Some parents feel that helping a child do homework is cheating, but much depends upon the circumstance, the degree of help, the age of the child, and the teacher’s expectation of child or parental involvement in the homework. Some homework, especially large projects, may require the help of the parent, and the teacher not only hopes but also expects that parents will assist their kids. At other times, helping a child do homework can be cheating, especially when “helping” is defined as the parent actually “doing” most of the homework.
It’s certainly true that homework is part of the learning process. Children may not know all the answers or may be confused over a particular section or problem in their homework. It certainly isn’t cheating if you work with the child on a problem they don’t understand, provided you are helping them to arrive at ways to solve similar problems in the future.
You should not approach a problem a child can’t answer without trying to make it a teaching moment. In other words, turn questions your children have about homework into opportunities to enhance their learning. You might want to keep track, too, of a child that is having repeated difficulties with a specific subject or concept and enlist the teacher’s aid in helping the child during class with this concept.
Unless learning disabilities are present, you may find yourself helping a child do homework when they’re in the first few primary grades. While this help doesn’t represent cheating, too much help can create an unnecessary dependency on the parent to “always” help in the future. Part of the learning curve with early homework assignments is learning how to do homework, how to structure time, and how to remember or record assignments. Even when children have questions, encourage them to do every problem they can, or even try to do the problem, before stepping in to help. While some help is expected and even needed, don’t step in until you’re asked, unless you see a child really struggling or unable to complete homework most of the time.
There’s a slightly different approach toward helping a child do homework if the child has learning disabilities. You might, for instance, work as a scribe for a child who has difficulty writing due to dysgraphia. Many kids, even those without learning disabilities like ADHD, may have trouble staying focused. It can be important to watch these children carefully and redirect them as needed to their work. Some children may need you to sit by them most of the time while they complete homework or it simply doesn’t get finished.
As children age, reasonable expectation exists that they will be able to do homework more independently, provided learning disabilities don’t make this difficult. You still can help children do homework here, possibly by checking over their work when they’ve finished it. Some kids may still need prompts.
You might look at an essay a child has written on a book and say something like “That’s a good argument, but can you find a quote from the book that will support it.” Try to avoid huge corrections to a child’s homework, and also if you’re working on written work with a child, do not pick up a pencil. Don’t work out a math problem for a child; work it out with him/her.
The degree to which you’re helping a child do homework is very individual. If you help too much, you rob the child of valuable learning experiences, and doing your child’s work is really not only cheating the school, but also cheating the child. Helping too little may mean the child is missing opportunities to understand concepts. In general, let your child show you how and where help is required, and be more involved if your child seems overly frustrated by assignments that aren’t understood, or when a child can’t seem to remain focused on completing work.