Dear Bracha,

Is there a special formula for how much time and effort I should be putting into my daughter's homework? My daughter is eleven and constantly tells me that the other parents help out so much more with projects and extra assignments. Is homework meant for the parent or the child? I don't want to stifle her creativity but at the same time I don't want her to feel that her work is always sub-par because she isn't getting as much adult input.

Homework Mom

Dear Homework Mom,

To give you the short answer to your question: is there a formula on how much time and effort you should put in to your daughter's homework, the answer is – no. Unfortunately homework is one of those things that is as individual as a fingerprint. Some children need more and some need less time. However, finding out the difference between what your child needs and what she wants is the real issue!

An eleven year old is capable of a lot, but not everything. The idea behind a project and assignments is to teach a number of skills including independent study and research, as well as time management and organizational skills. Over and above all these, I believe, is the love of learning. The excitement and discovery is what makes it worthwhile and what makes it fun!

So, to answer the second part of your question, every assignment will vary, but you will have to make an assessment on the basis of her excitement and discovery, with the focus on trying to get your daughter involved and take ownership for her work. If you can get her to become engaged and self-motivated because she finds the challenge interesting, nothing will beat that! Assisting her to put a polish on her work is fine, but you cannot read the information nor do the research for her, though you can guide her.

Going beyond this, even when considering ego and competing with fellow students and their parents, will teach your daughter the wrong things. It must be her work.

As to your first question, on how much time one should be helping one's child with regular home work: As long as your child does not have any learning disabilities then I would suggest approximately half-an-hour a day of one-on-one time. The basic exception to this is for children who have not yet mastered reading. This is such an important and fundamental skill that parents should remain focused on it until proficiency is achieved.

I'm sure that a lot of parents are doing a great deal more than half-an-hour a day with their children, but keep in mind:

1) This half-an-hour is one-on-one, meaning, intense interaction with no interruptions. You should still be available to answer questions from time to time, outside the half-hour allotment.

2) Carefully assess your child's needs. Decide how much of the time that you spent with her on homework, she actually needed and how much has become routine based on keeping you near her and the attention she receives from you.

Children seek attention from their parents as a natural need. Homework is a phenomenal attention getting device. Gain control of the attention-getting aspect of homework or it can lead to what I call "learned helplessness," where a capable child realizes (subconsciously) that if she does things on her own then this decreases the amount of time her parent spends with her. She becomes more and more dependant on her parents because she "just can't do it herself."

If you only decrease contact when she is working well on her own and increase contact when she is having difficulty, then the more difficulty she has, the more contact with you she gets. This is not the type of scenario you want to encourage. Change things around and reward independence. Limit the amount of time she can call on you for assistance and work out some sort of daily reward system, (remember YOU are the reward!) for doing a good job on homework independently.

How you deal with the issue of homework will feed directly into your child's ability to work independently for his/her entire 14 years of schooling and beyond. Though this takes a lot of analytic effort and self-control, I am sure it will pay big dividends in creating a more positive homework situation, and less stress in the home in general.

Enjoy your daughter and these wonderful years of discovery. Wishing you and your family all the best!