By Cammie Jones

When it comes to homework at my house, it can set the tone (good or bad) for the afternoon during the school year.  The kids come home after a long day at school, usually have a snack and then dive right in.  I’ve always grappled with how much to help them.  How much should I be helping (if at all) and at what point do I let them sink or swim?

Give your child autonomy

Erika A. Patell, assistant professor of educational psychology in the College of Education at the University of Texas at Austin, says parents should give kids autonomy when doing homework. “When kids struggle with homework, parents sometimes have an instinct to take control by using commands, incentives, threats, surveillance, or just doing the work themselves. These tactics may work in the short term, but won’t benefit kids in the long run,” she says.

Brenda McCrary of Augusta, mom of two and a fifth grade teacher, agrees and suggests parents may help and guide with the first problem to help the child recall what they learned in class. “After that, step back and say, ‘You did a great job on that. Now try the next one,” she says. She also suggests not hovering around your child as they do their work. “You want to build confidence in your child but sitting beside them and helping with homework can increase dependency and feelings of helplessness.”

It is important at the very beginning of the school year to allow children to do homework by themselves.  Let them make mistakes and know that they will learn from them. Also, if they do their work on their own, it will give them self-confidence. Always remind them that homework is practice and an extension of what they learn at school.

Set up a Homework-Friendly Area & Schedule

Setting a routine as soon as your children begin having homework is extremely important. This includes setting a time that works for your child and a specific place to do the work. “The sooner, the better after school,” advises McCrary. “Stick to a routine. Your child will know what to expect and be organized.”  She suggests even setting a timer for 20 minutes and then take a break. Jump on the trampoline, go get the mail, walk around the block or do some type of activity to refresh the mind. Then, get back to work. 

A quiet place to do homework is also crucial to their success. It can be at their desk in their room, on the dining room table or another serene area that works for them.  Make sure that everything your child will need is in a specific place nearby, such as a homework basket. This may include pencils, paper, a calculator, crayons, colored pencils, glue and scissors. Also, limit the amount of distractions so your child can concentrate. Turn off the television and remove any electronics that might distract your child from the task at hand.

Set Expectations and Rules 

This is a good time to start with the parameters around which you will help your child, letting them know the extent you will help and allow them time to get used to your involvement. You can begin the afternoon with some sort of mantra, “Remember, Johnny, I want you to take responsibility and do your homework by yourself but if you get stuck on something, I will try to help you figure out the best way to determine the answer but I won’t give you the answer.”

Be there for your child if any questions or problems arise, but keep your involvement to a minimum. Making sure your child knows this ahead of time will also limit the number of breakdowns that could occur if you do not set down these expectations up front.

Be Encouraging

Just because you don’t automatically give your child the answer doesn’t mean that you cant be positive and encouraging. This is a crucial time to let your child make mistakes and learn on their own. Remind them that the work they are doing is an extension of what they have learned in the classroom and to use this knowledge to complete the assignments. Ask them about upcoming tests and quizzes so that you’re in the know and make yourself available for any questions they may have.

McCrary suggests checking their work after a couple of problems and look for features to praise. She uses this example: “You lined up your math problem neatly. This will help avoid errors.”  Anything positive you can find to praise and encourage your child to keep on working independently is always a plus. 

Get Help for your Child

There are many resources that you can find online to help your child. McCrary says that is a great source for younger children and for math help, (for younger students) and (4th grade and up) are also helpful. In addition, your school and student support team should be able to guide you with additional help if needed.

If your child continually struggles with school and homework, get the help he or she needs right away. Go to your child’s teacher and make a plan. “Working together as a team (as a parent and teacher) will best benefit your growing learner,” adds McCrary. If need be, hire a tutor or have your child tested for any learning issues that need to be addressed. Your job as a parent is to help guide your child and any issues that hinder this shouldn’t be ignored. Be proactive and figure out what you can do to help your child be the best student they can be!

This article appears in the August 2017 issue of Augusta Family Magazine.
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