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The Classic Homework Dilemma: To Help Or Not To Help?

For decades, the government has told parents that getting involved with their children’s education is a key factor in each child’s success. One way parents do that is by helping with their child’s homework. However, research on the effects of homework assistance puts that strategy into question. Read on for how homework help can backfire, and alternatives for parents.

The Findings

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According to “The Broken Compass: Parental Involvement With Children’s Education”, parental assistance with homework had no effect on the standardized test scores of children in elementary school or below. For children in middle school or high school, parental assistance with homework decreased standardized test scores. Results were consistent across all groups of children, regardless of academic performance or background.

Other methods of parental involvement also had no effect on test scores. Meeting with teachers often and setting strict rules for homework or grades are among the many ways parents get involved without affecting their children’s test scores.

Possible Reasons

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While the reason this strategy is ineffective varies based on the parents, there are several common reasons for its failure. One of the most problematic issues occurs when a parent attempts to teach something he doesn’t understand. This becomes more likely as the child starts more difficult subjects, which the parent has either forgotten or never learned in the first place. Without a firm grasp of the subject matter, the parent has difficulty explaining it to the child and may even give the child incorrect information. At best, it wastes time that would have been better spent studying alone.

Another common problem is over-involvement on the parent’s part. In their desire for their child to do well, some parents go too far and take over an assignment without getting their child’s input. An Ask.com survey even found that 43% of the parents who responded did their child’s homework. When this happens, the child doesn’t learn. If it occurs often, it leads to the child falling behind.

Even parents who only provide assistance can hold their child back. Teachers help students during class, and assign homework for students to do alone. If parents always help, the child doesn’t develop independent study skills.

How To Help

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While it may seem like parental help isn’t that useful, the right type of help does have its benefits. For children who can’t read, reading aloud to them consistently helps them learn. Elementary school students benefit when parents teach them the skills they need to complete their homework. Older students may benefit from discussing project ideas with their parents.

At any age, the most effective method tends to be setting grade goals, but letting the child work to meet those goals without too much parental involvement. The parents should monitor grades and discuss issues with the child, but punishments for poor grades tend to backfire. These instill a sense of nervousness in the child about school, instead of enthusiasm.

Positive role models are also a significant factor in a child’s drive to succeed at school. One reason children from upper-class families go to college at a higher rate than children from lower class families is the people that each group interacted with during childhood. Children from upper class families tend to meet more people with careers that require college degrees, and this instills a desire for the same lifestyle.

Positive Aspects of Parental Involvement

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Even parents that mean well can inadvertently hamper their child’s educational development. However, rethinking the way you help your child can make a big difference.

What’s your strategy when helping your kids with their homework? Let us know in the comments below!

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