Homework Enablers: Parents Who Help Too Much

Mar 7, 2011· 3 MIN READ
Who needs Mom and Dad? We&39;ll get into Brown on our own. (Photo:peapodsquadmom/Creative Commons)

Most moms and dads agree that being an involved parent means helping children with homework. The hard part is figuring out what kind of help to offer, and how much.

If a child hasn’t started her science project, and it’s due the next day, should mom volunteer to design a poster or type up a research summary?

When dad notices mistakes on his son’s math worksheet, should he correct them?

TakePart asks several experienced classroom teachers, as well as tutoring expert Wendy Fish, for a lesson on the do’s and don’ts of homework help.


Wendy Fish is the director of the Sylvan Learning Center in Boca Raton, Florida. She's heard many parents confess to being frustrated and overwhelmed by the nightly homework struggle.

“Parents are telling us that homework time in their house is so crazy, everybody is stressed,” Fish tells TakePart. “They tend to over-help because they feel that in the short-term, it’s going to help out with the stress of the household.”

In reality, says Fish, doing a child’s homework does more long-term harm than good. “Clearly the students are not learning if the parents are over-helping,” she stresses. “The students in the long run will be punished that they themselves didn’t do enough of the work.”

Teachers can tell if students receive too much help at home.

Andrea Levine taught English and Spanish at two public high schools in New Jersey for 14 years.

“As a teacher, I have often had to ask students to see their rough drafts, or sources, for papers that they have handed in,” Levine notes. “Often, it was pretty evident that the work submitted was not their own. A teacher gets to know a student's voice or abilities, and when there is a discrepancy between them, we know there has been too much parental intervention. If it is too good to be true, it usually isn't!”

Some teachers even quiz students on homework that was recently turned in, much to the embarrassment of over-helped kids. In Fish’s words: “The teachers actually call on the students because they’re so impressed with the homework, and the students end up being embarrassed because they really don’t know what’s going on. They don’t know the answer. And that is a horrible feeling for a student.”


Fish tells TakePart that while over-helping is counterproductive, parents should be involved in their children’s education—without actually doing the work themselves.

“I’m not saying that parents should completely step back,” Fish explains. “Parents should be in control and know what’s going on with their kids. But don’t do their homework for them. Help them have good study habits.”

One primary goal at Sylvan Learning Centers is to develop effective study habits. Fish notes that parents can contribute to this goal by helping students learn to stay organized and manage their time.

“Get a planner for the student,” she advises. “It’s all about study habits and planning ahead. A lot of kids know about what’s due the next day, and they knew about it days before—sometimes as much as a week in advance. But they wait until the last minute. So parents could help students plan ahead. Not do the work for them, but help them plan when they’re going to work on it.”

Kim Rubin Ihata is a middle school ESL teacher in Brooklyn. She tells TakePart that parents may need guidance from teachers on how best to get involved in their children’s education.

In Ihata’s experience, many parents tend to fall into one of two categories: “Either they don't know how to help their child without doing their work for them, or they don't understand the work at all themselves.”

Most of Ihata's students’ parents don’t speak, read or write English, and feel unqualified to assist their children with school work. Ihata informs moms and dads that students still need their support. “As I explain to my parents, they can be involved in their child's education by having their kids read books to them, or even just checking to see what their children are doing for homework. The best stance toward homework help for parents is to be observant, be involved, and praise their child's accomplishments. Just seeing that parents value their education helps kids realize that education is valued in their family, and it also helps them build a sense of pride in the work they are doing.”

Ihata mentions one very devoted mother who asked if she could copy down some of the charts hanging on the classroom walls to review at home with her daughter. “This mother spoke no English, but still managed to get involved, which I am sure is part of her daughter's success in school,” Ihata explains.

Experts agree that with the right level of parental participation, students learn to stay organized, complete homework assignments on time, and appreciate the value of academic success.

Experts also warn that over-helping robs children of valuable learning opportunities and feelings of accomplishment.

In Fish’s words: “I think that when students work on their homework themselves, and they get to the bottom line answer, and they understand it, their confidence level and their self-esteem goes up. They’re going to feel good about turning in their homework.”

(Photo: peapodsquadmom/Creative Commons) via Flickr.