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6 Tips on Helping Your Child with Homework You Don’t Understand

6 Tips on Helping Your Child with Homework You Don’t Understand

Imagine this scenario. Your child approaches you for help with their physics homework. You're pretty sure that you passed the class, but you haven't touched it in years, nor do you ever use it in your current work. But your child is pleading with you for help out of desperation. So, what do you do? Often, this scenario feels like this:

According to a 2013 Edweek article, about 50% of parents struggle with helping their children with homework, and 46.5% of those parents struggle because they themselves don't understand the subject material. So yes, you are not alone. But, what are some ways you can help your child tackle their nightly workload that seems to be challenging even for you? Here are some tips to help your children with their homework, if you're struggling with the assignment yourself:

  1. It's okay to admit that you don't know. Being able to admit to your child that you don't know is actually more helpful than trying to do the problem without knowing what's going on. Even acknowledging and empathizing with your child will help alleviate the stress they may feel from their homework.
  2. Set a time limit. Try not to spend more than 20 minutes working on a homework assignment. Any time spent longer than that results in greater frustration for you and your child, which will not be helpful. Instead, take a break, go outside for a walk, play a game, and have a mental reset before tackling the problem again.
  3. It's okay to ask for help (or encourage them to ask for help). Encourage your child to reach out to others within their classroom for help. Perhaps there were things that your child missed in class, or special instructions to keep in mind as they did their homework. Try not to reach out to the teacher right away when you and your child are having a difficult time with homework.
  4. Write out the thought process. Perhaps you're working through the various steps to the process, but having a hard time getting to the right answer. Encourage your child to write out their thought process. Your child can then bring this work to their teacher to get feedback or more instruction on what they could've done differently to get to the right answer.
  5. Look at an example/sample. Ask your child if they received an example or sample problem in class. Typically, the homework problem they have received has some elements from an in-class sample, which you can utilize for solving their current homework problem.
  6. It's okay to let your child suffer a little. In the end, don't get anxious or nervous about a homework problem your child can't tackle. Allowing your child to struggle through something will actually teach them perseverance, endurance, and grit. Teaching them to ask for help when needed is also a valuable life skill which they will need later in life. It's okay to not have all the right answers. Encourage them not to give up or get angry, but to keep trying!

Also, to prepare a little before such a scenario occurs, here are some general homework tips to keep in mind with your child:

  1. Create a study space for your child. Make sure your child has a designated study space that is free from distraction. This would be away from the television, noise, or interruptions.
  2. Teach your child organization skills. Help your child keep their folders and backpacks neat. Encourage them to use a homework planner to keep track of their assignments.
  3. Create a routine. Set a time for homework that doesn't change every day, though it shouldn't necessarily be the first thing they do when they get home. It can also be a time for you to work on your own "homework" at the same time.
  4. Be there. Make sure your child knows that they can approach you for help if they need it. Stay in tune with what's going on with your child's school by attending parent-teacher conferences, maintaining contact with teachers and guidance counselors year-round in order to stay in tune with what's going on.
  5. It's not about the grades. Remind your child that studying and doing well in school isn't about bringing home the good grades, but about learning hard work and perseverance. Remind them that long-term success is learning these valuable life skills. While good grades can be a bonus for their hard work, it’s more important that your child retains the information.

Need some extra help with your student to catch up or get ahead in school? Rather than looking for a tutor, try Study Island for Home, an online practice software with practice questions specific to your state standards. Get started today with a 10-day free trial!

elaine.ho@edmentum.com's picture
Elaine Ho studied Political Science and Education at the University of California, Berkeley and previously served in Americorps teaching and mentoring high school students. She is interested in connecting parents with the resources and information they need to help their children succeed. She also curates a free weekly newsletter called Beyond the Classroom, which collects the top need-to-know education news for parents.

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