Should you do homework with your children or should they do it by themselves? To find the answer to this question we turned to the world famous teachers and communication specialists Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. The book “How to Talk so Kids can Learn at Home and in School” gives some valuable advice, which we'll be discussing below.
Do I help my kids with their homework, or let them do it by themselves?
There is an opinion among parents that they are required to follow up on homework with their kids. However, according to Faber and Mazlish, the best help from an adult may be indirect: give the child a quite place to study, good lighting, and the necessary books/resources. Be somewhere nearby in case they need your help, and feed them if they are hungry.
The authors also warn readers of the drawbacks associated with checking your child's homework every day:
- your child will learn that all responsibility for their homework lies with you, the parent, and he or she will eventually stop doing anything without you
- some children ask the same question over and over, in an attempt to get their parent to complete their work for them
- the relationship between the child and their parent will likely deteriorate
How to get your kids to do their homework
So what should a parent do if a child will not do their homework until the last minute? Nagging, threatening and bribing are not helpful. Here is what Faber and Mazlish advise:
First, find out about the child’s feelings. For example, if you see your child after school doing something else at a time when you know they should have started homework, you may say:
“I know it must be hard to start doing homework after school, you’ve been studying all day and now have to do it all over again.” Their response will probably be, “Yeah, I want to go play with my friends, watch TV, and work on my model. Plus, I can’t study during the day – it’s too loud here. I prefer it when everybody is asleep.” To this, Faber and Mazlish advise you to acknowledge their desires by saying something along the lines of: "Right, you want to postpone your homework, get some rest, and do it at night, when it is quiet in the house…” At this point, you can state your concerns: "However, I'm concerned about your lack of sleep. Let’s think what we could do so we are both happy - I will write down all the suggestions. You start." Now do not judge any of the proposed solutions, just write them down. You will probably end up with something like:
- Stop bugging me about homework (child)
- Do homework as soon as you are back from school (parent)
- Keep my sibling away from me when I study (child)
- Create a schedule and write down when you work, play and sleep. Keep to the schedule (parent).
Then discuss what you like and don’t like about each solution, reach a compromise with the child and create a plan to implement. This collaborative work gives children some very important messages from the parent, such as:
- I believe in you and I trust that you can think reasonably and creatively
- I value your contribution
- I do not consider myself ‘an all-mighty adult’ with power over ‘an ignorant child’, but rather I am your partner, maybe not equal in experience and knowledge, but certainly equal in human dignity.
The authors argue that this approach also teaches children how to tackle big problems. By showing them that big problems can be broken down into smaller, easier-to-solve parts, it prepares children to solve bigger problems that they will inevitably face later on in life.
If you would like to read more about relationships between children and parents, check out our ‘Books for Parents’ collection, or read more about the book 'How to talk so kids can learn' by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish.