Put Down the Pencil and Step Back – Is Helping Your Child With Homework Really Helping Your Child?

Before jumping in to help your student ask yourself whether you should

Here's why you shouldn't: It's too easy for a parent to step in and help with homework when really what the child is looking for is validation. Keep in mind, as I tell you why I think you shouldn't get too involved with a child's homework, that I am a homeschooling parent and an advocate of homeschooling as an alternative form of education. I do quite a bit of lesson planning, instruction, and grading. However, when I perform these activities, I don't have the "parent" hat on; I have the "teacher" hat on. It's not an easy division to make, but in order to avoid interfering with a child's natural learning process; it's an important distinction to make.

Don’t Become Overzealous When Helping

It is so easy for parents to become overly helpful because they want their children to succeed. I'm going to tell you a little story. I had a parent who really wanted for me to do well in school. As a result, she'd often help me out when I was struggling with a subject – as best as she was able to. As my subjects became increasingly more difficult and my writing assignments became more involved, so too did her involvement in helping me out. It's a fine line between parental assistance and parental completion. She never did do any of my school work, but there were times, I'm sure, when she felt the need to. It's important to know when it's necessary to step back and let your child take the reins on his or her own education.

By allowing the child to take the reins and work on the homework on his or her own, you can help that child to develop a healthy sense of self-esteem and independence. It's important for children to learn that they can solve things on their own. Whether it's a math problem or a problem with friends, by being given the proper tools to work through it, it will be easier for them to excel in life.

Not Teaching the Best Method

It can be hard to set aside the approaches you learned in school – or even misguided approaches – in order to make sure your child is learning the most current method of doing things. Parents often come into helping children with their own preconceived ideas of what's important to learn, which subjects are difficult, and what's fact and what's opinion. It's vital that you avoid passing on these notions to your children. After all, math phobia tends to develop because parents are math-phobic. If you tell your kids, "math is hard," they will expect math to be hard. If you tell your kids that science isn't always right, the kids might not see the purpose of learning about scientific theories. If you help your child with homework and make a mistake when demonstrating how to solve a problem, because you are the parent, that child might go on thinking that the wrong way to do things is the right way.

Instead, it's important to be sure if you're helping the student that you're in the know about what your child is learning. It's not enough to quickly glance at the textbook. If it's been 20 years since you did fractions, it might be time to make sure you know what you're doing. Otherwise, you could confuse the child more. It's also important to provide children with balanced arguments when it comes to controversial subjects. This might in itself seem quite controversial to some people; however, there's a reason for this. It is important, in an educational setting that a child is able to see both points of view. In fact, being able to see both sides of an argument is vital for getting along with people in the long run.

Grade Inflation

Parents who become overly involved in homework also run a risk in complaining to the teachers. When parents complain to teachers, principals, and school boards and they threaten to yank important funding from the school, grades tend to become inflated. This has happened to the point where it is difficult to tell what grades really mean. Because parents will make children correct their homework over and over again until the answers are correct and become overly involved in testing measures, students do not learn self-discipline or study habits.

When students are helped too much by overzealous parents, then their grades lose meaning. Schools with grade inflation may become known for not producing top students and it may make it more difficult for your child and other children from that school to get into a top college. Grade inflation is a bad thing, not a good thing because it cheapens the grades that students receive.

Co-Dependent Children

As someone who has worked with college students, I say this with the greatest amount of care in my "voice." Do not help your children with homework. They will grow up to struggle with determining how to best solve problems in their college work; they will become the students who cry when they get the grades they truly earned. As a fellow parent, I understand the desire to see your child succeed, but do you want your child to succeed at the expense of being able to cope with whatever the future might bring? Do you want your student to come to you when he or she is a student in college looking for homework help? You're not going to be on campus with the student, nor will you be there at his or her first job to oversee the student's progress.

It might sound harsh to say that too much homework help will lead to co-dependency later on, but it's a harsh truth parents need to hear.

The Healthy Kind of Help

Contrary to popular belief, you do not need to micromanage your child's every living moment. There's a reason that this parenting strategy has earned the nickname "helicopter parenting." Sometimes it's okay – and even advised – to let your child get through struggles on his or her own. Doing so helps to build self-esteem and the knowledge that the child truly earned the grade he or she was given. Yes, that means that sometimes a student will earn a D or even an F, but those are his or her grades to earn. By allowing your child to fail, you will help him or her to realize that school needs to be taken more seriously. Before stepping in to help your student, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Does my student actually need my help, or is he or she looking for validation? (Answer here, if you're going to be helping is yes to the first and no to the second parts of the question)
  2. Do I know the material well enough to offer help? (Yes)
  3. Can I refrain from giving my child the answer? (Yes)
  4. Can I ask leading questions to help him or her figure out the answer on his or her own? (Yes)
  5. Does the student need help or do I need to help the student? (The student should need your help, wait for him or her to approach you.)

So, this school year do your child and yourself a favor. Step back for a while. Only help if your child asks and if you're certain you can help without becoming too involved. Don't complain about grades to your child's teacher. I know that stepping back from helping students is a radical idea, because so many schools advocate it, but in the long run it will serve your student well if he or she can actually say, "Man, it was tough, but I really worked hard to earn that 'A!'"