With New Jersey youngsters getting set to return to school next week, the joys of nightly homework assignments are about to begin once again.

Some kids don’t have any issues with homework, but many others do, and parents are left wondering how much they should step in and assist, and what kind of help they should offer.

“It really depends. It will vary with the kid and the circumstances,” said child psychologist Steven Tobias, director of the Center for Child & Family Development in Morristown.

He said if there’s resistance about homework, it’s important to figure out what’s causing it.

“Whether it’s an academic issue, scheduling and stress issue or a self esteem issue, these are all possible, and it’s important to address whatever the cause of the difficulty is,” he said.

He said especially in younger children, “the thing I think homework teaches best is a sense of responsibility, that I think is an important lesson for kids to learn, to be responsible, to keep track of their assignments.”

He also said it’s important for parents to establish a “first you work, then you play” rule when it comes to homework.

Tobias stressed if a homework assignment isn’t up to snuff, having a parent step in and essentially take over and start re-doing it is not a good idea.

“The important thing is that the child learns to take responsibility for themselves,” he said.

So ... sink or swim?

Tobias said children should learn getting their homework completed is up to them, but “if a kid is having academic difficulty, I think it’s very important for the parent to partner with the school to figure out what’s going on, and what’s the best way of approaching it.”

He said a bad grade may motivate a child to ramp up his or her effort, but sometimes that’s not the case.

“If the parent has a sink-or-swim approach, the school has a sink-or-swim approach and the kid keeps sinking, all right, there’s a problem," Tobias said.

He added to what degree the parent helps with homework depends on the situation.

“Sometimes a parent does need to get more involved so that the child can understand what to do and do the assignment correctly,” he said.

Tobias stressed homework teaches kids to follow through, and “the older the child is, the more the parent needs to back off, so certainly by high school it’s the kid’s responsibility to get the work done.”

Tobias also said giving a child a lot of homework when he or she is very young can be counter-productive.

“In elementary school, there’s no correlation between homework and academic achievement,” he said.

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com.

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