Mom Helping With Homework:
Good or Bad Idea?*
Research Summary by Doctor D
It stands to reason that parental help with a child’s homework should be a good idea. Right? Maybe. Maybe not.
Research by Gintautas Silinskas at Finland’s University Jyvaskyla* suggests that the way the parent helps (or “monitors,” as the study points out as being different from “helping”) may make a major difference.
Key Study Features To See If This
Matters to You
Let’s point out some things important about this study with over 2,000 children
in Grades 1-4:
1) Don’t discount it because it involves Finnish children and parents. Besides the truism that “kids are kids” anywhere, the fact that they were all Finnish residents meant that the study sample was incredibly “homogenous,” in the authors’ wording.
- That means that any of the many possible differences between families, like those in the United States, simply don’t exist in this sample. No different cultures, major value systems, language preferences, racial distinctions, etc. For example, 78% of the Finnish children had two parents at home, and the children were the biological children of both parents.
- Therefore, the study had fewer “confounding variables” to mess up the results or make any trends difficult to understand.
2) The researchers measured how Mom’s homework “help” or “monitoring” influenced actual math and reading scores of their children.
3) The biggest source of information about the children came from their school scores. The biggest source of information about how Moms interacted with their children during homework time came from self-reports by Mom as entered on various written questionnaires.
4) Because the study was “longitudinal,” over time, the researchers were able to predict how Mom’s behavior might affect their children later in school. This is different from the more common “cross-sectional” studies that look at only one moment in time.
Study Results: Can You Use This?
Now to the big question: What do the study results tell us about how parents should interact with their children during homework time?
1) Poor academic performance on the part of children prompted increased levels of helping and monitoring by parents, but unfortunately it came with negative emotional behavior by Mom during homework time … which didn’t really help the children much.
2) Direct instruction by Mom (“helping”) on how to solve problems or do the homework actually slowed the child’s academic development.
3) Students who did better were more likely to have Moms that had expectations of “autonomy” for children, expecting them to do well without much actual direction. Moms might “monitor,” but only to see that the work was done.
Doctor D Adds His Own Opinions
1) Worrying about a child’s school performance can make sense. Letting that worry and related emotional behavior by Mom (or Dad, or whoever) also carry over to homework time is a bad idea. So, no scolding, yelling, etc. at the child.
2) Helping a child occasionally with homework is fine, but it should be minimal. It is important to say and do everything possible to let the child know he/she is growing better by doing work and solving problems on his/her own (getting more “autonomous”).
3) Any such support should not support incorrect work or poor homework habits just to “build up esteem.”
For the Future
Doctor D would like to see actual observational research on these important issues, and not rely so much on what Mom says about her own behavior. There’s nothing wrong or necessarily invalid about self-report data. It can be a fine place to begin, and give us many clues about complex issues.
But Doctor D would also like to see what really happens between Mom and child during homework time. For example, what did they say to each other? And then, like these researchers did, go to the schools and see what happens with school achievement afterwards, over several years.
*Article Author Credits and Contacts:
“The Developmental Dynamics of Children’s Academic Performance and Mothers’ Homework-Related Affect and Practices,” by Gintautas Silinskas, Noona Kiuru, Kaisa Aunola, Marja-Kristiina Lerkkane, and Jari-Erik Nurmi, University of Jyvaskyla, Finland. Published in Developmental Psychology, 2015, Volume 51, No. 4, pages 419-433.
Correspondence concerning this article should be sent to: Gintautas Silinskas, University of Jyvaskyla, Department of Psychology, P.O. Box 35, FI-40014, Finland, or send email to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Research Article Availability:
The complete research article is available from the American Psychological Association on the Web at http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0038908.
Doctor D Disclaimer:
All interpretations of this research study as presented above are entirely those of Doctor D’s. Any misinterpretation by Doctor D is unintentional, and readers are referred to the original research article as cited above for further information.
Doctor D has no copyright claim on any of the information from the cited article.
Doctor D is not providing advice of a psychological nature or otherwise regarding the research article summarized above. Doctor D is offering his sole opinion of the research cited above, and related matters, as is protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.