If parents dislike a subject, they can easily pass that on to their high-school-age children
Homework can be as monumental a task for parents as it is for children. So what's the best strategy to get a kid to finish it all? Where's the line between helping with an assignment and doing the assignment? And should a parent nag a procrastinating preteen to focus—or let the child fall behind and learn a hard lesson?
As schools pile on more homework as early as preschool, many parents are confused about how to assist, says a 2012 research review at Johns Hopkins University. Some 87% of parents have a positive view of helping with homework, and see it as a beneficial way to spend time with their kids, says the study, co-authored by Joyce Epstein, a research professor of sociology and education.
Yet sometimes parental intervention may actually hurt student performance. During the middle-school years, such help was linked to lower academic achievement in a 2009 review of 50 studies by researchers at Duke University. Parents who apply too much pressure, explain material in different ways than teachers or intervene without being asked may undermine these students' growing desire for independence, according to the study, published in Developmental Psychology.
A parent who implies that a child isn't capable of working on his or her own "causes the kid to lose confidence, to get mad and just want the whole experience to be over," says Lisa Jacobson, founder and chief executive of Inspirica, a New York tutoring and test-prep company. When parents help too much, "kids say that they feel like a fraud," undeserving of the grades they receive.
Kids also need different kinds of help at different stages. In elementary school, parental rule-making about where and when homework is to be done, along with encouragement, is linked to higher achievement. But parents should give advice or help only when asked, says Harris Cooper, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University and a leading author and researcher on homework. If a child fails or becomes frustrated, parents should suggest a break.
Some of the best ways for parents to help, Dr. Cooper says, include providing a quiet study place, proper supplies and resources for doing homework, and instilling positive attitudes about learning in general. A good motivator is to show kids how the skills they are practicing might be used throughout life...