How to help your kid with homework (and how not)

There was earlier research on how (not) to help your children with their homework (check this meta-analysis), but this new study looks at another aspect of possible consequences of parental help with homework. And while all homework assistance presumably aims at helping the child, not all types of parental help lead to equally positive outcomes…

The results in short:

  • Mother’s homework assistance was related to child’s task persistence.
  • Autonomy granting was related to exhibiting higher levels of task persistence.
  • Help was related to exhibiting less task-persistent behavior.
  • Child’s task persistence contributed on mothers’ homework assistance.

From the press release:

Researchers in the longitudinal First Steps Study found that the more opportunities for autonomous work the mother offered the child, the more task-persistent the child’s behaviour. In other words, the child later worked persistently on his or her school assignments, which encouraged mothers to offer more and more opportunities for autonomous working.

However, when the mother provided assistance by concretely helping the child, the less task-persistent the child’s later behaviour. This, in turn, made mothers offer more and more help. These associations between different types of maternal homework assistance and the child’s task-persistent behaviour remained even after the child’s skill level was controlled for.

“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,” Associate Professor Jaana Viljaranta from the University of Eastern Finland explains.

Similarly, concrete homework assistance — especially if not requested by the child — may send out a message that the mother doesn’t believe in the child’s ability to do his or her homework.

Homework assistance should consider the child’s needs

The findings also indicate that task-persistence is a mediating factor between different types of maternal homework assistance and the child’s academic performance. This helps us to understand some earlier findings on how some types of maternal homework assistance predict better academic performance than others. When the mother offers the child an opportunity for autonomous working, the child will work persistently, which leads to better development of skills. If, however, the mother’s homework assistance involves plenty of concrete help, the child will work less persistently, leading to poorer development of skills.

“It is important for parents to take the child’s needs into consideration when offering homework assistance. Of course, parents should offer concrete help when their child clearly needs it. However, concrete help is not something that should be made automatically available in every situation — only when needed,” Viljaranta says.

The First Steps Study is an extensive longitudinal study carried out by the University of Jyväskylä, the University of Eastern Finland and the University of Turku. The study examines student learning and motivation among approximately 2,000 children from kindergarten onwards. Children currently participating in the study are in secondary education.

Abstract of the study:

The present study used a sample of 365 children to investigate the longitudinal associations between maternal homework assistance (i.e., help, monitoring, and autonomy granting) and children’s task-persistent behavior in learning situations from grade 2 to grade 4 of elementary school. Also, the extent to which task-persistent behavior plays a role in the links between parental homework assistance and children’s academic performance was examined. The results showed that the more autonomy granting mothers reported, the more task-persistent behavior children exhibited; and more task-persistent behavior children exhibited, the more autonomy their mothers granted. In contrast, the more mothers helped their children, the less task-persistent behavior was reported, and the less task-persistent behavior children exhibited, the more mothers tried to help and monitor their children later on. Additionally, some evidence was found supporting the role of task-persistent behavior in the relation between maternal homework assistance and academic performance.

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Filed under At home, Education, Research

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