When It Comes to Homework—Are You Doing Too Much?

Battles over homework can disrupt family life any evening of the school week. To lessen the trauma, parents frequently step in to help and occasionally step over the line. We asked Anita Pollic, a fourth grade teacher at Lebanon Christian School in Lebanon, Ohio, about this important topic.

How over functioning parents can step back and let kids do homework themselves.

Q: How would you define homework over functioning?

It is stepping beyond the parental boundaries and taking over responsibilities belonging to the child.

Q: How do you know when a parent is over functioning on the homework assignment?

I have seen cases where the homework is in the parent’s handwriting rather than the child’s. And once, in an assignment to create a menu using current spelling words, a student turned in a beautiful computer-created menu and said, “Didn’t my mom do a great job on this?” Over-functioning also includes looking up answers for the child, or using an older sibling’s test results to help study. I have heard students, when asked about their homework, respond, “My mom said I didn’t have to do it.”

Q: What would be a parent’s motivation to step over the line like this?

I believe one of the greatest motivators is pride. Parents truly want their child to succeed-no matter what! This may stem from not wanting to “look bad” by having a child who does not do well in school. I see parental pressure in children’s school phobia, physical symptoms (absenteeism or getting “sick” at school), and high levels of anxiety. Another motivator could be the parent’s wanting the child to do as well as an older sibling or just plain guilt. Families today lead busy lives. When a child didn’t have time to complete homework due to family obligations, the parent may feel that they should do the homework so the child is not penalized. In the case of an adopted child, especially one who arrived as an older child, parents may try to make life easier. Parents may think that life has already been tough enough.

Q. How can a parent deal with the issue of over functioning?

One of the first things is to let go. Let the child enjoy the accomplishment of doing the work himself, and let him reap the consequences of failing to do it well. Parental doubt about a specific assignment should be directed to the teacher. Telling a child “you don’t have to do this” can start a lifetime pattern of avoiding hard things. Monitor family time and outside commitments. Make school a priority over activities such as dance or music lessons, gymnastics or sports. When a parent places the proper value upon school, the child soon sees its importance too. Finally, set aside time and space for schoolwork to be completed. If necessary, teach the child how to study rather than do it for him.

A Final Word

When a parent continually steps in to “help” a child, he sends a message, “I don’t really believe you are capable, so I will do it for you.” Paying attention to the messages we send can start a lifetime of “I can do it.”


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