Helping Your Child Develop Independence and Responsibility Through Homework

At what point in your child’s education should they take over responsibility for the management of their own assignments and test preparation? How much should a parent help, remind, or insist? When does a parent’s support cross the line from a necessary step in building their child’s skills to preventing them from flourishing? Parents can use the following questions to clarify their role in order to help their child learn the skills they need to be an independent, responsible adult.

What is my child developmentally capable of?

Almost all students in kindergarten will need reminders and help unpacking their backpacks, completing assignments, and packing their backpacks up again. Building a process and routine into your day to unpack those bags, empty lunchboxes, put important papers in their designated spot, and complete assignments will help to teach your child these basic, but important, organizational skills. Having a routine also eliminates the need for as many reminders and prompts as your child begins to internalize the structure of the day. They begin to learn that they come home from school, grab a snack, unpack their bag and get started on homework. As children progress through elementary school, they should begin taking the lead in telling you what they need to do.  

What exactly does my child need help with and what can she do on her own?

You may not be able to answer this question until you step back and allow your child the opportunity to do her work on her own. If your routine is to have a snack and then get to homework, try waiting a few minutes after snack before you say, “ok, let’s check out your homework.” Wait to see if your child automatically begins the routine. If it looks like she’s not about to begin the homework routine, you can offer a prompt. If your child starts pulling out her folder, that’s a good indicator that she’s learning the routine.

Next, avoid the temptation of leaning over her shoulder to see what she has to do tonight.  Allow her to pull it out and get started. If your child is able to get started and move through the work, let her! Try your hardest to leave her alone while she works.  If she asks a question, you can provide support.  In elementary school, checking homework is a good idea. You’ll want to make sure your child completed homework as assigned and you’ll want to note if it seems like your child is grasping the material. Correcting homework is different than checking homework. Read on.

How does my child do without my help?  

Some children really won’t be ready to handle the demands of managing the executive function aspects of their workload.  Others may not be capable of understanding the material without some extra assistance. Those students really will begin to fall behind and will require a carefully thought out plan which may include coordination with the school, a possible 504 plan or IEP, tutoring, or executive function skill building. Many children, however, can manage homework and studying on their own…it just may not be exactly to your standards. If a child is capable of understanding the expectations, getting started on work, and completing his work, he has mastered the vast majority of the task. If he has completed his work but you notice when checking the work that he has made some mistakes, think carefully about whether or not you instruct your child to try it again, whether you correct the work with your child, or whether you allow the child to turn in his work as is.   

Which outcomes do I want to prioritize?  

Is accuracy and mastering the material the most important aspect of homework for your child right now? It may be. If that’s the case, making corrections to homework could be important. Or, your child might be encouraged to work with his teacher to review the assignment and clarify what they didn’t understand. If your child really seems to have mastered the material but made some careless mistakes or didn’t do their “best” work, you might decide to bite your tongue and allow natural consequences (i.e., points off the assignment, feedback from a teacher) to follow. You could point out that you noticed an error and allow your child to decide if he wants to correct his work or not. By putting the decision in your child’s hands, you’re sending the message that it’s his assignment, his work, his grade. This allows him to take ownership of his homework and education.  You might decide that ownership, responsibility, and independence is the outcome you want to prioritize for your child right now.  

What are the expectations from my child’s teacher(s)?

When trying to decide how much your child is capable of, how much help you should be providing, and which outcomes to prioritize, look to your child’s teacher or school staff to provide guidance. Teachers can share with you general guidelines for approximately how much time assignments should take as well as how they handle mistakes on homework. Do they check homework for completion and review it as a class? Do students have an opportunity to review problems with the teacher if needed? If homework/study time is creating conflict in your house, don’t be afraid to share that with your child’s teacher or teaching team. They may be able to help you identify your priorities, suggest possible supports available, and help create a plan for getting through homework with fewer conflicts in a way that will increase your child’s ability to complete their tasks independently. If you’re following a teacher-approved plan, this may help you to step back and allow your child to learn how to manage their responsibilities without experiencing the guilt or pressure of feeling like you are not fulfilling your obligations as a parent.  

Posted in Academic Services, Articles, Executive Function, Parenting, School and Homework, School-Aged Children, Teens.