Homework Help: When Does Helping Your Child Cross The Line?

24/09/2014 17:27 | Updated 20 May 2015

Mother helping son with homework

As the new academic year kicks in, children around the country are groaning as homework starts to fill up their school bags. But don't be surprised if you hear some parents grumble, too. For new research reveals that a quarter of British parents admits to doing their children's homework for them.

But the shocker fact is that one in four finds themselves doing the lot, with absolutely no input from the child.

"We're a little worried by the results of this study," admits Nick Swan, founder and CEO of, who commissioned the survey. "Not only that parents are doing the homework for their young children at a vital age when learning is key, but also that some parents are doing the homework for their children who are in secondary school."

The bottom line, he says, is that the only way children are going to learn is by doing it themselves. "I'm not saying don't help your children – they won't learn unless you point them in the right direction and show them their mistakes – but don't do their homework for them."

Science is the subject parents are most likely to take over (46), history (35) and geography (29%).

Science and maths are notoriously tricky subjects, so it's easy to see why they topped the list, says Susan Hallam, professor of education at the Institute of Education, part of the University of London.

"But it's important to remember that the more difficult children find the subject, the more they will benefit from doing homework in that topic. By doing it for them, you actually increase the risk of them continuing to struggle in that subject."

In any case, parents don't know everything. Even some teachers who admit to doing their kids' homework told us they sometimes they don't know as much as they thought about some things.

Hallam believes that at primary school level, the increasingly competitive environment of schools is largely to blame. "You see parents wanting to do everything they possibly can to get their child into the school they want and sometimes that includes any means they can think of to get them the best grades."

Meanwhile at secondary school level, she thinks the emphasis on coursework could be significant. "Some parents may feel that because, in some cases, homework can count towards coursework, they have a tempting opportunity to bump up their child's marks."

Then there are parents who feel time-starved. "Many parents work and so the time they have with their child is precious and limited. They don't want their child to be spending a lot of that time working away on homework.

"In other households, it can be a real struggle persuading children to do their homework at all. Some parents panic that they will fall behind or they can't be bothered with the battle involved in trying to persuade them to do it, so they just do it themselves instead."

There are some more disturbing reasons too, with four in 10 of those polled in the Betts study claiming they got a real 'buzz' if their child got top marks on a project they had helped with, while a third said they felt there was a competition between themselves and other parents when it comes to homework.

Mind you, this can backfire, with almost a fifth of parents saying that when they find their child's homework too taxing, it makes them feel incompetent, while just under a third said it caused them to feel paranoia about their own levels of intelligence.

If you really want to help your child, by all means help explain where they are going wrong and encourage them when they get the answers correct, says Nick Swan.

"You could also find ways to encourage your children to learn, to remember things and maybe even reward them when they manage to get all of their homework completed. Just don't take over."

Hallam adds that parents of younger children should focus on getting them into good homework habits as early as possible. "Get them to do it when they're feeling bright and alert, not on a Sunday evening when they are tired and you suddenly remember it has to be in on a Monday morning.

"Perhaps get them to do it just before something they really enjoy. And if necessary, break it up so that it doesn't become tedious."

Try to remember that homework isn't generally a formal test, she says. So don't sacrifice your children's learning in an attempt to make them look good.

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