By Christine Murray, Ph.D., LCMHC, LMFT
The author took this photo when her younger son was first starting to experience homework in Kindergarten several years ago. The homework struggle often starts early!
The new school year is back in full swing, which means that homework is back as well for most children in elementary, middle, and high schools. Of course, the concept of “homework” shifted with remote learning during the pandemic, with many students doing most (if not all) of their school work at home.
Now that most area schools are back to fully in-person learning, a bigger distinction between work that’s done at school and homework has returned. For many parents, this has brought back some debatable questions about homework. Some parents–and even some educators–question the academic value of homework, especially at younger grade levels.
Wherever you stand on the homework issue, and whether or not you like the idea of homework, chances are your child is bringing some home often, which leads to another difficult question for parents to grapple with: How much should I help my children with their homework? Whether you prefer to take a hands-off approach to your children’s homework or prefer a more deeply involved approach, below are a few ideas for how you can support your children’s learning and also build a stronger parent-child bond in the process.
Let your child’s needs and preferences guide the process.
Every child has unique needs when it comes to involvement in their schooling. Some students are more self-directed, while others need more external guidance, support, and encouragement. Talk with your child about what level of support and involvement they’d like you to offer, and also share the level of support and involvement you are able to provide. For example, you might offer to do a quick check of their work after they complete an assignment, talk with them daily or weekly about the assignments they have coming up, or simply provide them with encouragement and moral support. Try to reach an agreement about what your role will look like, and develop some practical tools to make this vision a reality.
Be prepared to adjust your level of involvement over time.
In general, as children grow older, they become more independent and better able to manage responsibilities like homework on their own. However, there are a lot of factors that can make the amount of support students need with homework fluctuate over time–such as the subject matter, teaching styles, and the amount of homework they’re assigned. It’s important to keep some flexibility as a parent with how you approach involvement with your child’s schooling, including their homework. Keeping an open line of communication with your child and their teachers can help you navigate these changes over time.
Even when you provide support, always keep the end goal of supporting your child’s growing independence and learning in mind.
As a busy parent, it can be tempting sometimes to do for our children what they can do for themselves. For example, you may be able to clean your child’s room quicker and better than they could, so you might go ahead and do it for them once in a while just to get the job done. When it comes to homework, however, it’s important for parents to let children do their own work. First, this helps to instill integrity in your child by helping them to take responsibility for their own choices and consequences. Also, this helps them turn in work that is an accurate reflection of their abilities, so their teachers can identify areas in which their students may need additional support. Try not to prioritize a short-term goal like getting a better grade or getting homework done more quickly overshadow the long-term end goal of helping your child become an independent, self-directed learner.
Reach out for assistance when you’ve reached your limits.
It was humbling for me the first time one of my children brought home a math assignment that I realized I completely didn’t understand–in early elementary school! I could have told my child about the way I learned to do math problems way back when, but I realized that math instruction today is nothing like it used to be and knew that wouldn’t be helpful. Whether it’s early elementary math or more advanced subjects as children age into middle and high school, most of us will reach our limits at some point with subjects we even would know enough to provide support for our children’s learning and homework. (And, of course, most of us have a lot of other demands on our time and attention, so we also have to honor those limits along with the limits of our knowledge!) Therefore, don’t be afraid to admit when your child needs assistance with their child that you simply can’t offer. Talk with your child’s teacher to see if they or another resource at your child’s school could offer additional support. Search for tutoring resources, such as in the TMoM Triad Area Tutoring Resources Directory, or seek out resources available through your local school system, such as the online resources offered through the Guilford Parent Academy for Guilford County Schools families.
Let’s face it: Homework is a stressful part of parenting for many of us. However, the stress of homework doesn’t have to overtake your or your child’s mental health and the health of your parent-child relationship. Work together to put strategies and systems in place that will help your child complete their homework in a way that supports their school performance and learning, while also helps them to take responsibility for their educational journey.
Christine Murray, Ph.D., LCMHC, LMFT, is the Director of the UNCG Center for Youth, Family, and Community Partnerships, where she also oversees the Healthy Relationships Initiative. The Healthy Relationships Initiative (HRI) team is excited to partner with Triad Moms on Main on this blog series. In this series, we offer general guidance to relationship or family questions submitted by TMoM community members. If you’ve got a question to ask, please share it anonymously here.