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Parents who do homework will get a failing grade

Mon., Sept. 15, 2008

Dear Mr. Dad: My 10-year-old son can’t seem to keep up with his homework. He often asks his mom and me for help, and we willingly provide guidance. But a few times I think we’ve done most of the assignment for him, just to get him over the hump. Now he’s asking for even more help. How can we get out of this rut?

A: The good news – actually, it’s pretty bad – is that you’re not alone.

Deep down inside you know that homework is for your child, not you. I know how easy it is to jump in and “help” a child who doesn’t seem to be getting it – or at least not getting it as quickly as you’d like. But as you’ve already seen, doing a child’s homework undermines his ability to learn good study habits and may lead to a lack of confidence. You’re essentially telling him that you don’t think he can do it on his own.

Breaking your habit isn’t going to be easy, but you’ve got to get started right now. Here’s how:

•Make sure he has the right tools. With about 90 percent of school-age kids using computers in their classroom and more than 80 percent at home, online resources are essential. For help with specific assignments, have your son check out and In addition, knowing how to use a search engine is essential, and is a comprehensive, child-friendly, safe resource.

•Make sure he has an organized, quiet work area in a low-traffic area. Keep younger siblings occupied elsewhere and suggest that cell phones, computers and other electronic devices be turned off or set aside during homework time. But don’t force this issue too much. If your son turns out to be one of those kids (and there are plenty of them) who can do his homework while texting, IMing, watching TV and listening to his iPod all at the same time, let him alone – as long as he keeps his grades up.

•Encourage him to write down homework assignments every day. Some schools now post assignments on their Web site, which helps students and parents understand what’s expected, and when. If online support isn’t available, shell out 99 cents for an old-fashioned spiral notebook and pen.

•When your son asks for help, go over the assignment with him to be sure he understands it. Then ask him to explain it back to you. When he can say it in his own words, he’ll begin to realize that he actually does understand how to do the work and that’ll boost his confidence level. But if he can’t get all the way through the explanation, gently guide him through the tough spot and perhaps re-phrase the issue to him in different words.

•Stay in close contact with your son’s teachers. Let them know you’re concerned and that you want regular progress reports on how he’s doing. His teachers will be the first one to know if your son needs extra tutoring, enrichment exercises, should be transferred to a different class, or has a learning disability.

•And finally, try to stand your ground. Remind your son that you’ll always be there to help if he absolutely needs it, but encourage him to tackle the tough issues on his own. The confidence he’ll gain by doing so will last a lifetime.

Armin Brott is an Oakland, Calif.-based author of six best-selling books on fatherhood. Find resources for fathers at


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