Three Ways Parents Hurt Homework

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Yes, there are ways that parents can harm their children's homework and the learning that the homework should produce.  Here are three common errors I see parents do in my work as an academic tutor.  I am also the parent of a school-age child who has experienced first hand the temptation to commit these homework help mistakes.

 Do Your Child's Homework For Them  When your child is struggling with their homework, it is tempting to just tell your child the answer, or even to do the work for them.

 Don't do it.  The only thing your child learns from this is to run to you for the answer.  Some frustration is a normal part of the learning process.  

Instead:  Give your child some time to work through the problem.  This will help your child learn to persevere in completing their work.  If your child is spending a great deal of time on their homework each night, more than 10 minutes per grade level, talk with your child's teacher to see if the work needs to be reduced or if there is a different approach to doing the work that your child needs to try.

Tell Your Child Not to Worry About This One Assignment  Once again, if your child is totally overwhelmed you may be tempted to tell them to just blow off this one assignment. If your child has procrastinated doing a piece of work, or it just seems like one small skill they will pick up later, you could be wrong.  When your child doesn't do that particular assignment their grade suffers.

 Often, children think that they are bad at a subject when they receive a lower grade in that subject.  Not writing that first five paragraph essay then leads to a bad grade in English, and then your child believes they are just bad at Egnlsih.  In reality, they didn't do the assignment so they don't really know if they are bad at it or not.

 Additionally, they missed out on that first bit of practice that the other students did complete.  When the next essay is assigned, the rest of the class will have the experience from the previous one.  Your child will be struggling as they did the first time it was assigned, while also struggling with the idea that they are "bad at English" from the low grade.  It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy

Instead:  Make sure your child has a regular time and place to complete their homework assignments.  If they have been ill or find an assignment particularly difficult, get in touch with your child's teacher right away to find out what you can do.

Tell Your Child The Directions Are Wrong  No doubt about it, today's homework looks different than it did when we were going through school.  There are several reasons for this.  Today's teachers have found new methods and approaches to teaching.  The current nationwide shift to Common Core Standards also changes the focus of student work away from rote memorization to deeper thinking processes.

 In my work as a tutor, I often see children who went to their parents for help, and the parents told their child to ignore the teachers instructions and complete the assignment in a different way.  I believe these parents are well meaning and think they may know better than the teacher.  What happens when parents try to override the teacher's instructions on an assignment is that the child often winds up more confused or totally missing the point of the assignment.  

For example, when I was in middle school, I was taught to divide fractions by cross multiplying. This method was found to be confusing, and most schools now teach children to rewrite the problem and multiply the reciprocal of the second fraction.  Every school year I see frustrated middle schoolers who try to cross-multiply because their parents told them the teacher is wrong and they should cross multiply.  The student ends up confused with the wrong answer.  

Other ways I have seen parental correction of an assignment go wrong is when the child completely misses the point of the assignment, and ends up with a poor grade.  The Letters About Literature contest gives me an annual example in English.  Children are to write a letter to an author about a favorite book and how the child can relate to the book.  Children will ask their parents for help, and write a fan letter instead.  

In both cases, these children have worked hard and gone to someone they deeply respect and love - their parent - for help with their work.  To receive a poor grade or asked to redo the assignment can be frustrating and demoralizing for the child.

Instead:  Do your best to follow the directions provided by the teacher.  If the assignment presents a new method or question that what you remember from school, consider that this may be the new standards and expectations.  If you and your child cannot understand what needs to happen to complete an assignment, then it is time to communicate with the teacher for clarification or help.

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