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Does Helping With Homework Do More Harm Than Good?

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Does Helping With Homework Do More Harm Than Good?

Ever felt stressed out by your children’s homework assignments? Do you feel a responsibility for the work your child hands in?

Research from the UK suggests that parents who help their children with their homework may be having a negative effect on their children’s grades.

The Social Market Foundation's Millenium Cohort Study cross-referenced the primary test scores of more than 16,000 11-year-olds, across the UK, with questions about their family’s background and parental involvement in their education, and the results were surprising.

Reading out loud to a child at the age of five, attending parent evenings and making sure children did their homework before other activities, all correlated with higher exam scores for 11-year-olds. Yet children whose parents helped frequently with homework attained lower grades and made poorer progress (though still fared better than children whose parents never showed any interest in their work).

As a parent who considers herself ‘hands-on’ with her children’s homework, this has made me stop and consider the effect I am having on their learning.  Am I ‘over-helping’ and preventing my children thinking for themselves?  Are my kids losing self-esteem and not developing problem-solving skills because I am over-involved and too keen to jump in and help?  Do I take over my children’s projects and make them my own?

Hmmm, when I think about how stressed I’ve been recently about helping them get their art and science projects in on time … and how I came up with all those novel ideas that would make their project stand out from the others … and how my kids really didn’t seem phased or fussed about it at all … Oh dear.

In the early years of school, homework is largely about practicing what has been learnt in class, through home readers, spelling drills and maths exercises.  This will require a substantial amount of parental involvement – someone to listen to a child read, test sight words, supervise the development of handwriting skills, play counting games etc.

As a child progresses through school, however, homework is less about drills and repetition and increasingly about thinking independently, problem-solving, developing creativity and individuality.  Too much homework help from a parent and a child may never learn how to think for themselves or cultivate the necessary skills to succeed.

2014 US research (The Broken Compass: Parental Involvement with Children’s Education) concluded that, after primary school, parental involvement in homework contributed to poorer student grades.

Does this mean we should just let our High Schoolers get on with it and refuse to get involved? Or can we have a positive influence on our children’s homework  without interfering and taking over? 

Here are some tips to consider: 

  • Set rules – eg study times, no TV before homework done etc.

  • Provide a suitable space – make sure your child has somewhere quiet away from distractions, conducive to work.

  • Supervise but don’t take over.

  • Don’t offer help before they ask - help children develop their confidence and perseverance.

  • Ask questions rather than give answers – help them to think about the problem without pointing out the solution.

    I remember my mother helping me with my German homework when I was in High School.  She didn’t speak a word of the language but helped me work out what I was supposed to be doing with my sentence construction by asking me questions about what I was trying to achieve.  

  • Do look at your children’s homework – be interested, check it is completed, note any problems, ask them questions about it, be aware – but don’t correct it for them.

  • Don’t make school projects your projects – let your children take ownership of their work.

  • Be prepared to let them fail and take responsibility for the consequences.  We learn from our mistakes and failures.

How much homework help do you give your children? Tell us in your comments below.

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Topics: Parenting, High School, Primary School, Homework

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