Homework: Helping Without Hassling or Hovering

As children and teens immerse into the midst of the school year, homework is one of those routines which is often met with apprehension and dread. This trepidation is true not only for the kids but often for the parents as well.  Because homework is an inevitable part of school, it is important to attend to this important ritual with confidence and optimism. There are a wide range of approaches to homework which naturally vary with age, temperament and particular needs of each child, but there are some broad-reaching suggestions which can be applied to most any family:

  • Do remember that homework is generally intended to reinforce and practice what has been introduced during the school day. For younger children, the primary goal of homework is actually more related to helping kids develop good study habits and to feel successful academically. Help your child have a positive attitude towards the work by you yourself also having a positive attitude.
  • Aim to attend open house meetings and read the information sent home from your child’s teacher (or teachers) at the beginning of the school year to find out what the expectations are regarding homework. Find out the system for knowing where and how homework assignments might be posted and methods for knowing if assignments have been missed. Educate yourself about reasonable expectations, such as whether your child should stop working on a particular assignment after a certain length of time even if not finished.
  • Start routines right at the beginning of the school year in order to set up positive homework habits. By being organized and planning ahead, you can minimize frustration for your child. Investment in a good structure, consistency, and regular routines will be well worth the effort. 
  • Provide the space, materials, and scheduled time to allow homework to be accomplished comfortably. For older kids, it may even be a good idea to set up their own “office area” with all the materials they need to keep them on task and possibly a bulletin board with all their long-term assignment due dates. This space should be in their room, the living room or kitchen where they do their homework on a regular basis. Do figure out a method for minimizing media distractions.
  • Help your child to learn the value of time budgeting and planning. Discuss times for most effective work completion and times needed for certain tasks. If they have  homework in several different subjects, parents can assist initially in the teaching the planning out process.
  • Do not do the work for your child. The teacher is interested in knowing what your child knows and is not interested in testing your skills. You can assist with developing a plan, providing organizational assistance or in answering questions. Ask questions of them to help them find the solutions. You can check homework, but be sure to know the teacher’s policies about parental follow-up. Allow independence with supervision.
  • Plan for breaks from homework if necessary. A snack or a bike ride around the block can help re-energize a child. Be flexible. Minimize burn-out.
  • Figure out ways to role model persistence, work completion and an interest in learning about the world in general. If your child sees you reading or problem solving or actively seeking out answers, they are more likely to follow your lead. Be sure you are living out the priorities you expect in your child. If you have a project that you’ve brought home from work or bills to pay, consider doing it while your child is doing his schoolwork. This helps children to understand that homework is a normal part of life—just another responsibility that needs to be met, and it also sets the right mood for focusing and concentration.
  • Emphasize what the child has done correctly. By focusing more on successes than failures, you will be more likely to motivate the child to do more work. If you focus on the mistakes and the negatives, the child will be more easily discouraged and may feel less motivated to continue working. Praise efforts.
  • Do not expect perfection. Remember that mistakes are not the enemy; mistakes are a part of learning and are opportunities for new awareness. Love need not be based on success in school.  
  • Practice patience and empathy during those times when a child is very frustrated or discouraged with the homework. A little bit of validation can assist in the child feeling heard in order to then refocus on the problem at hand.
  • Allow your child to face consequences of delayed or incomplete homework. Some children need to experience their own disappointments before they are ready to accept assistance or accept proactive problem-solving for the future.
  • Use appropriate means of communication with the teacher to share concerns or questions. Do not let frustrations you may have with the teacher or the specific assignments be known to the child. If you respect the teaching process, your child is more likely to respect the learning process.
  • Seek help from your child’s teacher, a tutor or a professional if homework issues have turned into severe homework struggles or battles. Maintaining your positive relationship is more important than one particular subject matter, and an objective person outside of the family may be better equipped to assist in those cases.

Not every tip will be applicable to every family, but incorporating a few of the no-hassle, no-hover techniques can help make homework more of the positive, educational experience it was designed to be – for you and for your child. 


Sandra Wartski, PsyD

National Register Credentialed Since 1995
Sandra Wartski, Psy.D. completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Rochester and received her Doctorate in Psychology from Widener University.  After interning at Media Child Guidance Clinic and The Renfrew Center, Dr. Wartski moved to Raleigh and joined Silber Psychological Services in 1993. As a licensed psychologist in North Carolina, Dr. Wartski has been conducting individual, family and group therapy, as well as psychoeducational evaluations, with special interests in mood disorders, anxiety, eating disorders, relationship issues and crisis intervention. One of her favorite parts of being a therapist is the opportunity to build relationships allowing room for positive growth and change. Dr. Wartski also enjoys providing presentations and writing articles on a variety of mental health topics for both community groups and other professionals.