It's been ages since you've tackled an algebra assignment, and now your child is home with a backpack full of homework and needs some guidance. This time around, though, mastering multiplication problems seems harder than it used to be. If you don't feel fully equipped to help him through his study struggles, here are a few ways you or your partner can still pitch in -- without homework hour sounding like nails on a chalkboard.
Don't try to muddle through homework you don't understand. Pretending you're a geography guru will lead to mass confusion (we're pretty sure Orlando is not the capital of Florida). Instead, when you've reached a roadblock, send an e-mail to the teacher for clarification or touch base with her at drop-off and request extra resources on the topic. "Avoid trying to learn something quickly," says Neil McNerney, author of Homework: A Parent's Guide to Helping Out Without Freaking Out. "This has backfired on me numerous times because my kids can always tell." Attempting to wing it will probably confuse your child and distract her from her teacher's explanation.
The marvels of modern technology can come in handy if a particular problem has you scratching your head. "Use the Internet," McNerney says. "There are amazing teaching tools online that can help with a homework issue." A quick search on the Internet can often provide the clarity you need or jar some basic academic concepts back to the forefront of your mind. There are also online forums (including subscription-based ones) dedicated to certain subjects that can help you brush up your skills. McNerney recommends The Khan Academy for math, and CyberSleuth Kids offers free study help for subjects including language arts and science.
Don't hesitate to phone a friend -- take some time to identify the areas you don't excel in and create a roster of people you know who are adept in those subjects, such as your science-minded spouse and your history-buff neighbor, and who would be willing to help when you and your child are stumped. Ask your child to suggest contacts as well, so he'll feel comfortable reaching out for help when you can't support him. If his school has a class blog or online Listserv, have him note and create a list of kids in his class whom he can count on. Chances are, there is always someone who can help.
Consider using your social-media network to broaden your group of smarty-pants backups. A post on Facebook, Twitter, or other networking site may soon lead to your newsfeed being jam-packed with information on the Constitution or tips on how to craft a haiku.
If you're attempting to make dinner while trying to master the order of the planets in the solar system, there is guaranteed to be a mix-up along the way. Doing everything plus a side of fractions is going to create a tense, distracted environment. "Getting frustrated and emotional in front of a child does not help the situation," says Joshua Langberg, Ph.D., a school psychologist and assistant professor of psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University. "This leads to arguments between the parent and child." Your ability to comprehend an assignment may be hindered if you don't read it properly. So before you stress about what you don't know, take a break and give it a second glance later on, when you can focus.
If your child is really struggling with homework and you aren't able to help him, consider finding and investing in a tutor. Dr. Langberg points out that the transition to middle school means heavier workloads and tougher assignments from multiple teachers, so as elementary school years come to an end, it may be a good time to enlist outside help.