Whose Homework Is It, Anyway?

Learn how to help your child with homework and school assignments.

Whose Homework Is It, Anyway?

Homework may be hard to handle for kids, and it certainly is for grownups. We all want our kids to do well, and it's often hard to take the long view, let the child figure it out, and avoid rescuing her. In other words, parents tend to help (or even do) their children's homework in a misguided effort to help them succeed in school. In their book, 7 Strategies for Developing Capable* Students: *Responsible, Respectful, and Resourceful, H. Stephen Glenn and Michael L. Brock write, “Homework is the child's, not the parents' responsibility. By enforcing that early—with encouragement, empathy, and support—we lay the foundation for our children developing as capable young people who understand the meaning of personal responsibility.” Kids need to learn their own work processes, they need to take responsibility for how they do in school, and sometimes it takes them awhile to figure it out. As a parent, you have a couple of difficult questions to consider:

It's a Good Idea!

When, where, and how your child does his homework is negotiable. Whether he does it is not.

  1. Can you let your kid fail in the short term to succeed in the long term?
  2. What is your reaction when homework is being done, but not as you would have done it, or would like to see it done?

Here are some thoughts, ideas, and suggestions for reducing your child's stress about homework (and also lessening your own):

  • Stay aware of your child's progress in school. That means visiting the school, asking for periodic conferences with the teacher (even when things seem right), and generally being involved with your child's education. Did you know that a parent's attendance at open house night is the number-one signifier of whether or not a child will succeed at school? The more involved you are with your child's schooling, the more clearly you'll know if he is having trouble with “homework: the concept” or “homework: this particular assignment.”

  • Stop taking responsibility for your child's homework. If you complete it, correct it, or take over, you may be learning, he will not be.

  • Participate if he asks questions or asks for your suggestions. Gently guide him on the path to the answer (but do not provide it).

  • Express your empathy and confidence in your child. (“Yep, this looks pretty challenging. I know you can figure it out, though.”)

  • Take a child's time temperament into consideration when you schedule time for homework. If your bright-eyed and bushy-tailed morning dove prefers to get up at dawn to complete his assignments, why not? He'll probably work better than in his brain-dead presleep period in the evening.

  • For very active kids, it's torture to do homework after sitting in school all day. Plan an exercise break.

  • Talk with your child about where to do homework. Some kids love to work in solitude, some prefer the hustle bustle of the kitchen table.

  • Some kids actually work best with music blaring or in front of the TV. (This was true of my stepdaughter Rachel, who is now working toward her Ph.D. in chemistry!) Allow your child to try it, and monitor the results. Get him earphones so you won't have to try it, too.

  • If your child is homework resistant, persevere. You can say, “When you're done, I'm looking forward to a board game with you” (or any other special time activity), so he knows you are interested in spending time with him-but that doing homework is nonnegotiable.

  • A child should never be rewarded for good grades. Instead, encourage him to feel good about the process of learning. Celebrate the process and its completion, rather than the grade earned.

  • Be open to the possibility that your child might need tutoring. You can talk with the school about what is appropriate, and where to find it.

  • Don't try to be your child's teacher.

  • Be available to offer guidance when he gets stuck. Share your approach, any tricks, resources you might know about.

  • Don't reward procrastination.