Suggestions for Montessori Parents: Helping with Homework

January 04, 2016
namc montessori suggestions for helping with homework teacher and children at computer
Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed.
—Maria Montessori
Words of Wisdom, p. 58.

Two headlines recently popped up in my newsfeed, and as a parent of a young university student, I was curious to learn more.

Former Stanford dean explains why helicopter parenting is ruining a generation of children
Emma Brown, Washington Post

Helicopter parents stir up anxiety, depression
IU News Room/Indiana University

In the first article, Julie Lythcott-Haims suggests that parents, in an effort to protect and shield children from failure, do more harm than good. Over-helping, she says, causes harm by leaving our young adults “without the strengths of skill, will and character that are needed to know themselves and to craft a life.” (Brown, 2015)

Although parents may think they are promoting healthy self-esteem when they help their children, research indicates otherwise. Lythcott-Haims cites statistics that demonstrate an increase in depression and other emotional health problems in today’s youth. The same message appears in Indiana University’s article, interviewing psychologist Chris Meno about over-parented college students:

The fruits of parental over-involvement include higher levels of anxiety and depression among adult children, Meno said. ‘When children aren’t given the space to struggle through things on their own, they don’t learn to problem-solve very well. They don't learn to be confident in their own abilities, and it can affect their self-esteem. The other problem with never having to struggle is that you never experience failure and can develop an overwhelming fear of failure and of disappointing others. Both the low self-confidence and the fear of failure can lead to depression or anxiety.’
(Indiana University, 2015)

Helping Children with Homework: Suggestions for Montessori Parents

Dr. Montessori knew all of this. She told us, “If teaching is to be effective with young children, it must assist them to advance on the way to independence.” (Montessori, 1967) If we substitute the word “parenting” for “teaching,” the truth is the same. We must allow our children to become self-sufficient, trusting in their own strengths, knowing their own weaknesses, and learning to fall and pick themselves back up again.

namc montessori suggestions for helping with homework girl reading a book

One way we can help our children grow is to stop doing their homework. Studies show links to parental engagement to better grades, higher test scores, less substance abuse, and better college outcomes (Heffernan, 2014); however, there is a stark difference between helping and hovering. Here are some tips for helping and guiding homework.

  • 1. Wait to be asked.

    If your child doesn’t ask for your help, it is likely that he doesn’t need it. This is his project/book report/math work/essay. If you jump in to help before being asked, your child may end up feeling unworthy and the message he is learning is that you can do it better than he can.

  • 2. Be available and supportive.

    When your child does ask, put down your phone or turn off the TV. When you do, you place value and importance on her work.

  • 3. Focus on the process not the product.

    Encourage the learning process. Learning is so much more than the right answer. It’s about how you get there.

  • 4. The final product is ultimately your child’s.

    Remember that this is your child’s work and it should reflect his ability and interests.

  • 5. Provide the tools and space necessary for success.

    A quiet, well-lit place to study is conducive to good study habits. You wouldn’t be expected to do your work sitting in the back of a car on the way to soccer practice or in a crowded, noisy fast-food restaurant. Children are learning how to work and study, so we must take care to prepare that study environment for them. Set a study schedule and adhere to it. Establishing a routine ensures good work habits down the road.

  • 6. Hold him accountable.

    Does he have questions about the assignment or due dates? Is he having trouble with the notes he took in class? Does he need to retake a test? Let him go to the teacher and ask for help. You can role play the dialog at home, giving him the tools he needs to be comfortable, but don’t do it for him. If he asks you do it, suggest you go together. You can stand by as moral support, but let him do the talking.

When we allow our children to learn and grow as they need to, they become capable, responsible, independent adults. Don’t take that away from them.

Works Cited
Brown, Emma. “Former Stanford dean explains why helicopter parenting is ruining a generation of children.” The Washington Post. October 16, 2015.
Heffernan, Lisa E. “The case for nagging kids about their homework.” The Atlantic. January 6, 2014.
Indiana University. “‘Helicopter parents’ stir up anxiety, depression.” IU News Room/Indiana University. October 20, 2015.
Montessori, Maria. The Discovery of the Child. New York, NY: Ballantine Books, 1967.
Safire, William and Leonard Safir, ed. Words of Wisdom. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 1990.

Michelle Irinyi — NAMC Tutor & Graduate
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