"Did you get all of your homework done?" The question is common among parents, especially those with younger children, and well intentioned. Yet, where does the task of helping a child with homework turn into one of almost doing it for them? Ultimately, the task is that of the child's, teaching him or her the values of responsibility and independence among more specific skills like time management, problem solving, decision-making and organization. This sets him or her up for success in future academic pursuits, the workplace and the adult world in general.
That's not to say that parents can't offer assistance. Jodi Daniel, owner of the tutoring service Tutored by a Teacher, realistically describes where the line should be drawn between help and hindrance:
"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 said.
Rather, try a different approach: "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."
More specific strategies for parents include the following:
Set aside a time and place for homework.
Consider the environment in which the child works best. Silence or background noise? Bedroom desk or kitchen table?
Eliminate unnecessary distractions.
Stick to a set routine.
Include all necessary materials in the homework space.
Put available computers in a space that can be easily monitored.
Introduce the use of an assignment book or other organization tool.
Encourage taking on more difficult assignments first.
Set a good example, such as reading a book or balancing your checkbook in front of the child.
Use positive encouragement and praise hard work. If needed, offer incentives, such as simple reminders of fun activities after homework is completed.
Why is it important for parents to be involved in their child's education? Research shows that healthy parental involvement leads to higher grades, better attendance, increased motivation and self-esteem, lower suspension rates, decreased drug and alcohol use and less violence. In fact, the impact of family participation on academic success has proven to be double that of socioeconomic status.
It's clear that healthy homework help from parents goes a long way. The same can be said for Bigs as well. Bigs, when working with their Littles, can implement many of the same helping strategies used by parents. Again, it's vital to remember that the responsibility is ultimately that of the child's.
Clinical neuropsychologist William Stixrud explains, "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." Thus, for parents and Bigs alike, the most effective homework help roles are not those of disciplinarian and enforcer, but rather consultant and cheerleader.