Help Me Sara: Who should be responsible for homework? My child or me?

By Sara Dimerman, Psychologist on December 04, 2012

Question:

My daughter often “forgets” to complete her homework. I have been getting notes and calls from the teacher asking me to monitor her at home but I feel that she should be responsible for her own work. Help me Sara!

Answer:

Depending on your daughter’s age, I agree that, for the most part, she should be responsible for her own work. When children are younger – in Grade 1, for example, and just getting into the rhythm of homework, they will likely need a little more hand-holding. At this age, help to establish a consistent time and place for homework. Although we often think a nice big desk in the bedroom is the ideal spot to get work done, I find that most kids do their best work at the kitchen table. That way, you can also be productive in between explaining or assisting and your child doesn’t feel isolated.

No one wants to begin doing homework as soon as she arrives home. So, some down time and a nutritious snack is very important. Then, begin by reviewing your child’s agenda book. Most teachers request your signature next to the homework entry as a way of acknowledging that you’ve seen and monitored the homework. Next, gather all the necessary tools to get the job done – extra sheets of paper, pen, pencil or calculator, for example. Be sure that your child understands what needs to be done and then let her know that you’re available for support. As tempting as it may be to give your child the answer to a problematic math equation or even do it for her, you would be doing her an incredible disservice. Not only will she not know how to problem solve without you there, but the teacher will not know which gaps to fill if she thinks your child is getting everything right on her own.

As your child moves into the intermediate grades, you may also struggle with understanding some of the material and not be able to offer much help. Plus, some subjects are taught differently now. Encourage your child to speak to her teacher for extra help and if this isn’t enough, consider hiring an outside tutor. Sometimes children don’t complete their homework because they are struggling with understanding what is required of them or because they are not catching on in class. Sometimes an academic or learning assessment is helpful, too.

By high school she should require less help in managing her time and her work. Still, it should come as a compliment when she occasionally asks for your help. There will come a day when your knowledge will be considered out of date! If you don’t know the answer, then help your child problem solve about how to get it.

Bottom line:
Even though I recommend that parents play a role in monitoring that homework is attended to, I believe that parents and teachers need to work together in figuring out a solution to “forgotten” homework. Ultimately, your child has to be held personally accountable. A logical consequence, for example, is recommended over an unrelated punishment such as a loss of privileges. Such a consequence might be that the child is made to stay in at recess to complete the homework. Missing out on hanging with her friends or not having your assistance at home may make her more inclined to remember.


Sara Dimerman is a Psychologist, author and parenting expert in the Greater Toronto Area. Read more at helpmesara.com.
Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, December 2012.

By Sara Dimerman, Psychologist| December 04, 2012

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