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When Does Helping Your Child with Homework Become More Your Work Than His?

As a parent, you want to help your kid succeed and protect him from failures.  What should you do when your kid’s struggling with his homework?  Should you let him struggle?  Should you let him submit homework that you know is riddled with errors?  Where’s the dividing line between helping him with his homework and virtually doing his homework for him?  If you do his homework for him to prevent him from getting a failing grade, where’s the harm?

Homework’s intended to help your kid learn the subject matter.  Your involvement in homework should be limited to the following:  creating a time and environment that works best for your kid’s learning style (quiet vs. noisy, alone vs. in a room with others, afternoon vs. evening, etc.); encouraging him; answering his questions about his homework (i.e., standing in for his teacher by providing him guidance by which he can figure out the answer, rather than by directly providing the answer yourself); checking his homework when it’s completed; and providing follow-up tutorials when you find errors while checking his homework.

What happens when you have repeatedly explained the subject matter and he just isn’t getting it?  Rather than doing the homework yourself to prevent his getting a failing grade, you should contact his teacher to let her know about the difficulties he’s having.  Ask about tutors and other assistance that may be available at his school.  Also ask about outside-of-school resources:  for-profit teaching/tutoring businesses (such as Sylvan Learning Centers) may be available in your community.  Check out sources such as Care4hire.com; where you can do detailed searches for tutors in your area.

If you have tried to teach him the subject matter, and he is still struggling, doing the work for him will ultimately come back to harm him in a variety of ways.  Most subject matters are taught with increasing complexity as students pass from grade to grade.  Think about your grade school math class and your high school calculus class.  Or your grade school English class and your high school composition class.  If he doesn’t grasp the subject matter this year, next year’s class will be even harder for him to understand.  Thus, by doing his homework for him, you are setting him up for failure in subsequent school years.  Also, the major life lesson in homework is one of personal responsibility and growth.  If you do his homework for him, what has he learned?  Answer: that he doesn’t need to learn because you will be there with a safety net for him.  Do you want your kid to grow up owning his life outcomes, working to learn and grow . . . or do you want him to loaf through life knowing that you will clean up his messes all throughout his life?  Looking out for the long-term best interests of your kid is accomplished by teaching him to prevent or bounce back from failures (in this case, by learning to do his homework correctly). 

Ultimately, the most important lesson in homework isn’t how to conjugate verbs or divide numbers . . . it’s how to live.

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