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Helping Your Gradeschooler With Homework
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During grade school, kids start getting homework for the first time to reinforce and extend classroom learning and help them practice important study skills.
By doing homework, kids learn how to:
- read and follow directions independently
- manage and budget time (for long-term assignments like book reports)
- complete work neatly and to the best of their ability
It also helps them develop a sense of responsibility, pride in a job well done, and a work ethic that will benefit them well beyond the classroom.
Parents can give kids lots of homework help, primarily by making homework a priority and helping them develop good study habits.
Setting Up Shop
The kitchen or dining room table is a popular workspace for younger children; they may feel more comfortable being near you, and you can provide encouragement and assistance. Older kids might prefer to retreat to their rooms, but check in periodically and review the homework when it's completed.
Wherever kids do homework, it's important to make sure their workspace is:
- stocked with school supplies (pens, pencils, paper, stapler, calculator, ruler, etc.) and references (dictionary, thesaurus)
- quiet and free from distractions — TV, video games, phone calls, or other family members
If kids need a computer for schoolwork, try to set it up in a common space, not in a bedroom, so you can discourage playing video games, chatting with or emailing friends, or surfing the Internet for fun during study time. Also consider parental controls , available through your Internet service provider (ISP), and software that blocks and filters any inappropriate material. Find out which sites your kids' teachers recommend and bookmark them for easy access.
A Parent's Supporting Role
When it comes to homework, be there to offer support and guidance, answer questions, help interpret assignment instructions, and review the completed work. But resist the urge to provide the right answers or complete assignments.
Focus on helping kids develop the problem-solving skills they'll need to get through this assignment and any others, and offer your encouragement as they do. They'll develop confidence and a love of learning from doing it themselves.
Here are more tips to help make homework easier for kids:
- Establish a routine. Send the message that schoolwork is a top priority with ground rules like setting a regular time and place each day for homework to be done. And make it clear that there's no TV, phone calls, video game-playing, etc., until homework is done and checked.
- Strategize for homework sessions. Teach kids to take stock of how much homework there is and what it involves so they can create a strategy that fits their workloads and temperaments. Some kids might want to tackle the harder assignments first — when mental energy levels are highest — while others prefer to get the easier tasks over with. By helping them approach homework with a strategy when they're young, you'll teach your kids to do that independently later. Allow them to take a break if needed, then guide them back to the homework with fresh focus and energy.
- Instill organization skills. No one is born with great organizational skills — they're learned and practiced over time. Most kids first encounter multiple teachers and classrooms in middle school, when organization becomes a key to succeeding. Teach your child how to use a calendar or personal planner to help get organized.
- Apply school to the "real world." Talk about how what they're learning now applies outside the classroom, such as the importance of meeting deadlines — just like adults in the work world — or how the topics in history class relate to what's happening in today's news.
Especially as kids get older, homework can really start to add up and become harder to manage. These strategies can help:
- Be there. You don't have to hover at homework time, but be around in case you're needed. If your son is frazzled by math problems he's been trying to solve for hours, for instance, suggest he take a break, maybe by shooting some hoops with you. A fresh mind may be all he needed, but when it's time to return to homework, ask how you can help.
- Be in touch with teachers. Keep in good contact with the teachers throughout the school year to stay aware of your child's progress, especially if your child is struggling. Don't miss parent-teacher conferences and maintain an ongoing dialogue. Teachers can tell you what happens in the classroom and how to help your child succeed. You also can ask to be kept in the loop about quizzes, tests, and projects.
- Don't forget the study skills. Study skills often aren't stressed in schools. When you're helping your child study for a test, suggest some effective study strategies, such as using flashcards, or taking notes and underlining while reading.
- Encourage kids to reach out. Most teachers are available for extra help before or after school, and also might be able to recommend other resources. So encourage kids to ask for help, if needed, but remember that in school kids are rewarded for knowing the right answers, and no one likes to stand out by saying that they don't have them. Praise your kids for their hard work and effort.
Don't wait for report cards to find out that there are problems at school. The sooner you intervene, the sooner you can help your child get back on track.
When Kids Struggle With Homework
Consistent complaints about homework or ongoing struggles with assignments could indicate a problem.
In some cases, kids simply need to learn and practice better study habits. Be sure your kids are writing down assignments correctly and encourage them to keep a daily homework notebook, which can help both kids and parents know exactly what assignments are due and when. If a particular assignment is giving your child more trouble than others, send a note to the teacher pointing out the difficulties.
But when a kid consistently has a hard time understanding or completing homework, broader issues (such as learning disabilities, ADHD, or vision or hearing difficulties) might be interfering with academic progress.
By reviewing homework with your child and talking to your child's teacher, you can identify any learning problems and tackle them early on.
Laying the Foundation
The key to truly helping kids with homework is to know when to step in. Make sure your kids know that you're available if there's a snag, but that it's important to work independently. Encourage effort and determination — not just the grades they get.
Be a good example by showing your own love of learning. While your child does homework, do your own — read books, magazines, and newspapers; write letters, lists, and emails; use math skills to calculate expenses or balance the checkbook. By showing that learning remains important — even fun — once school's over, you'll help your kids understand that building knowledge is something to enjoy throughout life.
How to help your kids with homework (without doing it for them)
Lecturer in the Faculty of Education, Monash University
Lecturer, Monash University
The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Monash University provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation AU.
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Parents are a child’s first and most important teachers . Parent involvement in their child’s learning can help improve how well they do in school. However, when it comes to helping kids with homework, it’s not so simple.
While it’s important to show support and model learning behaviour, there is a limit to how much help you can give without robbing your child of the opportunity to learn for themselves.
Be involved and interested
An analysis of more than 400 research studies found parent involvement, both at school and at home, could improve students’ academic achievement, engagement and motivation.
School involvement includes parents participating in events such as parent-teacher conferences and volunteering in the classroom. Home involvement includes parents talking with children about school, providing encouragement, creating stimulating environments for learning and finally – helping them with homework.
Read more: What to do at home so your kids do well at school
The paper found overall, it was consistently beneficial for parents to be involved in their child’s education, regardless of the child’s age or socioeconomic status. However, this same analysis also suggested parents should be cautious with how they approach helping with homework.
Parents helping kids with homework was linked to higher levels of motivation and engagement, but lower levels of academic achievement. This suggests too much help may take away from the child’s responsibility for their own learning.
Help them take responsibility
Most children don’t like homework. Many parents agonise over helping their children with homework. Not surprisingly, this creates a negative emotional atmosphere that often results in questioning the value of homework.
Homework has often been linked to student achievement, promoting the idea children who complete it will do better in school. The most comprehensive analysis on homework and achievement to date suggests it can influence academic achievement (like test scores), particularly for children in years seven to 12.
But more research is needed to find out about how much homework is appropriate for particular ages and what types are best to maximise home learning.
Read more: Too much help with homework can hinder your child's learning progress
When it comes to parent involvement, research suggests parents should help their child see their homework as an opportunity to learn rather than perform. For example, if a child needs to create a poster, it is more valuable the child notes the skills they develop while creating the poster rather than making the best looking poster in the class.
Instead of ensuring their child completes their homework, it’s more effective for parents to support their child to increase confidence in completing homework tasks on their own.
Here are four ways they can do this.
1. Praise and encourage your child
Your positivity will make a difference to your child’s approach to homework and learning in general. Simply, your presence and support creates a positive learning environment.
Our study involved working with recently arrived Afghani mothers who were uncertain how to help their children with school. This was because they said they could not understand the Australian education system or speak or write in English.
However, they committed to sit next to their children as they completed their homework tasks in English, asking them questions and encouraging them to discuss what they were learning in their first language.
In this way, the parents still played a role in supporting their child even without understanding the content and the children were actively engaged in their learning.
2. Model learning behaviour
Many teachers model what they would like their students to do. So, if a child has a problem they can’t work out, you can sit down and model how you would do it, then complete the next one together and then have the child do it on their own.
3. Create a homework plan
When your child becomes overly frustrated with their homework, do not force them. Instead, together create a plan to best tackle it:
read and understand the homework task
break the homework task into smaller logical chunks
discuss how much time is required to complete each chunk
work backwards from the deadline and create a timeline
put the timeline where the child can see it
encourage your child to mark completed chunks to see the progress made on the task
4. Make space for homework
Life is busy. Parents can create positive study habits by allocating family time for this. This could mean carving out one hour after dinner for your child to do homework while you engage in a study activity such as reading, rather than watching television and relaxing. You can also create a comfortable and inviting reading space for the child to learn in.
Parents’ ability to support their child’s learning goes beyond homework. Parents can engage their child in discussions, read with them, and provide them with other ongoing learning opportunities (such as going to a museum, watching a documentary or spending time online together).
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Don’t Help Your Kids With Homework
Focus on prioritization and process, not the assignment itself.
So much of the homework advice parents are given is theory-based, and therefore not entirely helpful in the chaos of day-to-day life. People are told that students should have “ grit .” They should “ learn from failure .” But it’s hard to know how to implement these ideas when what you really need is to support a kid who has a chemistry test and two papers due in the next 48 hours but seems to be focused only on Instagram.
Some parents manage to guide their kids through these moments with relative ease. Others hire tutors. The large majority of us, however, are stuck at home alone, trying to stave off our own breakdowns in the face of our children’s.
While reprimanding your child for not having started her homework earlier may be your natural instinct, in the midst of stress, it will only make her shut down or lash out. In our experience as teachers, tutors, and parents, the students who feel terrible about procrastinating are more likely to have anxiety and negative feelings that will only fuel their continued procrastination. So instead of admonishing your procrastinator, take a deep breath and try to figure out how she’s going to manage the tasks at hand. Help her make a realistic plan to manage her time. Try to model understanding, even when you’re upset.
Having tolerance for challenges will allow her to approach future frustrations from a more positive perspective. Easier said than done, to be sure, but try to work with your child to identify not only how but why her homework habits are suffering. This understanding will be crucial to helping her transform these habits into more effective ones.
Read: The cult of homework
Because most of us are programmed to focus on present rather than future fulfillment, it’s easy to put off something we dread. Kids who procrastinate almost always do so because they have negative associations with or feelings about a particular task. Unfortunately, avoiding assignments usually lowers students’ self-esteem and makes them dislike the topic that much more, resulting in a vicious cycle of procrastination. Therefore, it’s important both to address why students are procrastinating—what’s upsetting them about the work at hand—and to give them practical tools to manage their time and set priorities.
If you’re worried that your child is the only one in her class who takes ages to get started on her homework, fear not. Students in our classes—and our own kids too, just like many of us adults—have found every which way to put off sitting down to tackle the one thing they know they need to get done. There are all kinds of reasons kids avoid doing their homework. Maybe they’re concerned about what a teacher will think, or that their work won’t measure up to a friend’s. Maybe they’re distracted by something that happened in school that day.
Whatever the case may be, the first step here is determining out what’s stressing your child out in the first place.
If your child fears what her teacher will think if she makes mistakes: She should start off by independently reviewing the material that she feels unsure of, and then reach out to her teacher for further help if she needs it. Assure her that asking questions and making an effort are important to her teacher. Take it from us: Teachers see questions as a sign of an engaged, conscientious, and curious student. No matter the teacher’s temperament or reputation, she will respond positively to your child coming to her with sincere questions and hard work.
If your child fears parental judgment due to bad grades: Remember that although high marks may be important to you, focusing on process and effort is key to your child’s success, not to mention that putting too much pressure on her can lead to resentment. Help your child create a process she can rely on for her work. Better effort will help your child engage with the material and yield better results in the long run.
If your child fears her best friend’s judgment: Start by encouraging your child not to discuss grades with her friends. Middle schoolers in particular tend to share their marks with one another, and it usually just makes kids feel lousy. The “What did you get?” question is tough for all students, especially in the middle grades, when they are looking for affirmation from their peers. Your child’s grades are no one else’s business. While her best friend may do well in history, he may have more trouble with math than your child does. Or maybe he seems great at everything now, but he actually struggles in art class, and in the future he’ll be a terrible driver or have an awkward first date. In other words, we all have subjects—or areas of our lives—that come more or less easily than others. Challenges are inevitable. What matters most is how we approach them.
If your child fears she isn’t capable: First acknowledge how painful this feeling must be. Then reassure her that she is capable and give concrete anecdotes so she doesn’t roll her eyes. Share with her a moment when you thought you couldn’t do something, but you learned to conquer the task. And be honest! Your kid will know that you didn’t really wrestle that champion alligator. Emphasize the importance of determination, effort, and persistence in whichever example of your successes you choose to share.
If your child is exhausted: Prioritize only what’s really essential. Try to help your child go to bed earlier. She can always wake up early to complete smaller assignments if need be. Getting major work done while exhausted is a losing battle for everyone. Help her plan ahead. Create a schedule for completing small portions of a larger assignment over the course of several days or weeks to make overwhelming work seem more manageable.
Read: My daughter’s homework is killing me
Once you figure out what’s driving your child’s procrastination, you can strategize with her about logistics. Start by removing temptation when possible. Of course she’d rather see where her friends went this afternoon than stare at a blinking cursor, and if all it takes is a simple click or swipe for your child to access social media, it’s going to take her eons to finish an assignment. It will be almost impossible for her to develop an argument that flows if she’s tempted by her phone. So all possible impediments to success should be removed. Disabling social-media and messaging apps and having a conversation about the purpose of setting technology limits is an important first step. Putting her phone aside will also help her compartmentalize time so that she can get her work done more thoroughly and then have free time afterward. Technological boundaries may lead to major pushback—especially now, when kids rely on technology for most forms of socializing—but this temporary misery is undoubtedly worth it in the long run.
And emphasize that short-term pleasure equals long-term pain. Empathize with children who do not want to do something that’s hard. Then remind them that the immediate instinct to procrastinate and play video games will make life miserable later. While they may resist and grumble, helping establish rules will ultimately prevent suffering tonight, tomorrow, and next week. Kids thrive in the comfort, reliability, and safety of a structured, focused work environment. It’s never easy, but on evenings when you want to tear your hair out because your child won’t sit down to work, reinforce the message that short-term gratification will only get in the way of long-term goals.
Finally, explain the relevance of the assignment. If kids don’t understand why they’re doing the work, they’re more likely to be frustrated. For example, your child might ask, “Why do I need to know algebra? I’ll never use it when I’m older.” You can tell the truth: “You probably won’t need to know about variables in everyday life, but learning algebra will give you a framework for understanding how to break down and solve complex tasks down the road.”
Learning to work independently, without a teacher’s direct counsel, is key to building academic and personal autonomy. So when your child is overwhelmed, help her figure out why, and then model strategies that foster independence, confidence, and well-being.
This piece is adapted from Freireich and Platzer’s new book, Taking the Stress out of Homework . Every Tuesday, they answer education-related questions . Have one? Email them at [email protected].
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10 ways to help your child with their homework
Evidence suggests that one of the most powerful things a parent can do to assist their child’s academic development is having clear homework rules.
But how should you go about this? Here are 10 simple things you can do to help your child with their homework.
1. Set a routine
Having a set time to do homework that works for both you and your child can make “ homework time” go a lot more smoothly. Try and schedule this time in for when they are most alert and ready to learn. If possible, encourage your child to choose which time to do their homework themselves: by letting them have a say, it may make them feel more responsible and more motivated to complete it.
Once you have a set “ homework” time, it is key to stick to it. A clear routine can help your child feel part of a predictable environment and it can soon become part of their normal daily routine. This would mean that they are less likely to dread and procrastinate finishing their work.
2. Have a designated homework space
Having a designated workspace to complete their homework can get your child into a working mindset and improve their focus when they are there. This could be in a separate room, or a table that is not being used for anything else.
Ensure that they have all the equipment they need before starting on their homework, as this could lead to distractions if they realise they need something after they have started their work. Also, ensure that that the workspace is clean and tidy as this could also help boost their productivity. If you need more tips, we’ve previously written about what the ideal home learning environment looks like .
3. Get rid of all distractions
Nowadays, the main distractions for students tend to be their electronic devices, including mobile phones .
Research has shown that schools which banned mobile phones experienced a significant increase in their students ’ grades. Therefore, while your child is doing their homework, try and remove their electronics away. This can allow them to get their homework done faster and to a higher standard.
4. Have regular breaks
Having regular, short breaks during homework time can allow your child to feel more attentive. If possible, exercising during these short breaks can be very useful (this can even be a quick dance break), as this helps boost brain power .
5. Promote independence
Allow your child to take charge of their homework. Research has shown that students who did their homework by themselves ended up doing 10% better in exams than those who did their homework with their parents helping them.
Step back whilst they do the homework and allow them to get things wrong. This way, their teacher will know that they are struggling with that area and can help them out. If they don ’ t understand a question, encourage them to leave it and come back to it at the end.
Research also shows that helping your child learn self-management skills is also beneficial for their academic performance. This could include suggesting how long your child should spend on their homework and allowing them to record their total time spent on their homework. If your child is provided with the answers, let them self-mark. This would allow them to recognise their strengths and what they can work on next time.
6. Help your child organise their time
Organisation is a key skill for your child to learn and develop. If they are given many tasks to do, sit with them and ask them what they think the best way of dividing their time is. Give them suggestions, if there is another easier way. Then, make a plan and help them stick to it in order to complete all of their tasks.
7. Encourage your child to develop a growth mindset
During homework time, you may hear your child say “ I don ’ t know how to do this”, or “ I can ’ t do this”. This way of thinking is known as a fixed mindset, which means believing that their talents are set in stone.
The opposite, known as a growth mindset , revolves around the belief that you can improve your intelligence, ability and performance. As a parent, you can encourage your child to develop a growth mindset by adding the word “ yet” at the end of these phrases when they say them. Adding this word suggests that they can still achieve what they want with some extra time and work.
If your child is still discouraged with their efforts, ask them: “ What would you do differently next time?” After experiencing a setback, this can allow them to stop dwelling on the past but help them reflect and focus on how they can improve in the future.
For more tips on how to develop a growth mindset, check out this blog .
8. Be a role model
Encourage your child to see you working on things during their homework, such as writing grocery lists or even talking about what you have done at the office that day. By seeing you also do work, it can motivate your child to work on their homework as well.
9. The most powerful sentence a parent can say: “I am so proud of you!”
This simple phrase has very powerful effects and can help your child feel encouraged. Often, children spend longer doing homework due to the fear of failure . Using the phrase, “ I ’ m so proud of you” can reduce this fear by letting your child know that they would always have your support.
In turn, this may give them more confidence and increase their self-esteem, allowing them to achieve more when doing their homework.
10. Communicate any worries you may have with their teacher
Let your concerns be heard! If you feel that your child is spending too long on their homework, or is struggling a lot with it, tell their teacher. The homework they set may have been too academically challenging for them, which may also reduce their confidence in the long term. Talking with their teacher may also allow your child to gain any extra support if needed.
Getting homework done may be a struggle, especially when your child does not feel any motivation to do it. However, there are tons of ways to support your child - implementing these tips into your daily life can help homework time go a lot more smoothly. This in turn can support your child during their academic development.
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How Parents Can Help With Homework (Without Taking Over)
Sometimes taking the stress out of homework means taking a step back. learn how to curb your hands-on habits and help your kids do their best..
After a long day at school, the last thing my kids want to do is tackle their assignments. And after a long day at work, arguing with them about homework is the last thing my husband and I want to do. But we’ve always thought that the more involved we were, the better off they’d be.
It turns out that that isn’t necessarily true: After looking at 30 years’ worth of studies, researchers concluded that in most cases, such parental interest actually doesn’t help raise test scores or grades — and sometimes backfires. The reason: When parents are overly immersed in homework, they deny kids the chance to become more independent and confident. Worse, it can breed anxiety along the way.
Of course, backing off is easier said than done. So we asked education pros to share their secrets for helping kids study without hovering. Use these techniques to bring peace to your evenings — starting tonight!
Old way: Sit beside your child so you can answer questions and fix his mistakes. New way: Stay available by doing chores nearby.
When you hover, you essentially send the message to your kid that you don’t think he can do the work. To empower him instead, stay busy and wait until he asks for your help, says Miriam Liss, Ph.D., author of Balancing the Big Stuff: Finding Happiness in Work, Family, and Life.
For example, say your child is stumped by a math problem. You could ask questions (“So how many groups of two equal eight?”). If he says, “Got it,” leave him alone. If he continues to struggle, make suggestions (“Hey, do you want to use baby carrots as manipulatives?”). He’ll feel a greater sense of accomplishment if he’s worked for the answer mostly on his own.
Also avoid stepping in to correct every mistake without your child’s input. “Homework is a chance for a child to practice what he’s learned in class,” explains Jacqueline Cross, a fourth-grade teacher in Hingham, MA. “If he’s really challenged by long division, I’d like to know that so I can help.”
If your child asks you to look over his worksheet, point out the errors in a subtle way. Say, “Can you go back and see where you went wrong here?” or even do a quick reminder of the point of the exercise (“Remember, you’re supposed to be finding coins that add up to four dollars. Want to count these numbers out loud and I’ll listen?”).
Old way: Nag until your child starts working. New way: Set up a no-nonsense routine.
“Make it clear that everyone has obligations — and your child’s include things like going to school, working with her teacher, and doing the best she can on her homework,” says Susan Kuczmarski, Ed.D, author of The Sacred Flight of the Teenager: A Parent’s Guide to Stepping Back and Letting Go.
Doing her best includes buckling down to finish her assignments without constant check-ins from you. Together, figure out a specific time and place for her to work. It’s okay if she needs a little while to recharge after school before starting, but be sure she knows that four o’clock (or whatever time is best for your fam) is non-negotiable.
Once you’ve established a firm homework routine, make it a habit that happens every day. “Kids can whine, but they just won’t get to watch their TV show or whatever else they’d like to do until the homework is done. Period,” says Dr. Liss. (There goes your need to nag!)
And if your kid doesn’t do an assignment because you failed to remind her? As tough as it is, let her deal with the consequences. You won’t always be around to stay on top of her, and learning responsibility is a cornerstone of education.
Old way: Lecture your kid for waiting until the night before to study for the spelling test. New way: Teach time-management skills.
Scolding just makes your child feel bad (and he’ll tune you out, anyway). But because kids appreciate structure, teach yours how to break tasks up into more manageable chunks.
A printed calendar is a great tool for learning how to map out deadlines and a better visual reminder for grade-schoolers than the digital kind. Hang it in a prominent place. Then help your kid set daily goals, like “study four words on Monday and five on Tuesday …,” or break that science project into weekly goals, like “gather resources by the 5th, plant the seeds on the 11th.”
By giving your child control over deadlines, you remove yourself from the battle: If it’s on the calendar, he’s responsible for it. Skip handing out negative consequences for not getting things done. Instead, says Dr. Liss, you can offer him rewards for hitting each of the milestones.
Old way: Get sucked into whine fests. New way: Walk away.
If your child gripes about the work itself (“It’s too hard!” or “I don’t get it!”), figure out what’s behind her frustration. If it’s a lack of motivation, let her know that the sooner she applies herself, the sooner it’ll get done and the faster she can move on to something more fun. Then leave the room. After all, without an audience, she can’t complain, and you avoid getting trapped in a negative cycle.
But if the material is too difficult, that’s another story. In that case, try your hand at doing some of the problems with her (as long as you can stay calm). You may be able to make that lightbulb turn on in her head.
If not, reach out to the teacher to ask for assistance (or, if your child is over 8, suggest she speak with the teacher herself). Educators don’t want their students struggling to the point of tears, so your child’s teacher will probably be happy to clue you in to extra resources that can help your kid understand the lesson.
Old way: Work on your kid’s project until the end product is perfect. New way: Let your child take the lead.
“We assign projects so kids get a chance to apply new skills they’ve learned,” Cross explains. So if you’re getting super hands-on to wow the teacher, do your best to resist the urge. “We see your child every day, so we’re pretty familiar with the kind of work she does!” Cross adds.
That doesn’t mean you can’t pitch in, but let your kid be the creative force. For example, if you notice that the assignment includes a timeline and your grade-schooler skipped that step, point it out, then let her figure out which dates to include and how best to showcase them. After all, brainstorming lets your child hone her problem-solving skills and increases her confidence; hand-feeding her a solution won’t teach her anything.
When your kiddo proudly shows you the finished product, tell her something specific, like “Your report really makes me want to read that book now!” or “Wow, look at all the details you included in that flower diagram!” By saying something descriptive instead of generic (“That poster you made looks really awesome!”), you’re acknowledging the content itself and the effort your child put into it rather than just how it looks, notes Dr. Kuczmarski.
Achieving balance is key — and that’s true for all homework conundrums. Says Dr. Liss: “Your goal is to find that sweet spot of being there if your kids need you, but not being totally on top of them all the time.”
Plus: 10 Homework Help Tips The Do's and Don'ts of Homework Help