Parent support can help keep students on track academically, but a new international study suggests a light touch can be more helpful for students in the long run.
Researchers from the University of Eastern Finland and the University of Jyväskylä tracked 365 students who were participating in the longitudinal First Steps study, which followed 1,800 students born in 2000 through elementary and secondary school. As part of the study, the researchers analyzed children’s and their mothers’ interactions around homework in relation to the children’s academic progress from grades 2 to 4. The study focused on mothers rather than fathers.
They found that overall, children benefitted from their mothers helping with homework, but the type of help mattered. Children whose mothers provided homework help when asked—but also gave students opportunities to work independently—both persisted at tasks longer and did better in school over time. By contrast, moms who gave very concrete help—for example, sitting down every night to go over every assignment, even if the child had not asked for help—had children who were less persistent over time.
“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,” said Jaana Viljaranta, a co-author of the study and an associate professor at the University of Eastern Finland, in a statement.
The researchers also found that the parents’ and children’s behavior reinforced one another. The more often students disengaged from homework, the more likely moms were to handhold them through it, while mothers whose children stuck out homework longer gave them more autonomy in future assignments.
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A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.