It’s a classic scene: a mom or dad sitting down next to a child, helping the child understand homework. Almost always, however, the child is around 10 or 11 years old or younger. That’s because, at some point, it’s no longer so easy to help your child with homework. Whether it’s math that you don’t remember, or an essay you can’t write for them, at some point helping your child with homework is less about direct interaction than it is providing a framework and using available resources.
It’s a sobering moment when you realize you can no longer help your child with his or her homework not because you need to let them do their own work (which they need to do), but because you don’t understand it or don’t remember it or you learned it so differently that your way would likely confuse the situation. But just because you can’t help in the old way doesn’t mean you can’t help. You just have to help differently.
The importance of the homework hygiene you established in your home becomes more apparent now. The space and the time and the discipline for your child to really concentrate on an issue without distraction make a real difference when homework gets more important and harder.
Committing to maintaining that good habit will be as essential going forward as it is now – and now is when that good habit give your child a conscious and unconscious signal that now is the time to open their mind for learning and applying and making connections.
Points of view
If you can’t directly help your child with a piece of homework, whether science or language arts or history or any other subject, you can help them around the homework. If a child is struggling with why a character in a piece of reading acted in a certain way, you may not know the answer, but you can ask questions about other characters or circumstances in the reading, and help your child come at the question from a different direction.
Similarly, in science, you may not know the exact function of a chemical or molecule, but asking questions about other chemicals and molecules might help your child deduce an answer. The big picture often makes the smaller picture clearer.
If you can’t help your child with some homework, it’s likely there are some other parents in your circle in the same boat. What about gathering your kids to form a study group? The kids can help each other – and collaborative learning is a tremendous skill to learn for future education and career.
Encouraging your child to seek out extra help from a teacher is another way to go – and it should be your child that makes the contact, not you. Teachers typically are more than willing to help their students with schoolwork, and will work with both of to find an agreeable time (if formal times don’t already exist).
After all, students doing well reflects well on them, too. And when it’s your child asking for help, again, it’s helping your child develop a skill that will come in handy later on. Few parents are around to contact a child’s college professor to arrange for extra help.
Many school districts keep a list of teachers, staff and older students willing to tutor in specific subjects for a fee. If homework has become a stress, this might be the way to go. Working with a tutor can separate the helping with homework stress from the rest of the family dynamic – and typically these tutors are very skilled and efficient in helping kids learn certain subjects.
Just because you can’t help your child with schoolwork in the same way that you used to doesn’t mean you can’t help at all. Helping in a different way is still helping – and hopefully it’s fostering a little confidence and independence in your child, too.
More on kids and homework success:
- How long should homework take?
- Set your kids up for homework success
- How to prevent your child from dropping out of school