How Much Help With School Work Should We Give?

Recently I reviewed a story written by a 4th grader about kindness that was to demonstrate how to be kind. While my expectations were high, what I did not expect was to get in return a 5 page single spaced type written story with words that I had to look up in the dictionary. Either this was a prodigy child or there was some extreme help going on by others.


I bring this up as we begin the school year as a reminder that the person in school is our children – not us as parents. Yes we want to see our children succeed and we are there to help them, but we must let them do their own work, be their own creative selves and make their own mistakes. Offering minor assistance – no problem. Offering support if asked – no problem. Doing the work for them though has several consequences.

  1. Makes them think that others will do their work
  2. Puts pressure on them to present a perfect front to the outside world.
  3. Weakens their ability to learn from mistakes or failures

There is enough pressure on our children to be #1 in all aspects of their life. What they really need to learn though is the value of learning from mistakes and to have the resilience of dealing with a failure. Giving them ourselves as role models of learning or accomplishing a task on our own, learning from a mistake or failure is an invaluable lesson for life.

The Four stages of anger: the explosion

The explosion we are all too familiar with.  We have felt it, we have seen it and sometimes it is us who has exploded.  This is the time when the voices are raised, the insults and name calling begin.  It can escalate or even begin with physical violence too.  Hitting, pushing, kicking, breaking things that belong or do not belong to the person exploding.  It might be done in private or it may be publicly, sometimes on purpose, just to embarrass another person or parent.  I might add here too that somtimes anger can be played out in ways that the perpertrator believes will hurt the other person.  A student doesn’t do his homework to get back at a teacher, ignoring a parent, hiding the keys to make a parent late.  In general at this stage the angry party may just want to be a pain and cause pain to another person.

As a parent we may have tried to see it coming during the build up and we may have tried to defuse the spark, but still the explosion happened and our job either as a parent or as the person the anger is directed at is to stay as calm as we can and contain the damage, keeping both our child and ourselves controlled so that no one gets hurt.  If our temper rises and we lose control that may be exactly what the child is looking to get done, as they know then that they are in control of the situation.  So what can we do?

I had planned to give solutions to the stages at a later writing, but I feel like we need to address this now to some degree.  It is the same advice that we gave our students earlier.

Breathe slowly and deeply.  Avoid shouting and stay focused.  Do not engage in the debate.  Remember who and what you represent.
Do not negotiate with threats. The child may just be looking for a way to manipulate you and control the family.  Do not give in.  We can be willing to discuss the matter, but do so only when both parties are calm enough to do so.  There can be no real teaching when emotions are high.

Allow natural consequences play out.  Lets say the shouting matches and the anger is arguments over homework.  It may be best at some point just to allow the consequences of not doing homework play out with the teacher.  Let them get the bad grade, and the teachers words with them, instead of trying to protect them from bad results.  I remember my own kids who would wait till the last moment to tell me they had a project to do and that they needed materials for it, till the night before.  After talking about this several times and the behavior not changing we simply told them that they had to tell us about their projects earlier so we could get materials when it was good for all of us.   Of course it happened again and we stuck to our word and the project did not get done.  The result was a bad grade.  The bigger results were that never again did we get a late notice about projects. 

There are additional ways of dealing with this stage and things to be careful of that we will discuss at another time.  But I do feel it is important to mention at this time though that we must be careful not to allow the child or anyone to play us against another person of authority.  So we want to be sure that both parents are on the same page and the child is not playing mom against dad.  This is called an argument trap and we will discuss the other type of argument traps later.