Monthly Archives: November 2012

Can there be too much help with homework?

Homework is a fact of life for most students from 1st grade to high school graduation.  It is intended to be an opportunity to practice newly acquired skills, review what has already been learned, and apply or extend instruction beyond the classroom.  If the homework is appropriate for a student, they should be able to complete their work with very limited assistance from their parents.  Parents are expected to show an interest in their child’s education and monitor their homework as well as the class work and tests that are sent home.  They should make sure that the child has a reasonably quiet workspace and needed school supplies.  Many parents will find it necessary to either prompt their child to get started on their homework, or ask them if they have already done it.  What they should not do is take over the assignment and end up doing most of the work themselves!

I will occasionally hear a parent use the word “we” in away that makes it quite clear that they are way too involved in their child’s schoolwork.  “We studied for this test…”, “We do homework for __ hours every night”, “We don’t understand the assignment,” “We are taking Algebra I,” etc.   I sometimes challenge the parent to think about whether their excessive involvement is actually against the child’s best interest.  Here are a few things to consider:

  • Helping too much may keep the child from learning how to function more independently.  Ask yourself:  Am I teaching my child that he must have the full attention of an adult at all times? Can my child learn to use a textbook, dictionary or computer to look something up, rather than just asking me question after question? Can my child read the directions for themselves instead of handing me the paper with the expectation that I will explain, demonstrate and/or guide them step-by-step through the entire assignment?  Does my child even attempt to do work on their own, or have they completely accepted that they “can’t do it.”
  • Helping too much may mask the actual challenges that the child is having.  The teacher who sees correctly completed homework coming back to school everyday won’t know that you spend 3 hours each night re-teaching everything, or pretty much giving your child the answers to the questions.  This keeps important information about the student’s learning from being available to guide instruction.  It could also lead to educators concluding that the child is “doing fine” when you ask the school to provide extra assistance or evaluate the child for special education services.
  • Helping too much may lead to unrealistic expectations.  The student may end up being placed in classes that are too difficult for them when they could possibly be more independently successful  in a class that moved at a slower pace or required a more manageable number of work products.  The student may feel pressure to get all A’s and B’s when they are really just an average kid who would probably earn mostly C’s under normal circumstances.    A student who has been “helped” all the way through school may set (or be pushed toward) unobtainable career goals, unless the parent plans to go to law or medical school with them.  And then what?  Instead, each child should get the message that, as long as he is doing his best, that he is good enough!
  • By trying to protect your child from failure, you may also cheat her from experiencing her own success.  It seems that some parents are afraid that their child will be traumatized by getting a low grade, turning in an unimpressive product, or having to tell a teacher that they had trouble with an assignment.  They forget that some risk and struggle is often necessary for growth and the ability to overcome adversity.  Making things appear to be okay is not the same as developing real competence.

There is much value and satisfaction gained when a person can say that their achievements, great and small, were truly the result of their own efforts!