You are here

Stop Sabotaging Learning and Set Your Child Up for Success

According to The National Center for Family Literacy, nearly 50 percent of parents feel they can’t help their children with homework because they don’t understand the material. And let’s face it, for most parents it’s been a long time since they’ve been in a classroom. So what should parents do, and not do, to set their children up for success? 

Watch what you say

You may think your casual comments don’t matter, but they could be sabotaging learning:

“I wasn’t good at math when I was your age either.”

Parents often say this to comfort their child, but what they’re really doing is giving them an escape hatch. The next time your child complains about math try this instead: “I know math can be really tough, but I also know that you can do it. Let’s work together to figure this out.” This way you have acknowledged their feelings, but also let them know that they are capable of the challenge ahead.

“This assignment is stupid.”

Lashing out models the wrong behavior for your child. Focus on trying to figure out what the teacher wants by having your child email the teacher to get more advice. There are also great sites like Khan Academy that explain concepts via video.

“Sit down and finish all your homework right now or no computer time!”

Experts generally agree that students should get about 10 minutes of homework per grade level. That’s 90 minutes of homework for your ninth grader! Research shows students don’t concentrate well for long periods. Rather than demanding your child finish all his homework in one sitting, encourage him to take breaks every 20 to 30 minutes. That’s a great time to check their phone, get a snack or just get up and stretch. They’ll complain less and be more productive.

“You just have to learn it for the test.”

Encouraging kids to cram for the test means they’ll never really learn the material, which can be a problem when most math and science concepts build on one another. Your child needs to know what’s on this test to do next week’s lesson. surveyed 500 math tutors, and they said the No. 1 reason students don’t understand something is because they missed a previous concept in class. 

What to do

You can make homework time fun (or at least more bearable) and stop the tears, complaints and stress by trying the following:

Set up a homework routine.

If you don’t have a routine set up yet, do it as soon as you can. Kids work better when they have a routine that is right for them. Some kids do better right after school. Other kids need to come home and decompress for a while before they can face their homework. It doesn’t matter what time you choose, just make a conscious choice and try to stick to it.

You can help, but not too much.

If you’re lucky enough to understand your child’s homework, it’s tempting to help a bit too much. It is okay to do one sample problem with them to get them “unstuck,” but don’t do three or four, or soon you are the one doing the homework.  

Make it fun.

It is easier than you think! If your daughter is a visual learner go online and find a great video that can help her. Or, if your son is studying and needs to memorize equations for a test, help him create a goofy song. This helps make kids more relaxed and ready to learn.

Become a time-management ninja.

Middle school and high school students need to balance academics, extracurricular activities and their social lives. Help your children put together a schedule either online or use an erasable whiteboard, whatever works for your family. Make sure you add in study time each school night to help your children see when they are truly free. After several months, your student may be able to take over the calendar with less help. 

Big projects? Start small.

Older children have more long-term assignments, such as a research paper or essay assigned in October but due in November. It’s easy to procrastinate and then find your son or daughter in a panic a few days before the due date. Help them map out a plan where they complete a piece of the assignment every few weeks, such as going to the library for research followed by completing an outline. Having regular due dates will help keep projects on track and reduce last-minute meltdowns. 

It all counts.

If your child is planning on going to college, their freshman GPA will go on their college transcript. Make sure your child is taking the right mix of classes and see what support is available at the school. You can make an appointment with your child’s school counselor to ensure you are on the right track.


A great biology grade, finished essay or a week of completed homework assignments deserves some recognition. Come up with something that works for your family— maybe it’s dessert at your favorite ice cream shop or a new app. Your child will appreciate being celebrated!

Mandy Ginsberg is the CEO of, an IAC company, that powers tutoring and homework help programs for the Department of Defense; thousands of public libraries, school districts, colleges and universities; and the states of Alabama, Alaska, Louisiana, Montana, North Dakota, Rhode Island and the District of Columbia.