Tips for helping your kids with homework

Posted12/6/2018 10:53 AM
  • Is it truly possible to help your child smile while doing homework? Our Ken Potts says it is.

    Is it truly possible to help your child smile while doing homework? Our Ken Potts says it is. Daily Herald file photo

About this time in the school year, after a couple of less than spectacular grade reports, some parents may be considering giving their kids a bit of a boost in the homework area.

We can't go to school with our children, we reason, but perhaps we can help them turn their school performance around if we get involved in the school work they bring home. It seems worth a try.

Such parental involvement can sometimes help children in their school performance. But it can also do more harm than good if we aren't clear about what exactly it is we can, and want to, accomplish.

This week, then, I'd like to make a few suggestions about exactly what the role of parents ought to be when it comes to our children's homework.

Let's start with our goals. Teaching self-responsibility needs to be the first and most basic goal of any parental involvement in children's school performance.

Ultimately, school is their job, not ours. We want to avoid setting up a pattern in which we take responsibility for their work. We need to teach them to be responsible in doing homework, and, in the process, to be so in other areas as well.

Second, our goal is to teach our children study skills. They need to learn how to plan, how to implement those plans, how to persevere, how to adapt.

Studying is not something that we are born knowing how to do. It is a skill to be learned, and one that is learned primarily through homework.

When our kids reach adulthood, knowing how to learn is going to be much more important than remembering the answer to a particular question.

Finally, we want to help our children master the material itself. Though teaching is the job of the teacher, we can assist in this process.

Learning math, science and geography is important, perhaps now more than ever. As adults we appreciate just how crucial a basic education is. In fact, it is becoming increasingly difficult to survive in the adult world without it.

With these goals in mind, here are some specific things we parents can do to be a positive influence on our children's homework.

• Check with our children's teachers about their approach to teaching in general and homework in particular. What do these education professionals see as our role?

We don't have to agree, but it is important that we understand where they are coming from. Make a contract to check in with each other on a regular basis, so if problems do arise, they don't come as a surprise to anyone.

• Agree with our children on a consistent time and a place to do homework. This is part of both being responsible and of planning. You might draw up with them a list of options and let them choose what they think is best. Give them as much say so as possible, but help them to be realistic (doing homework 15 minutes before bedtime in front of the TV probably won't work).

• Especially with younger children, talk through how to "do" homework. For example, they will need adequate lighting, a surface to write on, pens and pencils, paper, books.

They will need to choose one subject to start on (but, they may also like to work a bit on one subject and switch to another for a change of pace). Praise their study skills when appropriate and offer constructively phrased suggestions when needed. Try to make it fun.

• Be a consultant; don't do the work for them. Encourage our kids to ask us questions, but don't give them answers -- help them in finding the answer themselves. Our children will often learn more by their own struggling than by our well-intentioned rescuing.

• Reward. It motivates better. When our children do a good job, we can praise them verbally, even allow them extra privileges.

When our children don't do so well, we want to offer help, not punishment. School punishes in the form of poor grades and, to some degree, public embarrassment (I can still recall wanting to crawl under my desk when I flunked a spelling test in third grade). Our children don't need additional penalties from us.

• Allow failure. Most learning comes through making mistakes. Failing will not harm our children if we praise their trying and help them to learn from their failure.

In reality, such an approach to failure will go a long way toward helping them to be healthy, functioning adults.

• Give it time. Learning how to do homework -- learning how to learn -- takes time. Poor grades in second grade do not necessarily mean poor grades in high school. They do mean we need to work with our children in those areas in which they are struggling.

But I know many intelligent, productive adults who struggled more than a bit in grade school and even high school.

• Work with teachers and your local school board to consider the research that suggests homework, in and of itself, might not be a particularly effective learning tool.

The above does not exhaust the list of what we parents can do to help our children with homework, but I think it is a good start. Above all, we want to keep in mind that homework is assigned to our children, not us.

• Dr. Ken Potts is on the staff of Samaracare Counseling Center in Naperville and Downers Grove. He is the author of "Mix Don't Blend, A Guide to Dating, Engagement and Remarriage With Children."

Article Comments ()
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.