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Should You Help Your Kids With Homework? This Study Might Surprise You

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Helping my kids with their homework was never my favorite task and I'll tell you why; I'm not that smart. And I really didn't need my ineffectual attempts to help my 7-year-old son with his math homework to hammer that fact home for me. I also sort of felt as though I had already graduated from grade two or whatever so I was off the hook for homework until the end of forever. It seems I might have been on to something with my selfish ways. A new study looked at whether or not you should help your kids with homework, and came up with some surprising insights.

The study was conducted by the combined efforts of the University of Eastern Finland and the University of Jyväskylä, published in Science Daily. It looked at children between grade two and four doing homework, both autonomously and with the help of a parent (or more specifically, a mother). This study was carried out as part of the First Steps Study, which aims to research how different types of educational tools effect the learning of approximately 2,000 children from kindergarten and upwards. And here is what the study found; children often displayed less persistence to finish tasks on their own when they were older if they had extensive maternal assistance when doing homework.

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Researchers found that children who had loads of maternal help with their homework in this age group, generally between six and nine years old, were less inclined to be able to work autonomously when they got older. They tended to be less persistent and less dedicated to finishing the tasks at hand than those children whose mothers offered them plenty of opportunity to work on their own from a young age. In other words; all of those times I was struggling to help the kids with their homework, I might have been better off leaving them to do it on their own.

Great.

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While it might seem sort of disheartening and shocking to hear that moms might want to back off with the homework help, it actually makes sense. When children are given the opportunity to work on their own, it follows that they might not only take in the required information on a deeper level but also benefit from a boost to their self-esteem; if their mom trusts them to do the work on their own, they must be doing something right. As lead author of the study, associate professor Jaana Viljarantaof University of Eastern Finland, explained to Science Daily:

One possible explanation is that when the mother gives her child an opportunity to do homework autonomously, the mother also sends out a message that she believes in the child's skills and capabilities. This, in turn, makes the child believe in him- or herself, and in his or her skills and capabilities.

That being said, there are times when you should probably be helping your kid with their homework... every child has a different level of need and should feel as though they're supported in their education at home, of course. The trick is walking that fine line between offering help when needed (or even better, when it's been requested) and simply doing their work for them. Grade Power Learning suggests limiting your involvement to:

  • helping your kids organize their work
  • encouraging proper time management, which does not tend to be a skill children hold in high regard
  • creating a positive working environment (making sure they have the tools they need and limiting distractions)

Every parent presumably wants their child to succeed beyond the scope of their influence. And yes, it's tough to get your kids to do things on their own when you're right there and able to help. But perhaps you will be serving them well in the long run.