Homework Boundaries

sweet little female latin child studying on desk looking bored and under stress thinking with a tired face expression in children education and back to school concept isolated on white background

First, let me say, that I am not a supporter of homework. If I had my way, “homework” would be just that – work children do for the home and family. After a full day of learning children should relax and then help out around the home; shoveling snow, vacuuming, laundry and having time in the evening to build rich deep relationships with their family members. Homework isn’t just a misuse of time, research shows there are harmful effects of assigning homework. Check out the findings in Alfie Kohn’s book “The Homework Myth

But alas, my kids went through the public education system and I was a parent who had to oblige the current rules while fighting to change them.

Here is some of how I did that:

  1. Whose responsibility is it?

The starting point is attitude. Both parents and children need to get a firm grasp on the idea that learning is the child’s responsibility.   Too often children grow up believing that it is their teacher or parent’s job to make them learn.   We have to foster the message that schooling is something they need to take ownership of right from the get go. It is that feeling of ownership that will stir their desire for accomplishment and create the necessary motivation to dig in.   If parents get overly invested in the process, children feel they are being coerced or made to do – which invites rebellion; usually in the refusal to learn, do the minimum work required or only after a battle. Word to the wise: don’t carry their knap sacs, don’t rifle though their bag and don’t hunt down their agendas looking for homework information. If they don’t have their homework done, let them know that is between them and their teacher. If they like their teacher they won’t want to let them down. If your child persists in not doing their homework, instead of fighting with your child, request a teacher conference and include your child so the three of you can discuss the issue together as a team.


  1. What parents ARE responsible for

Parents can support their child’s learning without rescuing them or taking over.   For example:

  • Parents should make sure their child has a suitable study area in the house and some quiet time set aside for studying.
  • Parents should stay interested in what their children are learning and add supportive information in the form of outings to museums, galleries, science centers etc…
  • Parents should be their child’s cheer leader and use the art of encouragement (seeEncouragement versus Praise article) to help the child overcome their frustrations and discouragements that interfere with learning.
  • Offer unconditional love so the child doesn’t develop the mistaken belief that they must perform well at school to be lovable and have value.
  • Help the child develop time management and organizational skills. This can be taught outside the task of homework.   Eg – organizing their own hockey equipment and being punctual for practice and games.
  • Help the child reflect on what seems to trip them up and encourage them to discover their own solutions for improvement in the future.
  • Let your child know when you are available to help them with homework and when you are not. If you can help quiz them from 8pm – 9pm and they only request help at 9pm – refuse.   The time has come and gone. You have to respect your own time management too.


  1. Focus on improvement over perfection and embrace mistakes as opportunities to learn.
  • Emphasize improvement over perfection so your child develops a belief that it is through hard work that we make gains. A B- is the mark you get on your way to earning a B and a B+! If you only emphasize an A, they may give up prematurely.
  • Help children understand mistakes are opportunities to learn instead of failures.


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Picture of Alyson Schafer

Author: Alyson Schafer

Alyson Schafer is a psychotherapist and one of Canada’s most notable parenting experts. She is the resident expert on The Marilyn Denis Show, CTV News Channel and CBC’s The World This Weekend. Alyson is an “Ask an Expert” Columnist for Today’s Parent Magazine, and sits on the Health Advisory Board for Chatelaine Magazine. Alyson is the best selling author of “Breaking The Good Mom Myth” and “Honey, I Wrecked The Kids” and her latest, “Ain’t Misbehavin”. She is an international speaker including the inaugural TEDxKids in Brussels and offers free parenting tips at http://alysonschafer.com/

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