To help or not to help – should you help your child with their homework?

mother concerned about son with difficult homework problem

If you’ve ever stayed up until midnight putting the finishing touches to a full scale model of the Taj Mahal made out of loo roll tubes and yoghurt pots or ever had to Google ‘How to do long division’ to help your child with their homework, then you’re not alone. The question is though, how much should we help our children with homework? And could hovering over them and chipping in with suggestions do more harm than good?

Should parents leave their children to do their homework unaided?

In an interview with The Telegraph, Andy Wiggins, director of teaching and learning at Bedales Prep School, Dunhurst, Hampshire, was asked how much parents should be helping with homework and replied: “ideally, not at all”. He went onto explain why, saying:

I have always maintained that there is a set limit to homework time, and if a child cannot complete their work in that time (give or take 10 minutes) then they should stop. I want to see an accurate reflection of the child’s work.

Mother helping her child with his homeworkThe whole idea of homework is for children to complete it by themselves. If they run into problems and can’t do it, then teachers will know that the pupil has not understood the lesson and will need some more help and support in class.

What about in the early years of school?

Of course, homework is very different in the early years of primary school, when children are learning to read and write letters and numbers. Homework tasks in these years are specifically designed to be done with the support of an adult and helping with homework at this stage can have a big impact on your child’s learning.

Detailed analysis of data from the National Child Development Study revealed that:

In the early years, parental involvement has a significant impact on children’s cognitive development and literacy and number skills. The frequency with which the child plays with letters/numbers at home was linked with attainment in all measures. Parents’ drawing children’s attention to sounds and letters was linked to literacy skills, early number skills and non-verbal attainment.

Helping with homework tasks in the early years of school is not only encouraged but has been proven to make a big difference to children’s learning.

When do you stop helping?

As your child progresses through primary school they will get different homework that will be set to practice and check that they have understood the work covered in class. These homework tasks will mostly have been designed for children to do by themselves. Because they have been taught the skills they will need to complete the task in school, they should be able to complete the tasks easily and without help from parents. At this stage it is best to let your child tackle their homework independently.

If they are struggling then pop a note in their homework jotter or speak to the teacher about the level of the homework being set. This may have a much better impact than helping them complete the tasks, which will give the teacher marking it the false impression that have understood everything taught in class, when in fact they may need more help to consolidate their learning.

Mother helping daughter with homeworkOne in six parents do all the homework

Knowing that it is best to stand back and let your child tackle homework on their own and actually doing so, are very different things. A recent survey revealed that in fact, in many households up and down the land, it is the parents who actually do all the homework. The main reason for taking over the daily chore was to avoid family arguments over getting it done. A tenth of the parents in the study revealed that it saved a lot of stress to just do the homework themselves. In over a third of cases parents reported that their children wandered off and left them to slog over their textbooks to complete the work.

A spokesman for the Brett-trade show, who conducted the research said:



Most parents will get called upon to help with their children’s homework at some point during their education. But these results show there is a fine line between helping your child understand what they are studying and completely taking over.

More useful ways of helping with homework

Rather than giving your child so much help that you practically (or literally) do their homework for them, there are more productive ways to help that will have a much bigger impact:



Helping your child manage their time

Find out how much homework your child has and when they need to complete it by. You can then help them find ways to manage their time and avoid any stressful last minute rushes to get it all done. Suggest that they do homework in those bits of time that they might otherwise waste (for example when they are sitting waiting for their sibling to finish a swimming lesson or in the half an hour before tea, when they are hanging about waiting). Alternatively you could encourage homework sessions before teatime, when you can all sit down together and get your own tasks done. Then the rest of the evening is then free to relax, play and wind down.



Help them get started

For tired children who have just spent a busy day at school, one of the biggest obstacles in doing homework is often starting it. You can help by reading through the instructions of the task with them and making sure they understand what it is they are being asked to do. You might even talk through the first question together so you know your child is set on the right path and ready to complete the rest of the task on their own.



Showing an interest in what your child is learning

While your child is doing homework show an interest in what they are doing. By asking them about the topic they are studying or the book they are reading you can help make homework a more positive and shared experience. You could talk about the work they are doing and what has sparked their interest (or why they find it boring). Asking questions can lead to conversations which would bring their learning to life. It also shows your child that schoolwork is important. Children learn something well when they talk about it or explain it to someone else, so asking your child about their homework really helps them.



Don’t hover over them like a hawk

Think about how you would feel if your boss was breathing down your neck when you carried out an assignment. You’d feel pretty uncomfortable and pressured, right? Chances are your child will feel the same if you breathe down their neck while they are trying to do their homework. By all means stay close by so you are on hand to offer assistance if they need it, but otherwise stand back and let them work.



Go over completed work with them

Homework is not a test. It is a time to practice. When your child has completed their work take a short time to go over what they have done. You can praise them for their efforts and, if you spot mistakes, encourage your child to look again and see if they can work out where they went wrong.

If your child is struggling, talk to the teacher

If your child is consistently struggling to complete homework tasks (or takes hours to wade through them) then they will quickly become not just a chore but a source of real stress. Homework is not supposed to be so difficult that your child struggles to complete it and gets upset or despondent when they can’t. Talk to your child’s teacher about the level of the work being sent home and explain that your child is finding it hard. Ask about opportunities for more support to be given in class and more time to be taken to make sure your child is really understanding the work taught in school, before bringing home more appropriate homework tasks to consolidate their learning.