Parenting is a full-time job. Unfortunately, most parents have other full-time jobs as well, making it difficult to spend as much time as they would like raising their children. Part of the cultural doctrine around being a good parent is helping your child with their homework.
In a fairy-tale world, your child arrives home from school, eats a healthy snack, and sits down at the kitchen table eagerly awaiting you to help them with their homework. You join them and the two of you gleefully accomplish math problems, history trivia, and grammatical conundrums.
In real life, we know that this situation plays out a lot differently. Most kids aren't in a rush to do their homework and most parents don't have the time to spend hours helping with it, or--as their kids age--the knowledge to explain the work.
Fortunately, there are better ways to help your kids succeed. These ways involve taking a less active role, and being more of a guiding hand for your child as they navigate their way through school.
You're not the teacher...
And you shouldn't pretend to be. You may notice, when your child is as young as seven or eight, that they are learning things differently than you did. This isn't a bad thing. Learning evolves with our society as we discover more practical ways to teach kids.
When your child comes home from school and gets ready to do their homework, make sure you're not undoing the work their teachers do all day by trying to teach them a different way of solving the problems. If your child is struggling, seek out extra help from the school or the teacher who will be able to find the best way to help your child succeed.
Setting up the homework environment
The place where your child does homework should be relatively distraction free. Choose a well-lit room with the TV off. Make sure your child has eaten before homework time and make sure they take breaks as needed. If your child is struggling with homework, don't get upset with them. Try to be understanding and to work together to find a way to help them complete the assignments. Just like you have the occasional bad day at work, your child will have the same experiences with their homework.
Don't be a dictator, be a helper...
Setting extremely strict rules about homework has been shown to make a child dread school even more. Find a schedule that your child works best with and follow that schedule.
If your child needs to play outside or watch a favorite show after school, give them this time to unwind. If they react better to getting homework out of the way as soon as they get home, choose this route. Either way, you'll need to have a discussion with your kids about setting a homework schedule that you are both happy with.
When it comes to being actively involved with teachers, PTAs, field trips, college prep, or choosing high school courses, have a discussion with your child about how much of a role they want you to play. Research shows that different students have different preferences when it comes to how active a role their parents play in their education. And studies have shown that being very active doesn't mean your child will do better in school. Your role should be to help as much as your child would like you to, otherwise the best way you can help is to point them toward resources like their advisors and school guidance counselors.