Why you don’t actually need to help your child with their homework in the way you think you do
The biggest misconception around homework is that you need to know and understand what your child is learning at school to be able to help them. Parents often say that they wished that schools would teach them how to teach so that they could help their child with their homework. Do you feel the same? Is homework a struggle in your household? Do you have any homework dramas? Or do you worry that you don’t know how to help your child with their homework?
But actually, this would be like being a teacher yourself – having the knowledge and understanding of the curriculum, the methods and concepts that are taught. It would be completely unreasonable and unrealistic to put this on parents for a start, but also (spoiler alert), it’s not actually what your child’s teacher is looking for when they send out homework.
Homework is like revision of the work that your child is currently studying at school. It is an opportunity for your child to practise further and demonstrate their knowledge of the topic and methods to their teacher. It is about the teacher finding out how much your child has grasped about what has been taught that week.
It is not about getting full marks.
The biggest problem with homework, is when parents do the work for their children or give them the answers. Even just explaining concepts and how to use methods can be a problem. Let’s say that your child is really stuck on a piece of homework and has completely forgotten what their teacher said in class, so naturally you come to the rescue and help them out. You could be facing tears, arguments, frustration. So of course, you want to take that stress away from your child. They shouldn’t be feeling this way around homework. It’s upsetting to see your child feeling that way. So you try to explain the methods and concepts to them from what you can remember, but it doesn’t seem to be any clearer for your child, or even worse, they say, “we don’t do it like that anymore!” Wow! What a way to make you feel old, eh! So, you end up giving them the answers. The homework is marked and the teacher may be led to believe that your child has fully grasped that topic and requires no further support whatsoever. What happens then? That’s now a gap in their learning. They’ll likely face that topic again in the next year, but it’ll be at a more complex level, so actually they’re back to square one again.
Hopefully, your child’s teacher will notice that your child has struggled with that topic in their maths book. But equally, it’s not uncommon for children to copy their friends’ work when they’re stuck, or to ask their friends for help who then just give them the answers! With packed timetables in school as it is, and a huge curriculum to get through each year, it’s tricky to find the time to fill those gaps. Chances are, that area of maths that your child was struggling with will remain a gap which only becomes wider as your child progresses through school.
Now not all parents are the type to give their child the answers, and yes, I’m talking about the worst-case scenario here, but seriously it’s super important to let their teacher see the reality of what your child is struggling with, rather than score full marks on their homework.
What to do instead when your child is struggling with their homework
· Leave a note for your child’s teacher explaining that he or she is struggling with the homework. That way, the teacher’s more likely to sit with your child and explain the work to them.
· Reassure, encourage, and remind them of what they’ve achieved already.
· Use growth mindset techniques like, “perhaps you can’t do this YET, but you will be able to soon”.
· Support them emotionally – be it a cuddle, a supportive chat, or a safe place to release their tensions.
· What do the teachers do to support your child in an exam? They can read the questions to them. That’s it. They cannot explain anything to them. This is what I highly recommend you do with your child when they’re struggling with their homework. I know it sounds daft, but sometimes hearing someone else read the question is actually quite useful and makes more sense. Especially for oral learners for whom words can just seem to float over their heads if they try to read learning material – they prefer to hear it read to them, and find that this sinks into their memory better than reading it for themselves.
· Explain to them why this is what homework help looks like, so that they understand the reasoning behind it, and that it’s absolutely in their best interests for the future.
How we can teach our children to become independent learners and why this is important
Teaching your child to speak up when they’re struggling is a valuable lesson that will set them up for life. Rather than bury their struggles, they can get the help that they need straight away. Look, the reality is that when your child sits exams, you’re not going to be there to hold their hand. Neither is their teacher. They’re in that chair on their own, with only their memory, knowledge, and skills to help them. Children, like the rest of us, get incredibly nervous in exam and test conditions. Panic mode and anxiety sets in. It suddenly becomes very real. I’ve seen even the most confident and brightest students stress about their exams. It’s innate in us to want to pass and succeed. How do we calm the nerves and help our children to become accustomed to these nerve-wracking conditions? We teach them to become independent learners.
The panic is caused by the worry of not knowing the answers or forgetting what they’ve learned, and anxiety around failing. But what if that worry and anxiety was removed? What if you had instilled in your child that it’s OK to not know all the answers. It’s OK to make mistakes. That part of learning is about making mistakes, being an independent learner, and admitting when they don’t understand something. I’m not saying that your child won’t be nervous when they sit their exams, they probably will have some nerves on the day. But, we can certainly lessen these anxieties for them with these techniques. That way, when they get stuck, they get the help and support from their teacher that they need to make sure that they don’t have those gaps in their learning – giving them a higher chance of success in their exams. They’ve allowed themselves to make mistakes, rectify them, and learned from those lessons which is actually more likely to stick in their memory. They’re also more confident in their knowledge, rather than worrying that they will forget or not know all the answers. Because whenever they’ve not understood something yet, they’ve made sure that they’ve persevered until they’ve grasped it, not just moved onto the next topic. So, they believe in themselves and their abilities, and they know that they will try their best, which is all that matters, rather than stressing about failing.
Every week your child has an opportunity to practise being an independent learner with their homework. You and your child don’t need those homework dramas. And imagine how less stressful homework time could be if your child was an independent learner. Being an independent learner isn’t about knowing all the answers, it’s just being able to work on your own and knowing which steps to take when you don’t know the answers.
For help with your child’s homework, email me at email@example.com.