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What Makes Kids Do Well in School?

Helping Your Kids Test their Best

What Happened at School Today by Dr. Judi Craig

Enjoy Your Middle-Schooler

adapted from What Happened at School Today by Dr. Judi Craig

For many parents—as well as children-- the homework issue is a real source of stress. As Dr. Judi Craig comments in her book What Happened at School Today (Hearst Books), parents and children alike find themselves “hassled, upset, worried, defeated, or downright angry because of it.” And given the current efforts to raise school standards nationwide, we can all accept our kids to be doing even more homework in the future.

For most parents the big questions are: Is homework getting done properly? and How much should I help?

A lot depends on the age of your child. Children in Kindergarten through third grade need a parent to be “around” and to step in if necessary. While some kids like to work alone, others prefer the “quiet presence” of someone else.

Young children especially seem to want help with homework and at the same time they want to do it themselves. When you respond to requests for help, kids may lash out because they feel they’re not in control of their own work. But don’t get upset when they resist your suggestions or criticisms.

Older children may not want parents around, but they may need your help in organizing their assignments and breaking work down into manageable tasks.
Research has shown that children who do the best in school have parents who show interest in their kids’ work. But when you constantly hover or take over assignments, kids start to feel as if whatever they do isn’t good enough. We need to find the balance between providing help and making children work entirely on their own.
Here are some suggestions.

  • When children ask for help, remind yourself that the purpose of homework is to help them develop good study habits, marshal resources and feel competent that they can work on their own. Parents’ help should promote confidence rather than make kids feel less good about themselves.
  • Think of yourself as a homework coach. Help children interpret instructions and get off on the right track. Then back off and let them do the assignment themselves. Encourage kids to discover answers on their own. Ask your child: “What do you think you should do next?”
  • Look over an assignment if you are asked. Point out items that are wrong, but let the child decide whether to correct them. Says Dr. Craig: “This policy makes it clear that homework is your child’s responsibility and is less likely to create power struggles…than if you demand that he redo the incorrect work.”
  • If kids lose or forget homework assignments, they may need help getting organized. If they constantly say they have no homework, find out from the teacher or other parents if this is true. If it is not, ask yourself: Does she feel unable to do the work? Is he rebelling for another reason?
  • Try to resist the last minute bailout. The major science project that is due tomorrow, but not yet started. Sometimes it is better to experience the consequences of not completing an assignment. But if you step in, be aware that while your child may get a better grade, he or she is not learning to take responsibility. Afterwards, talk about planning skills and ask: How can you avoid this problem next time?
  • Don’t feel like you have to know everything. As Jane M. Healy, Ph.D. says: “Admitting your confusion…may be the best teaching you can do. Even if you don’t get the answer, you are working together to solve a problem and that is the basis for the most lasting learning.”

adapted from Work & Family Life newsletter, edited by Susan Ginsberg)

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