Too Much Help Isn’t Good

All children need help but giving too much of it can be developmentally inappropriate mean things can go pear-shaped.

As Givertz et al (2013) note,

Overparenting involves the application of developmentally inappropriate levels of parental directiveness, tangible assistance, problem-solving, monitoring, and involvement into the lives of children.

It’s a fine balance but when parenting becomes the helicopter type (or worse – lawnmower parenting), help might not be beneficial and can even be damaging. Locke et al (2016) found that “extreme efforts by parents to promote academic achievement could be undermining the development of independent and resilient performance in their children.”

As reported in Education Week, a new study from the University of Eastern Finland and the University of Jyväskylä, taking things a bit easier with a light touch approach can be far more helpful.

The study used a sample of 365 children to investigate the longitudinal associations between maternal homework assistance. Researchers found that when mums gave their children opportunities to work independently, they persisted at tasks for longer and did better in school over time. This contrasts sharply with mums who helped every night with every homework activity because their children were less independent.

The results showed that the more autonomy granting mothers reported, the more task-persistent behavior children exhibited; and more task-persistent behavior children exhibited, the more autonomy their mothers granted. In contrast, the more mothers helped their children, the less task-persistent behavior was reported, and the less task-persistent behavior children exhibited, the more mothers tried to help and monitor their children later on

Co-author of the study, Jaana Viljaranta said, “One possible explanation is that when the mother gives her child an opportunity to do homework autonomously, the mother also sends out a message that she believes in the child’s skills and capabilities. This, in turn, makes the child believe in him- or herself, and in his or her skills and capabilities,”

For more information see the First Steps Study.

The message from many is that when parents give their children too much help this can actually hinder their skills development and lead them to feel incompetent.

One more thing…

However, not everyone agrees. Parental homework help can be beneficial to some students more than others especially for students in disadvantaged families.

University of Connecticut sociologist Angran Li and Daniel Hamlin at Harvard University say that one size does not fit all and that parental involvement in homework can actually be beneficial among economically disadvantaged African-American and Hispanic students.

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