After picking up her twins from school and providing an after-school snack, Jane asked her children to start their homework. She didn’t make it five steps out of their bedroom door before the requests “help” began. For the next two hours, Jane moved between her two children to keep them focused on doing their homework and assist them to complete it. As she bounced back and forth between her children she wondered,” who is responsible for making sure homework gets done – me or my children?”
Many parents wonder where the line is between supporting their children in completing their homework versus having to directly guide them to do their homework. Nearly all children receive homework to support academic achievement and to create an educational link between school and home. High quality, specifically targeted homework has been shown to help children learn better. However, homework that is low quality or not well related to classroom learning has a negative effect on how children perceive learning.
Parents should be involved in their children’s learning for many reasons, including:
- helping them learn to be autonomous and organized;
- guiding them to play a role in their own learning; and
- supporting them emotionally when they run into difficulties.
Parents who encourage their children in these ways are helping to build strong values about the importance of learning. These activities show children that they are capable and can persevere while learning new ideas and skills. All together this leads to higher academic achievement.
Parent-child conflict emerges when parents take over control of homework. A misbalance of control can occur when parents pressure children to complete assignments, explicitly direct the manner that schoolwork is completed, or by ignoring a child’s frustration with academic tasks. These activities have been shown to lower academic achievement and give children a negative perception of schoolwork and learning.
The question remains, where is the appropriate balance of responsibility regarding homework? It is important to remember that parents are not responsible for doing their children’s homework. Homework is an activity assigned to children to reinforce concepts that were introduced at school. The responsibility for completing homework begins and remains with the child. It is normal and logical that situations arise when a child needs a bit of direction or the assistance of a parent to quiz them on their learning, but at no time are parents obligated to do the work for their child nor direct the child step-by-step to complete their homework.
When parents take responsibility for motivating their children to begin and complete their homework with step-by-step, side-by-side assistance, they are inadvertently teaching their children that:
- they are not able to control their minds and bodies to do tasks through to completion;
- they do not have the ability to process their learning independently; and
- they are not responsible for their own learning.
But most importantly, parents are conveying to their children that they do not believe their child can do this activity on their own. Together these subtle messages can undermine children’s ability to believe in their own capacities to carry out homework tasks successfully. Additionally, children can develop a harmful perception that homework is a negative activity that is forced upon them by teachers and parents, which can be difficult to change in the future.
Here are a few helpful suggestions for parents to support their children’s homework efforts while not intruding on their children’s responsibilities:
- Designate a study space for homework with all necessary supplies such as pencils, erasers, scissors, glue, etc.
- Remove unnecessary technology, such as telephones, tablets, and televisions, from study spaces during homework time to limit distractions.
- Communicate that homework is an important part of learning and is an activity to assure they have mastered new material.
- Convey confidence that children can manage their homework and have the ability to figure out difficult problems.
- Provide emotional support to help children manage emotional distress from homework and the struggle of learning difficult concepts.
- Encourage children to seek assistance from their teachers with questions that are not easily answered at home.
- Reach out to teachers if children are overwhelmed or unable to complete homework even though they are diligently trying.
By doing these supportive activities related to homework, parents will be able to raise a child who learns to be independent in their studies, understands that their effort rather than innate ability is the key to success, is able to focus on the positive aspects of school and learning rather than having negative attitudes, and approaches their homework with confidence in their abilities to complete tasks, solve problems and find success.
Cunha, J., Rosário, P., Macedo, L., Nunes, A.R., Fuentes, S., Pinto, R., & Suárez, N. (2015). Parents’ conceptions of their homework involvement in elementary school. Psicothema 27(2), 159-165.
Martín-Perpiñá, M. Viñas Poch, F., & Malo Cerrato, S. (2019). Media multitasking impact in homework, executive function and academic performance in Spanish adolescents. Psicothema 31(1), 81-87.
Moé, A., Katz, I., & Alesi, M. (2018). Scaffolding for motivation by parents, and child homework motivations and emotions: Effects of a training programme. British Journal of Educational Psychology 88(2), 323-344.
Nuñez, J.C., Epstein, J.L., Suárez, N., Rosário, P., Vallejo, G., & Valle, A. (2017). How do student prior achievement and homework behaviors relate to perceived parental involvement in homework? Frontiers in Psychology 8. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01217
About the instructor
Deanna Marie Mason PhD
More than 20 years of clinical experience helping families:
Bachelor's Degree in Registered Nursing, Master’s Degree in Pediatric Nurse Practitioner and PhD in Nursing. University professor, patient education specialist, pediatric researcher, published author and reviewer to first-line international scientific journals, continuous philanthropic activity related to health promotion and education, wife and mother of two children.