Many parents help themselves by helping with homework

Parents with positive attitude towards homework, who feel competent in subjects, more likely positively reinforce kids' motivation to do homework.

June 19, 2011 03:02
3 minute read.
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Many parents help their children with homework either to encourage their learning or because they themselves enjoy hitting the books, according to a study by Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. Furthermore, parents who hold positive attitudes toward homework and feel competent in the subjects are more likely to support their kids’ psychological needs and reinforce positive motivation for doing homework, it was found.

In an article accepted for publication in Learning and Individual Differences, Dr. Idit Katz, Dr. Avi Kaplan and doctoral student Tamara Buzukashvily of the education department studied 135 fourth graders and one of each child’s parents in two southern elementary schools. The students and parents were asked to fill out questionnaires regarding their motivation for doing homework or helping with homework, respectively. Among the sample, over 60 percent of parents reported being involved with their child’s homework at least once a week, and only 4% said they weren’t involved at all.

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While homework has been an integral part of education since the mid-19th century, and is an often-used but controversial educational practice, little formal research about the home environment in which it takes place has been conducted. The home environment is just as important for instilling positive motivation as the school is, argue the researchers.

The researchers found that if parents felt they were capable of helping their children, they had a more positive attitude toward it and believed that it had an intrinsic value that went beyond getting a higher grade. These attitudes provided a supportive framework that prompted the children to do their homework out of intrinsic/autonomous motivation rather than from extrinsic/controlled reasons – for the learning value, or because they enjoyed it rather than just because it was assigned.

“Previous studies have shown that learning for intrinsic reasons has more positive emotional and cognitive benefits than learning out of a sense of duty, desire to please, or to avoid punishment, which can increase fear of failure, test anxiety and at worst even cause them to drop out of school,” said Katz.

The researchers hypothesized that a model based on self-determination theory would best describe the relationship between parents and children regarding homework.

Self-determination theory “is a macro theory of human motivation concerned with the development and functioning of personality within social contexts. The theory specifies a continuum of motivational orientations for activities, ranging from extrinsic/controlled regulation (engagement out of coercion or for achieving a reward) to intrinsic/autonomous motivation (engagement for pleasure, interest and enjoyment). Research results are quite consistent about the strong influence of the environment on motivation, and by suggesting that the more autonomous the motivation, the higher the quality of engagement and wellbeing of the student.”

Thus, if parents felt competent to help and were motivated to do so by a desire to encourage their child to learn, or to spend time with their child, they were more likely to provide support for their child’s psychological needs by creating an environment in which the child could express criticism of the homework, and come up with interesting (if not necessarily correct) answers. The parents’ criticism was also more likely to be voiced privately and not in front of others. Parents acting out of autonomous motivations were more willing to say their children could come back to them at any time. This parental behavior was in turn found to be related to the child’s intrinsic type of motivation.

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