Do you find it tempting to help your child as they struggle with their homework? Too much of it can hinder several aspects of their self-development, experts warn. Picture used for illustrative purposes only. Image Credit: Pexels

Dubai: Weekends are meant to unwind. At least on paper. If you are an adult, though, weekends can often mean getting on top of all the chores you need done before the next week kicks in. As it turns out, things aren’t much easier even if you are a child.

How often does your son or daughter come back home on a Friday, with a bunch of books and worksheets? With just a day or two of the weekend available to get all things done, you might be tempted to steamroll through the assignments, ‘helping’ your children rather generously to tick the task off the list.

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But child development experts who spoke with Gulf News warned parents of the long-term impact this ‘help’ may have on children.

How homework helps

The struggle is real ... and helpful. The challenge of a difficult task can not only help children develop resilience, but also give them a sense of accomplishment when they successfully complete it.

By providing a challenge, homework allows children to build and strengthen their thinking abilities.

When faced with a difficult question or an assignment, children are encouraged to think critically, explains Priscilla Joan Augustine, a Dubai-based child and family therapist.

“They need to analyse the problem, identify relevant information, and come up with solutions. This critical thinking fosters a deeper understanding of the subject and hones their ability to approach problems independently,” she says. It’s an opportunity to engage in discussion and to puzzle a problem through.

Moreover, there’s a feeling of success when they solve a problem. It gives their confidence a boost. They learn the value of perseverance and the satisfaction of overcoming obstacles through hard work.

They need to analyse the problem, identify relevant information, and come up with solutions. This critical thinking fosters a deeper understanding of the subject and hones their ability to approach problems independently.

- Priscilla Joan Augustine, a Dubai-based child and family therapist

This struggle through homework is necessary, according to Saeeda Almarzooqi, a Dubai-based clinical psychologist. “Successfully completing a challenging homework assignment gives them confidence. It teaches them the value of perseverance and the satisfaction of overcoming obstacles through hard work. The struggle is a natural part of the learning process, and helps them to develop resilience,” she adds.

Successfully completing a challenging homework assignment gives them confidence. It teaches them the value of perseverance and the satisfaction of overcoming obstacles through hard work.

- Saeeda Almarzooqi, a Dubai-based clinical psychologist

Not just this, the act of grappling with challenging concepts and figuring things out on their own, leads to a deeper understanding and better knowledge retention. There’s no point in simply copying answers; they don’t create lasting memory pathways in the brain, she adds.

So, while offering guidance is crucial, parents shouldn't take the wheel when it comes to homework.

‘A quick fix’

When parents do the homework for children, it’s doing them a disservice, adds Augustine. They gradually become accustomed to this pattern, and eventually, when they grow up, they will find it difficult to solve problems on their own, she says. It’s a quick fix, explains Almarzooqi. “You’re taking away their chance to be independent,” she says. As they grow older, they become more dependent on others, believing that they’re not capable enough to solve a problem on their own. It creates a sense of ‘helplessness’ and they don’t wish to even try to attempt minor challenges, finally.

For instance: Imagine a child who forgets a multiplication table and has a parent who readily provides the answers for every homework problem. This child might not develop the motivation to memorise the tables themselves, hindering their future math progress.

If they do not experience the process of planning, thinking through challenges, getting trapped by obstacles, they won’t develop the initiative of taking charge of learning in other areas, explain the specialists. “They might wait for someone else to provide direction and complete tasks rather than taking ownership of their responsibilities,” she says.

Moreover, this reduces their critical thinking skills, says Augustine. “When parents take over homework, they unintentionally rob their children of the chance to learn from their mistakes and develop problem-solving skills. Completing assignments independently helps children understand concepts, build confidence, and become resourceful learners,” she says.

When you complete their homework for them, it limits the learning opportunities for them and the satisfaction of overcoming a hurdle. As a result, they begin to believe that everything is a quick fix; they need instant gratification.

As Almarzooqi reminds, homework isn’t about just ‘getting it right’, it is one aspect of becoming independent. They develop essential skills, build knowledge and also identify their learning gaps, when they are struggling with concepts.

How do mums in the UAE approach homework?

Image Credit: Pexels

“You have Arabic homework today, would you like to do it before I come back from work?” I ask my six-year-old, as I get the afternoon update from the kids.

Pat comes the reply: “No thank you … I’d like you to help me.”

Another failed moment at gently nudging my child to do something …

But while the first grader may not sit down to do her homework voluntarily, requiring an adult to be constantly present next to her, so that she doesn’t wander away to find something more fun to do, I sometimes have to stop myself from helping her with the task itself.

Sure, I’ll help her understand the question, but am I nudging her too much towards the correct answer? Sometimes, yes. At other times, I’ll let her sit with the task for as long as she needs to understand the question, consider the options given and give the answer she thinks is right. It's a daily challenge, and some days are definitely tougher than others.

But are other mums also facing a similar struggle? Speaking to mothers from different backgrounds, the answers were varied, quite often on the basis of the curriculum that the child took.

Saranya Thananjyan, a mother of two, said that while her older daughter did not need much help when she was in kindergarten, starting grade school has been tough.

“After she has started Grade 1, when I ask her to do her homework, it takes a lot of time and she ends up getting tired, bored and angry. So, I have to sit with her so that she does her homework, and it takes a lot of patience from me, as I have to repeat myself five or six times. Honestly, even I get tired, as I have a younger child to take care of as well,” she said.

She felt that schools should also be more conscious of assigning work that they know the child would be equipped to complete without losing focus or requiring an adult’s assistance.

Dr Nazish Humayun, who is a mother of three, said that she has always tried to make it easy for her children to focus on the process of learning, so that they can develop a love for learning.

“My six-year-old gets homework once a week and it is very light. He brings home a book that he has to read, so he sits down 15 minutes each day. He also has some online activities for math and phonics, which is somewhat like playing games online. Once I have logged in, he continues practising it, so he actually enjoys it and looks forward to it,” she said.

“With the eleven-year-old, she does get homework, but again it is not every day and it is more of independent research work or project work, where she has to look up information and present it in school. So, I sit down with her may be once a week, just to revise what she has done in school. She doesn’t get homework, but more of group work and independent learning, so she just runs it past me to see how the project is going. The 16-year-old, because she is in that time of school where she has exams and the final two years of school left, where the studies are getting more intense, I do spend time with her almost on a daily basis for at least one hour, to help explain things or go through some materials together,” she added.

Deema, another Dubai-based mum of three, said that while she doesn’t help her children with the homework, she does have to track what they do, to make sure they don’t miss out on deadlines.

“The school has online platforms, where they submit their homework, but as a parent I have a responsibility to follow up with them. Ask them if they’ve completed the task, or if they faced any difficulty. If I leave my children without asking them, they would still do their homework but they might miss a deadline or they may feel like they understand what their homework is about but actually they don’t. For example, one of my kids has the habit of doing the minimum – so there will be bronze, silver and gold questions, he’ll always choose the bronze questions, because they are the easy ones. Even though he can answer the tougher ones, he would rather get done with the assignment quickly,” she said.

There are other moments, though, when she does have to sit down with her children to complete the tasks, particularly when it comes to Arabic or Islamic studies.

“As everything is usually in English, the Arabic is challenging for them. But when it comes to other work, I don’t need to supervise them or follow up,” she added.