Parents are becoming increasingly involved with their children's schoolwork, especially helping with homework. For many, the negatives are out weighing the positives. Monitoring homework is an important component of parental engagement, but where does a parent draw the line between giving help and enabling and reinforcing dependency?

There are many factors to consider when deciding how much time and effort you should give to support your child in completing his or her homework. First, as a matter of principle, homework is supposed to be the responsibility of your child. When properly assigned, children should be able to complete most of their homework with only occasional assistance from a parent. Ideally, a parent's role should be limited to helping a child schedule time for doing homework and in making sure there is a suitable home environment for children to focus on their assignments.

Allow children to determine their homework environment

I am often asked if allowing a child to do homework in front of the TV or with music blasting is something that should be prevented. My response is that if the homework gets done, allow the child to have input on both the time of day and the conditions needed to complete the assignment. Children, like adults have different learning styles. Some of us need quiet to concentrate, while others need some background stimulus to help stay on task. Parents should be flexible and check the results rather than pre-determine what homework environment is most suitable.

Establish an adequate timeframe for completing homework

As far as the time spent on routine homework, most schools have guidelines that they share with parents. For example, generally speaking, a fourth-grade student should be spending no more than 45 minutes to an hour on homework each day. Other than a special project, if homework drags on beyond this timeframe or there are numerous requests for help, something is amiss.

The first step is to check with the teacher to inquire how much time she expects her students to spend doing homework. Let her know about the issue at your home and see what she says. If your child is devoting more time than the class norm, it is possible that this is evidence of a potential learning problem that needs to be evaluated.

Learn the real reason why your child continually asks for your help

Another possibility is that your child is using difficulty with homework as an attempt to increase contact time with a parent. Children can literally condition their parents to pay attention to them by seeking help or procrastinating with homework. The reinforcement for the child is the parent sitting with them one on one. If you feel this is the case, make sure to replace the attention your child is getting from you for struggling with homework with quality interactions after homework is complete. A little tough love might be necessary to break the pattern. Tell your child that if he or she cannot complete the assignment within a reasonable period of time, you will write a note to the teacher asking for extra help. Furthermore, I would even suggest that a child in the upper grades does not need close monitoring of homework unless there is a problem.

As long as there is no negative feedback from school, leave the homework an arrangement between teacher and student. Teachers are quick to dispense consequences for not turning in assignments. This will maximize individual responsibility and reinforce a child's independence.

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