It's an all-too familiar situation for many parents: kids leaving homework until the last minute or worse, refusing to do homework altogether.
But rather than waging World War III over unfinished or ignored homework, many experts advocate taking a step back and letting your child face the consequences of missing or incomplete assignments.
“We don't want to make it seem like it's our job to worry about it, because if we do, we reinforce the idea that somebody other than the kid is ultimately responsible for the homework,” explains William Stixrud, a clinical neuropsychologist in Silver Spring. “I've seen kids who will dutifully work with their parents and let their parents help them, and the kid is grateful for the help. That's fantastic. … But, if the kid refuses to do his homework, there's no way for the parents to force it. It's impossible.”
Mom and Dad, Independent Homework Consultants
Many therapists will tell a patient not to work harder to help someone fix their problems than they are willing to work themselves. The same concept carries over into a child completing homework assignments, Stixrud says.
“It's a matter of the psychological issue of who is responsible for what,” he says. “Even in first grade, it's the child's homework, not the parent's homework. It's the parent's responsibility to provide help and support.”
Jodi Daniel is the owner of Tutored by a Teacher, a private tutoring service in the D.C. metropolitan area. She holds a valid teaching certificate in Virginia and was a teacher for nearly 10 years in Northern Virginia and Wilmington, Del.
She agrees that parents should hold their children accountable for their homework, acting as a support system rather than a supervisor.
“If parents are constantly saying 'Do your homework, do your homework, do your homework,' the student doesn't have to think about it, because the parent will be there to remind them,” she says. By establishing homework as the child's responsibility, parents are setting their child up for future success in the later years of education and in the workplace, she says.
To create a successful independent learner, there are a few steps you can take.
Starting at a young age, teach your child healthy homework habits and the importance of keeping a consistent homework routine (see sidebar for details). Younger kids will need more support than older kids in establishing a schedule, but once this is developed, children should be the ones going to the parent with their homework folders or agenda to go over upcoming assignments. “A lot of times, parents think it's their responsibility to go through the backpack, but it's not really creating an independent learner. … Starting this routine early is going to create a more successful environment for everyone,” Daniel says.
Act as a “homework consultant.” For roughly 30 years, Stixrud has advocated that parents think of themselves as consultants. Set nightly or weekly “office hours” where you will be available to answer questions, review homework and create a plan of attack for completing assignments. Daniel says parents shouldn't feel as though they have to sit with their children or look over shoulders to ensure homework is being completed. “Parents feel like they have to sit next to their students, and that creates a sense that the student needs to rely on someone else,” she says. Instead, parents should say, “I trust you to do this. I'm confident in your abilities. I'm going to make dinner and take care of my own work, but if you have a question, I'm happy to answer your question,” she says.
If your child refuses to complete his homework, let him face the consequences. Stixrud suggests sitting down with your child and saying “I love you too much to fight with you over this.” He will quickly learn that he is the one who will face consequences for unfinished homework.
Never supply your child with the correct answers to an assignment. If necessary, you may want to go through an assignment and say, 'Tell me how you got this answer,' Daniel suggests. This may help him realize an error or allow him to voice any confusion he has over a topic. Additionally, when a child turns in a homework assignment with incorrect answers, the teacher is clued in to what areas he needs to focus on before testing.
If necessary, consider enlisting outside help who is familiar with the school curriculum. Stixrud has seen children succeed with peer tutors, since they're low-cost, low-stress and familiar with the subject matter. Daniel suggests going with a tutor who is familiar with the school system.
The Value of Homework
When properly assigned, homework can improve understanding of schoolwork, teach time management and foster independent learning, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Typically, homework should serve as a review of what the child learned in school rather than an introduction of new materials. Too much homework or homework beyond a child's learning level can be detrimental rather than helpful.
Many national education groups, including the National Parent Teacher Association, suggest 10 to 20 minutes of nightly homework for children in kindergarten through second grade and 30 to 60 minutes of homework for kids in third through sixth grade. The amount of homework for junior high and high school will be higher, depending on the night of the week and class schedule.
Some experts, including Stixrud himself, question the benefits of homework on a child's ability to learn. If your child has a learning disability or is overwhelmed by the homework load, Stixrud suggests contacting school administration to negotiate an alternative.
Communicating with School
In the spirit of independent learning, children should be taught from an early age to communicate with teachers about their concerns, whether related to homework or other school issues.
“If the student is at an age where he's able to share that frustration, I think that's good,” Daniel says. “At some point, he needs to be able to build that communication skill to tell [the teacher], 'This was too difficult, because...” or 'I didn't understand this because...'”
Daniel says to teach children to explain what the issue was rather than simply saying 'I didn't do my homework, because it was too difficult.'”
“A lot of times, parents jump in when really it should be the student voicing their concerns and being an active member of their educational process,” she says.
Of course, if a child is especially sensitive or if there is a larger issue than one tough assignment, parents should feel comfortable communicating with teachers and the school principal. Stixrud suggests going to school administrators if a child finds homework too difficult for a week or longer, if several parents have concerns over the homework load or if they suspect their child might have a learning disability. Children with learning disabilities may be able to get a break on their homework load, and other kids who find homework to be above-level, boring or unhelpful may be able to get alternative assignments, such as books on tape or video/online learning, Stixrud says.
By taking on the role of your child's advocate, cheerleader and consultant rather than homework disciplinarian, he is more likely to take ownership of his schoolwork. As your child settles back into the familiar routine of the school year, teach him the value of homework, set a routine and let him take the steering wheel.
By Jeanette Der Bedrosian