When I was a kid I always thought one of the best parts about being a grown up was not having to do homework.
Then I became a parent…
Homework is a headache-inducing chore in households everywhere. Kids don’t want to do it, time poor parents don’t want to police it and I’m sure most teachers don’t really want to mark it!
However, despite much debate about whether homework is good or bad, it is something that most families with school-aged children have to deal with.
Some parents choose to sit with their child and help them complete their homework, while others expect their child to be able to do it autonomously.
Obviously, this is often dependent on the child’s grade and abilities.
In my house, I expect my 11 year old son to complete his homework by himself, however he knows he can ask me for assistance. He generally undertakes his homework without too much hassle. For the most part, he just likes to get it out of the way.
My 9 year old son however, requires a lot more assistance as he has a number of learning difficulties. I have taken to sitting with him, discussing the tasks and helping where necessary.
So how much should parents be helping kids with homework?
A longitudinal study called First Steps actually looked at the impact of maternal homework assistance. The findings were very interesting as they aren’t entirely what you would expect.
It turns out that when parents (this study focused on mothers) let the child be more autonomous in undertaking homework, the more task-persistent the child’s behaviour was.
Concrete assistance by the mother actually had the opposite effect. Children were found to be less motivated and task-persistent.
The researchers hypothesised that this is because expecting a child to work autonomously sends them a message that you have confidence in their skills and abilities. Conversely, dedicated assistance may make your child think they are unable to complete the work without you.
I found this very interesting as it is only this year that I have started to consistently sit with my 9 year old son every homework session. Previously, he would do his work to the best of his ability and I would check it over, offering assistance as needed. Now that I sit with him each time, he is much more reliant on my presence, unwilling to start work without me there or to continue if I have to leave for some reason.
Based on the findings of the study, Associate Professor Jaana Viljaranta from the University of Eastern Finland has this recommendation for parents:
It is important for parents to take the child’s needs into consideration when offering homework assistance. Of course, parents should offer concrete help when their child clearly needs it. However, concrete help is not something that should be made automatically available in every situation — only when needed.”
This is definitely something I will be taking on board!