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What's Your Definition of Homework Help

This morning my daughter started falling apart emotionally because she realized she couldn’t possibly finish a homework assignment.  It was due today and she remembered to start it just before bed.  When she asked for my help, I waited to see what she wanted before I accepted.  I’m sure I’ll be facing this situation more and more since my children are growing.  I’d like to share my thoughts on this and ask what your boundaries are on the subject.

She wanted me to do the same thing she was doing so it could get done faster.  When I heard that, I backed off.  I gladly offered to check her work when she was finished with part of it, but that was my limit.  As her emotions bubbled over and the wailing began, I had to just check and recheck with myself that I was holding the line I intended to.

I told her that she was asking me to do something that she wouldn’t have asked if she’d had enough time.  That was “doing homework for her” in my book and only done in the interest of the deadline.  I said I couldn’t do that, and the wailing went up a notch.

It was easy for me to see the big picture, but she was focused on the obvious time-deadline conflict.  She’s a great student and holds herself to a high standard, but her emotions were pushing her to ask something that
wasn’t appropriate.

Occasionally, she’s had similar trouble with assignments she just didn’t understand – she got impatient and wanted way too much help.  This has been more fuzzy for me.  Is giving ideas for a paragraph too much?  Is writing out several sample sentences too much?  I try to give just enough to illustrate the point, but not so much that she’s just copying me.  However, I have sometimes wondered where that line is.  The “help me meet a deadline” request seems much more clear-cut.

Back in earlier generations, I’m sure plenty of parents helped their kids a little too much on their homework at times.  This is not a new phenomenon, nor is this the biggest parenting sin you could commit.  In fuzzy situations, it can be a little harder to tell.  However, it’s no secret that today’s society tends to bend way more towards children’s emotional reactions.

If someone is upset, that becomes enough reason to bend over backwards and do what they ask.  If it ends the tantrum, maybe it will work out this time.  Only “this time” can easily turn into “next time” and “most times”, etc, etc.  It’s a slippery slope, and your extra attention is worth it to prevent a major slide.

My decisions about homework and forgetting school stuff at home is that ultimately my kids need to adopt a high standard of personal responsibility.  If that takes a tough day of fallout because they forgot their musical instrument, frustration because they forgot their daily planner, or consequences for late homework, so be it.  My parents didn’t rescue me like that and I had plenty of stomachaches over the consequences on my own.

So when faced with a situation like this, I have to first ask myself how the request measures up to my standard.  Am I rescuing or am I supporting?  Is there a problem understanding part of the assignment or is their an emotional issue clogging it up (frustration, anxiety, etc)?

I determined this morning that she was looking for a rescue so she could avoid the anxiety of dealing with a late assignment.  That was a no-can-do for me this morning and I was ready for the ensuing emotional onslaught.  It came and it eventually passed when we got in the van to go to school.  Her stomach is probably churning right now as she handles the “face the music” moment with her teacher, but that is her life lesson to learn today.

So how do you determine how much help to give your kids with homework?  And for older kids with some really complex assignments, how do you help them if it’s clearly out of your area of expertise or understanding?  Where do you draw the line between supporting and doing for them?  Thanks, and I look forward to sharing and discussing on this topic.

What's Your Definition of Homework Help

Erika Krull, MS, LMHP

Erika Krull, MS, LMHP is a practicing licensed mental health counselor in Nebraska.

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APA Reference
Krull, E. (2010). What's Your Definition of Homework Help. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 18, 2020, from


Last updated: 15 Jan 2010
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