Enjoy Life

Camilla Locatelli

Subscribe to Camilla Locatelli: eMailAlertsEmail Alerts
Get Camilla Locatelli: homepageHomepage mobileMobile rssRSS facebookFacebook twitterTwitter linkedinLinkedIn


Parents Must Resist the Temptation to Become Teachers

Take advantage of communication options to keep teachers in the loop

Dear Dr. Fournier:

We have no family life anymore. All we do is homework and scream at each other!

Connie R.

Cleveland, OH

Dear Connie:

Most parents have heard their child complain, "But I don't know how to do it!" The natural inclination is to respond, "Let me help." Unfortunately, this leads many parents to cross the line of parenting into teaching. Instead of feeling helped, many children feel alone, intimidated and, finally, humiliated.


Let’s suppose for a moment your child has just started fractions. His teacher covered the material in class, and assigned the next 20 problems for homework. Your child tried to make out his notes and recall the teacher’s explanations, but they didn’t make sense. He called on you who said, “That's easy! I’ll show you how.” The problems were indeed easy for you: you learned them years ago and had a unique way of understanding the concept. That’s how you are going to teach it to your child.

For the child, however, your explanation was like starting all over again. He or she tries to listen and do what you said, but it didn’t work. The more you explain, the less your child listens. What has gone wrong?

When your child asked for help, you needed to make a crucial distinction: Is my son ready to learn or does he need more teaching? But you have been confusing your role as a parent with the role of a teacher.

It is the parents’ job to develop the skills of responsibility and self-reliance - skills that lead to responsible actions. But developing responsibility and teaching are two different things.


When parents respond to that often-heard cry, "I don't know how to do it" they must be mindful of their own responsibility - to make the important distinction between learning and teaching.

Parents must realize that just because a child has been taught, it does not follow that the child has yet learned, or actually taken ownership of the new knowledge. Some children have been taught enough that minimal additional teaching will lead them to learning. However, parents who cannot explain a concept to their child in ten to fifteen minutes should realize that their child needs more teaching.

The parents' job is teaching responsibility and self-reliance, not teaching schoolwork.

When your child asks for help, sit down in a separate spot - away from the homework area - and ask for a brief explanation of the problem. If you believe your child is ready for learning but just lacks a little bit to get started, try to fill in the missing gap. This gentle nudge toward learning should not take more than ten to fifteen minutes.

If you find that your child does not understand the concepts, additional teaching should be done by a teacher and not by a parent. Help your child understand what pieces of information are missing, and then phrase it in a specific question for the teacher. Many children will be afraid of taking questions to the teacher, but learning how to ask for information is an important part of the education process.

In this age of digital connectivity, you can follow up on your child’s question with the teacher via e-mail or school website, but it is important that your child is the one who composes and sends the question if it is an email, or asks in person as was planned. This is an important step in developing responsibility, and it will not be able to come to fruition of you take the matter entirely into your hands. Expect hesitancy and fear, but encourage your child to overcome them. After all, knowing what you don't know is the key to being a knowledgeable person.

At the beginning of the school year, let your child's teacher know that you will be following this course of action. Initially, the teacher may want you to sign the child's questions to know that you have discussed the problem together.

Don't confuse your roles. Just as we parents must refrain from being at home teachers, we also must refrain from asking teachers to be substitute parents. When each job is fulfilled in the student-educator-parent learning partnership, the job of learning how to learn becomes easier.

And we parents can enjoy just being parents.


Have a question about education, education-related issues or your child’s schoolwork or homework? Ask Dr. Fournier and look for her answer in this column. E-mail your question or comment to Dr. Yvonne Fournier at [email protected].


More Stories By Dr. Yvonne Fournier

Dr. Yvonne Fournier is Founder and President of Fournier Learning Strategies. Her column, "Hassle-Free Homework" was published by the Scripps Howard News Service for 20 years. She has been a pharmacist, public health administrator, demographer and entrepreneur. Dr. Fournier, arguably one of the most prolific of educators and child advocates in America today, has followed her own roadmap, calling not just for change or improvement in education but for an entirely new model.

She remains one of the most controversial opponents of the current education system in America.