Homework Help: How to Know When to Step In

Image via Katie Hurley

It's the classic story: Your second grader comes home with a long-term project, and the note from the teacher clearly states “No parent assistance.” So you step back and let your child take the lead, helping only when asked. Your child creates a fantastic work of kid-powered art and writes the report independently, complete with a few age-appropriate misspellings. Your child is beaming with pride, and so are you—until you enter the classroom. That's when it hits you that many of the parents ignored the teacher's request and “helped” quite a bit.

It's difficult to know how much help to provide when it comes to homework. One of the major goals of homework is to practice the skills learned in class. To that end, you want your child to make an attempt to complete the assignment before you intervene. Another goal of homework is to help children learn to work independently.

If you're always jumping in to help, your child might fall behind in independent work skills. But it's very, very difficult to watch your child struggle over a difficult assignment after a long day of school.

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Like many aspects of parenting, homework can be a balancing act. Being supportive and involved is important. Just sitting by your child's side as she writes her spelling words shows her that you care and that you are available to help should something become overwhelming.

Image via Flickr/ apdk

Help organize

All teachers have their own methods of assigning and collecting homework. My daughter gets a homework packet each week. There is a guideline for which assignments to complete each night, but the packet is returned on Fridays. This is great for early learners, as it gives them the freedom to switch assignments around. My daughter loves math, so she typically gets her math done first.

Help your child break down the assignments into small pieces. Kids are tired after school. They need a snack and a break before doing more work. Many kids also benefit from completing homework in increments instead of all at once. Try doing math for ten minutes, followed by a break, and then ten minutes of something else. For long-term projects, help with brainstorming and organizing a timeline, but leave the writing and creative work to the child. 

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Image via Flickr/ Richard Masoner

Be attentive

If your child is struggling with similar assignments each week, it's time to check in with the teacher. Resist the urge to correct everything for your child so that the teacher can spot the trouble areas and request a phone chat or conference to troubleshoot with the teacher.

If exhaustion or too much time sitting is causing your child to rush through the work and make mistakes that she wouldn't otherwise make, try doing homework at a different time of the day. Some kids actually benefit from doing some work in the morning or after dinner. Be involved and attentive so that you know what the trouble areas are for your child. It might be that your child needs some modifications to the homework (fewer math problems can help, as can typing versus handwriting everything if writing is too difficult).

Image via Flickr/ stevendepolo

Create a calm space

Be sure to create a calm and organized workspace for your child. Whether it's in the bedroom or at the kitchen table, make sure your child has a clean, clutter-free place to work. It's difficult to pay attention when you're surrounded by external chaos, and kids pick up on these cues. Sit with your child as she works, and praise her efforts, not the finished product. A little bit of empathy goes a long way when an assignment ends in tears, and a fun activity after the homework is complete is always a good motivator. 

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What are some of your helpful homework tips?

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Homework Help: How to Know When to Step In

Katie Hurley, LCSW is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist and writer in Los Angeles, CA. She is the author of "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" and "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World". She earned her BA in Psychology and Women's Studies from Boston College and her MSW from the University of Pennsylvania. She divides her time between her family, her private practice and her writing. Passionate about he ... More

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