The Do's and Don'ts of Homework Help

Hitting the books shouldn't feel like a test for kids or parents. Here's a smoother way to help with homework.

By Jennifer O'Neill



The Do's and Don'ts of Homework Help

DO work with educators 

Check in with your child’s teacher early in the year about expectations (when work is due, how often kids get it, what happens if it’s not turned in) and relay any subsequent difficulties your kiddo is having. Don’t hesitate to jot a note like “Jake didn’t understand this problem . . . can you explain it to him?” on an assignment.

DON’T make ’em buckle down right after school

Many kids need time to recover after a day of learning. “School is a child’s workday,” says Madeline Levine, ph.d., author of Teach Your Children Well: Parenting for Academic Success. “We underestimate how challenging it is. They’re learning not only content, but about social relationships, self-control, and delayed gratification.” So give them a chance to relax and recharge when they get home—they’ll focus better later if they have time to play first.

DON’T play teacher

When kids ask for help, “parents often want to teach kids how they were taught,” says Nanette Lehman, a second grade teacher at Haines Elementary School in Haines, OR, and the state’s 2013 Teacher of the Year. Resist that urge; academic vocabulary has changed so much that you’re likely to confuse your child more than help him. Instead, support the Common Core State Standards, which require students to explain their reasoning, by asking: “How did you get that answer? Can you walk me through it?”

DO check answers

To really help kids make the grade, parents should regularly review completed assignments, advises Lehman. “If you see a lot of mistakes, it’s an opportunity to talk with your child and say, ‘Hey, let’s recheck these,’” she explains. “Kids actually learn a lot from correcting their own missteps.”

DON’T let frustration fester 

It’s normal for your child to get stuck on a tough problem from time to time. Teachers want students to struggle productively — it teaches perseverance. That said, if your kid is on the verge of a meltdown, encourage her to take a break and return to the assignment later. If she’s still stumped, call it quits for the day and let the teacher know about the issue. Notes Lehman: “If any part of homework is a negative experience, we’re going in the wrong direction.”

DO be a cheerleader 

Children need to know that parents value what they’re studying. Pile on praise after assignments are finished — just be sure to commend effort, not results. Notes Levine: “The point is to get kids excited about learning.” Rather than saying, “You got almost all of the hard ones right,” try “I’m so proud of how hard you worked!”

What’s the right amount of time to spend on homework?

The formula: 10X your child’s grade number. (First graders should plan on 10 minutes, second graders should spend 20, and so on.)

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