A new Finnish study finds that elementary school children whose mothers help with homework by encouraging more academic independence tend to need less help later on.
In other words, the more opportunities for autonomous work the mother offered the child, the more task-persistent the child’s became. This, in turn, encouraged mothers to offer more and more opportunities for independent working.
In contrast, when the mother offered assistance by concretely helping the child, the less task-persistent the child’s later behavior. This, in turn, made mothers offer more and more help.
These associations between different types of maternal homework help and the child’s task-persistent behavior remained even after the researchers factored in the child’s skill level.
“One possible explanation is that when the mother gives her child an opportunity to do homework autonomously, the mother also sends out a message that she believes in the child’s skills and capabilities. This, in turn, makes the child believe in him- or herself, and in his or her skills and capabilities,” said Associate Professor Jaana Viljaranta from the University of Eastern Finland.
Similarly, concrete homework assistance — especially if not requested by the child — may send out a message that the mother doesn’t believe in the child’s ability to finish the task.
The findings also suggest that task-persistence is a mediating factor between different types of maternal homework assistance and the child’s academic performance. This helps explain previous studies showing that some types of maternal homework assistance predict better academic performance than others.
Overall, the study finds that when the mother offers her child an opportunity for independent working, the child will work persistently, which leads to better development of skills. If, however, the mother’s homework help involves a higher level of concrete assistance, the child tends to work less persistently, leading to poorer development of skills.
“It is important for parents to take the child’s needs into consideration when offering homework assistance. Of course, parents should offer concrete help when their child clearly needs it. However, concrete help is not something that should be made automatically available in every situation — only when needed,” Viljaranta says.
The research is part of the First Steps Study, an extensive longitudinal study conducted by researchers at the University of Jyväskylä, the University of Eastern Finland and the University of Turku. The study looks at student learning and motivation among approximately 2,000 children from kindergarten and up. Children currently participating in the study are now in secondary education.
Source: University of Eastern Finland