stages.

  4. Reduce the stress in a child's life. Some children have so many extra-curricular activities that they are too tired or distracted to do homework. Soccer, piano, 4-H and swimming practice are too much to do for a child who also has homework to complete. One or two extra curricular activities are usually enough for most children.
    How this helps the child: Child learns how to avoid burnout and overload; child has enough energy to complete homework accurately, and has some free time to relax.

  5. Recognize the limits of your patience. If you are constantly irritated with your child because he/she tries several times before spelling a word correctly or has trouble completing a math problem, get help from a tutor. Someone from school or the neighborhood could recommend an acceptable tutor. Neither the parent nor the child benefits from tense and negative feelings that arise from impatient parents too hard to help their children with homework.
    How this helps the child: Child sees that the parents recognize personal strengths and weaknesses; the relationship between parent and child is saved; child performs better on school assignments.

  6. Use a non-threatening approach: Children make mistakes in homework assignments. Instead of saying "That's wrong - here's the right answer," ask the child how he/she got the answer. When the child is asked to explain the thinking process about the answer, he/she often catches mistakes and becomes less discouraged. Another advantage of using this technique is that parents can discover the mistaken logic behind the incorrect answer.
    How this helps the child: Child becomes more secure in his/her own ability; parents are thought of as encouraging and supportive of threatening.

  7. Support the teacher. When you see problems with the amount or type of homework that teachers are assigning, make an appointment with the teacher to discuss the issue. Complaining to the teacher in front of the child can encourage the child to question the teacher's competence and authority, creating discipline problems in school. How this helps the child: Child maintains respect for the parent and the teacher's position; parents and teachers work together to help learn and grow in a positive direction.