Healthy vs. unhealthy ways to help your child in school

Oct 23, 2014 at 5:18 p.m. ET

Nearly all parents fervently hope their students will succeed in school, from first grade to the first year of college. Additionally, most parents correctly believe that their involvement in their children's education can pay dividends. But if parental support is a powerful positive, and it certainly is, is there ever such a thing as too much? In a word, yes.

How and when you involve yourself in your student's academic life can lead to drastically different outcomes. Here are three situation-specific examples of healthy and unhealthy parent involvement for your consideration.

Homework assignments and projects

Healthy: Homework, regardless of grade and subject, is an opportunity for a parent to serve as a guide. Wise parents assist their students, and they provide emotional support consistently. They review answers, and they help their children clarify their understanding of concepts and procedures. They also allow their students to retain control of the experience.

Unhealthy: When a parent completes all or part of her child's homework, she robs her student of a learning opportunity. Unhealthy parent involvement may include providing an answer to a distressed, struggling child (with no supplementary explanation), or finishing a project to avoid a poor mark, even if you do so with your student’s best interests in mind.

Classroom conflicts

Healthy: A standard classroom involves about two dozen (or more) personalities in close contact. Conflict, whether with a fellow child or the teacher, is unfortunately possible. If it occurs, calm parents seek all participants' perspectives, and they remember that no student, even their own, is without occasional fault. These parents advocate for their children, but not at the expense of reason.

Unhealthy: In this instance, unhealthy parent involvement involves extreme reactions. A parent may refuse to acknowledge her student's contribution to a situation, or she may blame others (such as an instructor) for her child's behavior. Meaningful education requires cooperation between parent, student and teacher, especially during unpleasant moments.

Motivation and pressure

Healthy: Certain children easily adapt to intrinsic motivation, while others benefit from a gentle nudge now and again. Parents may encourage their students to study for 30 minutes more or to practice their musical instruments even though they are tired. However, parents also take care to permit children to follow their academic and extracurricular interests.

Unhealthy: Students can often become overwhelmed as a result of unhealthy parent involvement. Children may feel pressured to participate in too many activities, or they may feel disheartened by unreasonably high expectations. While all students respond differently to external motivation, too much pressure can have an opposite, negative effect.

These three categories touch upon just a fraction of the scenarios that are influenced, for better or for worse, by healthy and unhealthy parent involvement. Like education, parenting is an ongoing process. As your child progresses through her schooling, keep this information in mind and adjust as necessary. It is never too late to alter your practices, whether that means eliminating an ineffective strategy or augmenting your parenting with other great ideas. Good luck now and in the future.

For more tips and strategies to help your student succeed in school, visit

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