Parents, What's Your Role In the Nightly Homework Grind?

Parenting expert Annie Fox shares what Mom and Dad's roles actually are when it comes to homework.
Does your kid refuse to do homework? Here's some helpful advice on motivating your child to complete their assignments. (Photo: Katrina Wittkamp)
Dec 26, 2012

Each week parenting expert Annie Fox will share her wit and wisdom for teaching kids to be good people and strong learners.

Parental involvement in education clearly makes a huge difference.

Plenty of research indicates that parents who consistently show interest in their child’s education, provide support, and are involved in the school community are more likely to have kids who have a more positive attitude toward school. When Mom and Dad are involved, kids typically get higher grades, have fewer disciplinary problems and lower drop-out rates.

But how much involvement are we talking about? And when are we helping too much?

More: ‘I Don’t Want to Go to School!’ How to Help Kids With School Anxiety

This is tricky when it comes to your kid's homework. It's important to know when you should step back from the role of Homework Monitor so your kids can start taking responsibility for their own assignments and their own learning.

Recently, I received an email from a conscientious mom who was doing her best to motivate her daughter, but felt increasingly bent out of shape because the girl didn't seem to be taking school seriously.

Dear Annie,

My 12-year old daughter loves the social part of school, but makes no effort with academics. Every day I ask about homework and upcoming tests then I constantly remind her and offer help. She gets A's on homework. D’s and F’s on tests. I know some students don't test well, but she makes no effort to prepare even though I’ve taught her "How Tos" of studying. I encourage her slightest effort yet I feel totally helpless and frustrated that she won’t take school seriously.

Frustrated Mom

Here's my reply: 

Dear Frustrated Mom,

Unless you are doing your daughter’s homework for her, the As indicate that she understands what’s being taught. Of course, understanding isn’t always reflected in test scores. Many students who know the material panic during exams and literally become too stressed to think. Others overanalyze questions and/or can't manage their time effectively. Another explanation may be learning differences, which can have a profound impact on a person’s ability to process information and express themselves clearly. Has your daughter ever been tested for learning differences? If not, talk to the school counselor for input and/or a referral to a learning specialist. If there isn't a school counselor, call the district office.

If it turns out that her failing test grades are mostly a matter of "not studying,” you and your daughter can work on that together. Assuming she’d like to earn good grades on tests, offer yourself as a compassionate coach and you can probably get her to buy in. Your job is to help her get organized and to teach her (without nagging or guilt-tripping) the importance of keeping her agreements. And they are hers! Parents play an important support role, but when it comes to homework, the contract is between student and teacher.

Work with your daughter to create a realistic weekly schedule that takes a balanced approach to school work and social times. Tell her that you appreciate her need for fun and that you want her to have it. Lots of it. But part of your job, as her mom, is to teach her that sometimes each of us has to step up and get the job done before we can chill.

Make your expectations clear and praise her progress. (You’re looking for progress, not perfection.) Do all this consistently and you are likely to see more motivation from her. But please start with a conversation with her teachers so you can find out more about what's going on.

In friendship,


The next day I heard from her again:

I met with each teacher today and discussed concerns. I will take your advice and hope for a better quarter for my daughter, with my help and her effort.

To which I replied:

"...with my help and her effort." I love the way you put that. In this spirit of collaboration, make sure you share with your daughter the essence of the conversations with her teachers. Encourage her to take the initiative to check in with them whenever she needs help or wants direct feedback on her progress.

Please try to remember, especially when you are feeling frustrated, that this isn't your problem to solve. It’s your daughter’s. That may sound counter-intuitive since all of us want our children to succeed in school and in life. But ultimately, we must learn to take responsibility for our own choices. Often, when parents step back and allow their children to master age-appropriate life-skills, kids learn to step up. Sure, they will make mistakes from time to time and trip over their own feet, but most of us do figure out how to manage our own lives. Your daughter will too! 

In friendship,


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