A New Kind of Parent-Child Bonding—Homework Help - National Council of Teachers of English
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A New Kind of Parent-Child Bonding—Homework Help

The following essay by NCTE Vice President Jocelyn Chadwick  was originally published on the Parent Toolkit produced by NBC News and sponsored by Pearson:


Jocelyn Chadwick
Jocelyn Chadwick

No one needs to tell parents that helping with homework today in no way resembles how they may have experienced it with their parents. That said, children do want your interest, your perspective, and your help, even high school students, who are my area of expertise. While high school students may appear initially disdainful or dismissive, they do respond, eventually. Actually, homework can provide an unexpected and even meaningful setting for sharing, exploring and learning together. So as parents, we must figure out the how.

As a teacher and a parent, I have found the following tips to be keenly helpful:

Make the time. Remember this special time focuses on your children and you spending time together. Refrain from reminding children how much of your time you are sacrificing or how grateful they should and must be. Also, avoid shifting focus to you or your past memories about homework or a particular subject.

This commitment and focus are particularly effective and supportive for high school aged children but it’s important to begin this practice and commitment as early as pre-K. Sometimes adults assume that as our children mature, they do not require, nor do they want our intervention. Actually, older children long for the support; they simply loathe expressing or asking for it. Plus, the fact that parents volunteer on their own accord displays uncoerced, honest interest.

Make time inviolable. No matter your child’s age, establish your shared homework help time as sacrosanct.   Technology, like smartphones, tablets, computers, iChat, Skype, for example, enable constancy and consistency anywhere, anytime in the world, thereby enabling parents to participate and help, regardless of distance.

Be intrepid. Don’t be afraid to offer help with homework, even if you are uncertain about the subject matter. Remember, help includes listening, asking questions, and simply showing interest.

Children rarely expect parents to inquire earnestly about their homework beyond a few questions. Know which courses your children are studying and familiarize yourself with a few of the topics that they will be learning this year.  You can even prepare  a few questions ahead of time. Taking such time illustrates clear and active attention, often surprising your children. This kind of sharing can provide a fertile environment for parents to learn or hone their own research, computer and reading and critical thinking skills right along with their children.

Practice listening and appearing to listen: your doing so will convince your child, especially those in high school, that you are not simply “going through the motions.” Signs that you are uninterested or not listening include;

– Sitting dutifully but not always attuned
– Not providing uninterrupted time
– Multitasking on your own work
– Email, texting, calls, etc.

In contrast, parents’ asking their children questions, using sentences, such as, “I didn’t know that”; “Well, I have certainly learned something, working with you”; “This has been fun”; “I’m really glad we are doing this; I am learning a few things, too” will go a long way in the relationship that is growing.

Sustain and maintain. Establish your homework help time during the summer and remain consistent throughout the year. If there is no homework, your listening, showing interest, even asking questions about classes, different assignments, and assigned readings will further illustrate to your children (K-12) your earnest interest and commitment.

Exercise curiosity, not one-correctness. You don’t have to have the correct answer. Students, even high school students, will be appreciative just because you are there–listening, collaborating, being curious, and learning together.

Finally, don’t forget, you are here to help, not change or mold your child’s assignment, comment on the teacher, comment on the politics of education, or even the assignment. You are here to help your child with homework. Parents who have questions about an assignment, or even parents who want to seek teachers’ input about homework help should always feel confident to email or call their child’s teacher. In so many ways, when parents take this kind of initiative with their children and teacher(s), they are actually creating and stimulating a kind of learning community of their own, a community without stress or a targeted issue. One immediate benefit of this kind of approach emerges with parents themselves establishing a proactive learning environment, one that blends both home and school.