Written by:  Lucy Daniels Center staff

Homework comes in all shapes and sizes for children of all ages — from simple, straightforward worksheets to in-depth projects. Many parents struggle with defining their role during homework time over the course of their child's school career. While some children are able to complete their homework assignments independently and with ease, others experience difficulty in some way or another. In some cases, homework can become a stressful time of conflict for children and parents. Where do parents fit into the picture?

Just as students grow and change over time, your role in helping with homework will evolve along with your child. Having a better sense of your child's emotional development around this task can help you determine just how much — and what type of — help you should be providing during homework time.

Homework as a developmental task

All developmental milestones emerge and take shape over time. Take, for example, the self-care task of getting dressed. Young children gradually assume this task over the course of several years, using parents' help and guidance along the way until, one day, they are ready to dress themselves.

This process begins with a period of parents or caregivers doing all of the dressing, from choosing the outfits to every last zip, button and snap. In toddlerhood, parents and children share the dressing responsibilities. Toddler-aged children begin to show some preference as to what they wear and gradually learn to maneuver in and out of their clothes.

As young children become more independent, parents are nearby in case their help or support is needed. Finally, when children are ready for independent dressing, they select their outfits and dress themselves without the need for parental presence, help or praise.

It is in the final stage that parents stand back and admire their child's progress. Helping children with homework follows a similar developmental line.

Stages of homework help

Becoming an independent student, similar to the developmental task of dressing oneself, is a process that unfolds gradually. The eventual ability to work independently stems from a foundational stage of your undivided attention and support during homework time. In this initial stage, parents and caregivers are ideally there every step of the way, helping to select a quiet spot to concentrate and working through each problem together as needed.

Over time, children internalize the help adults have provided and begin to take responsibility for their homework tasks. As your child becomes more competent and independent, you can step away while he works on his own, letting him know you are there if he runs into any problems or needs your guidance.

The length of this process will vary for each child, but as a general guideline, gradually replacing full parental support with assistance and guidance as needed will help your child move along at a comfortable and steady pace.

Setting the stage for homework success

In the primary school years, parents play an important role in helping children develop homework skills they will carry with them throughout their academic careers. Set aside a regular time of day and choose a workspace that is quiet and free of distractions.

As you support your young student during homework time, keep in mind that just as there were days when she needed a little help getting dressed, there will be days when she needs a little help with homework.

Following your child's emotional development, providing support when it's needed and encouraging independence will help your child achieve yet another developmental milestone you will one day proudly stand back and admire.


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