Katie Davis

8 min Read Katie Davis

Katie Davis

How Much Should Parents Help Their Kids With School?

The benefits of struggling

Katie Davis

8 min Read

Today’s guest post is from psychologist Dr. Katie Davis, and it’s about how involved we should be in trying to fix things for our kids. As my kids have gotten older, this is something I think about all the time. If they feel bad, I want to make it better. Dr. Davis makes the case that, sometimes, we shouldn’t. —Emily


It’s a common misconception that therapy is supposed to make people happy. As a child psychologist, I regularly advise parents that my job is not to eliminate their children’s frustration, anxiety, and disappointment; instead, I am supposed to help kids process, tolerate, and perhaps even see the value in these emotions. Feeling bad is not always bad, and it’s critical that children face obstacles, small and big, with a measure of independence, so they can learn to navigate the challenges of life that will always surround them.

All that advice has gone completely out the window watching my 4-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Eleanor, start pre-K at the public school in our neighborhood.

I am fortunate to live in New York City, where we have universal public pre-kindergarten, and that we are zoned for a well-regarded school. But Eleanor’s transition to public school from her private synagogue-based nursery school has not been easy. The public-school day is longer, the building is busier, the class size is larger, and, most significantly, there is so much that is new for her — she started the school year not knowing a single kid in her class. And as her mom, it has been heartbreaking each morning to watch my silly, enthusiastic daughter appear anxious and reserved as she walks into the school building.

My first instinct, like many parents, is to get involved in an effort to “make things better.” Eleanor’s teacher generously provided us with her cellphone number. I could text her and request updates and pictures from the day. I could hound the PTA president for a class contact list so that I could start scheduling play dates with her classmates. I could call our prior nursery school and beg them to take her back for the remainder of the school year, and then transition her to public school next year when she seems a little bit older and more mature.

Frankly, I think taking action would do a lot to relieve my own anxiety and guilt, and, somewhere in the emotion center of my mind, it would reassure me I was being a good mom. But I’d be wrong: rationally, I know that the best thing I can do for Eleanor at this point is to remind her that she’s safe and to be patient as I wait for the day — which I imagine is not so far away — when she develops comfort in her environment and school seems not so new anymore. And in the meantime, I can remind myself, as I remind the parents of children in my practice, of the confidence she’ll develop as she begins to internalize that she can adjust to major life changes, to regulate her own emotions, and to develop new relationships without my involvement.

So how involved should I be in my kid’s school?

Since my research and clinical practice focus on cognitive development and learning, I interact every day with families of children who are struggling in school, and I know that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to parenting that is perfect in supporting academic development. That said, there has been a lot written about helicopter parenting, and a recent rise in maladaptive parental overinvolvement connects to our increasingly achievement-focused culture. We have collectively become terrified of letting our kids take risks, and though we may have the best intentions in mind when we try to protect our kids from stress and disappointment, we are actually doing them a major disservice. The pioneering work of Carol Dweck on the concept of a growth mindset, coupled with Angela Duckworth’s research on grit, underscores that adversity is not always negative. Instead, they emphasize that setbacks can serve as invaluable learning opportunities, fostering resilience and perseverance — key qualities in achieving long-term success in life.

Take homework, for instance. I’ll leave the never-ending debate about the purpose and value of homework to others for now. But one indisputable benefit of homework is that it helps kids develop metacognition: thinking about their own thinking, and understanding what they do and do not yet know. It’s one thing to sit in a classroom and follow along as a teacher solves a math problem on the board. It’s another thing entirely to go home and attempt a similar problem independently. Kids will never really know if they can do math without doing it on their own. And parents who are overly involved in homework — who sit with their kids and do the homework “together” or, alternatively, who bring in homework helpers and tutors — deprive their children of that experience entirely. And perhaps most importantly, they deprive kids of the chance to struggle and fail, to increase their frustration tolerance, to learn from mistakes, and to feel a true sense of ownership and accomplishment when they finally succeed.

That’s not to say that parents should remain completely uninvolved in kids’ homework. Homework is also meant to help kids develop their executive functioning: the cognitive processes that enable us to plan, organize, initiate, manage time, sustain attention, switch focus, and adapt to changing circumstances, all of which are essential for goal-oriented tasks and problem-solving. These skills don’t develop in a vacuum. Parents and other caregivers can — and should — support executive functioning by supporting homework completion: helping kids organize a to-do list, stay on task, prioritize, take necessary breaks, keep track of materials, and meet deadlines.

But there is an important distinction between completing homework and getting everything right. Parents shouldn’t concern themselves with whether the work is correct. In fact, even if they know it’s all wrong, they should encourage their kids to hand it in as-is. It’s completely understandable that many parents find it challenging to accept when their children submit homework that they know is incorrect. We all want to see our children excel! However, it is the parents’ job strictly to make sure the work is complete, consistent with teacher instructions, and handed in on time — nothing more. If the urge to correct every error becomes overwhelming, perhaps try to take a step back and focus more on effort and progress. Or just don’t look! Remember that, sometimes, it’s best not to scrutinize every answer too closely and instead emphasize the importance of the learning process itself.

The same idea applies to parent-teacher communications. I’m all for strong parent-teacher alliances: family engagement in school communities not only strengthens educational partnerships between parents, teachers, and students but also sends a powerful message to children that their education is valued and prioritized by their loved ones. Get involved in class by joining the PTA, becoming a lunch volunteer, or chaperoning field trips if time allows. But often it is best if the parent takes a step back and allows the child to negotiate their own relationship with the teacher. Rather than reaching out directly to the teacher, the parent can encourage — and perhaps coach — the child to reach out on their own. This advice holds true regardless of the child’s age, even if (especially if!) the conversation that needs to happen is a difficult one. Teaching children to speak assertively to teachers fosters communication skills, confidence, independence, and a sense of responsibility. It allows them to manage conflict and advocate for their needs and concerns, and, ultimately, it prepares them for effective self-advocacy in the future.

Admittedly, all this is so much easier to say as a psychologist than it is as a parent. But even when it comes to Eleanor, I constantly remind myself that the best thing to do when my daughter struggles, in and out of school, is to take a step back. Rather than intervening, I can focus on three things:

  1. I can practice active listening, providing space for her to talk about her concerns without immediately offering solutions or criticism.
  2. I can promote a growth mindset by emphasizing the importance of effort, perseverance, and learning from setbacks.
  3. And if it all becomes too overwhelming for me, I can seek guidance and support from my own friends, family, or professionals.

It’s natural to see Eleanor as my baby, but I understand that she won’t be a baby forever, and it’s my responsibility to help her grow and develop into a resilient person. While I might want to shield her from negative feelings — and trust me, I do — I also know that I must allow her to experience and process the full range of her emotions. I’ll provide a safe and empathetic space for her to express herself, offering guidance and encouragement as she learns to confront and overcome adversity on her own.

0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Kids in a classroom play with Montessori-style toys.

Oct 03 2022

8 min read

Is Montessori School Better?

It depends on what you are trying to accomplish

Emily Oster
A mother looks concerned as she answers her cell phone in at her desk in an office.

Jul 17 2023

6 min read

Why Schools Always Call Moms

A few weeks ago, a new working paper (in economics) was released proving definitively what we all know: the school Read more

Emily Oster
A parent and child look at a book during a homeschool reading session.

Aug 14 2023

8 min read

Is Homeschooling Worth It?

Of the big decisions we make about our school-age children, perhaps none looms larger than … school. Your child will Read more

Emily Oster
A baby cries on their parent's shoulder during daycare drop-off.

Oct 18 2023

3 min read

What Should I Do About Unbearable Preschool Drop-offs?

Everyone says that starting preschool will be good for my 2-year-old. However, the level of hysterical screaming and sobbing at Read more

Emily Oster

Instagram

left right
Looking for Memorial Day Weekend plans? Might be the perfect time to give potty training a shot. Potty training is notoriously difficult, and we unfortunately don’t have a lot of evidence-based guidance on what works best. So I asked the ParentData community to fill out a survey and share their knowledge — about 6,000 people responded.

👉Comment “Link” for a DM to an article that summarizes all of the best potty training advice we collected. 

Remember, you are not alone in the potty training struggle! It can be incredibly challenging, so please give yourself some grace.

#emilyoster #parentdata #pottytraining #pottytrainingtips #toddlertips

Looking for Memorial Day Weekend plans? Might be the perfect time to give potty training a shot. Potty training is notoriously difficult, and we unfortunately don’t have a lot of evidence-based guidance on what works best. So I asked the ParentData community to fill out a survey and share their knowledge — about 6,000 people responded.

👉Comment “Link” for a DM to an article that summarizes all of the best potty training advice we collected.

Remember, you are not alone in the potty training struggle! It can be incredibly challenging, so please give yourself some grace.

#emilyoster #parentdata #pottytraining #pottytrainingtips #toddlertips
...

We’re hiring an Associate Editor at ParentData! More details at my link in bio. Please share with the great writers and data-loving people in your network. 📊💻

We’re hiring an Associate Editor at ParentData! More details at my link in bio. Please share with the great writers and data-loving people in your network. 📊💻 ...

Do you brand things a certain way to get your kid to accept it? Like calling carrots “rabbit popsicles”? Or telling them to put on their “super speed socks” in the morning? Share your rebrands in the comments below! You never know who you might be helping out 👇

#emilyoster #funnytweets #relatabletweets #parentingjokes #kidssaythedarndestthings

Do you brand things a certain way to get your kid to accept it? Like calling carrots “rabbit popsicles”? Or telling them to put on their “super speed socks” in the morning? Share your rebrands in the comments below! You never know who you might be helping out 👇

#emilyoster #funnytweets #relatabletweets #parentingjokes #kidssaythedarndestthings
...

Have you ever panic-googled a parenting question when everyone else is asleep? If so, you’re not alone. 

Today is the first episode of a new biweekly series on my podcast: Late-Night Panic Google. On these mini-episodes, you’ll hear from some familiar names about the questions keeping them up at night, and how data can help. First up: @claireholt!

Listen and subscribe to ParentData with Emily Oster in your favorite podcast app 🎧

#parentdata #emilyoster #claireholt #parentingstruggles #parentingtips #latenightpanicgoogle

Have you ever panic-googled a parenting question when everyone else is asleep? If so, you’re not alone.

Today is the first episode of a new biweekly series on my podcast: Late-Night Panic Google. On these mini-episodes, you’ll hear from some familiar names about the questions keeping them up at night, and how data can help. First up: @claireholt!

Listen and subscribe to ParentData with Emily Oster in your favorite podcast app 🎧

#parentdata #emilyoster #claireholt #parentingstruggles #parentingtips #latenightpanicgoogle
...

Sun safety is a must for all ages, especially babies! Here are my tips for keeping your littlest ones protected in the sunshine:
☀️ Most importantly, limit their time out in hot weather. (They get hotter than you do!)
☀️ Keep them in the shade as much as possible when you’re out.
☀️ Long-sleeve but lightweight clothing is your friend, especially on the beach, where even in the shade you can get sunlight reflecting off different surfaces.
☀️ If you want to add a little sunscreen on their hands and feet? Go for it! But be mindful as baby skin tends to more prone to irritation.

Comment “Link” for a DM to an article on the data around sun and heat exposure for babies.

#sunsafety #babysunscreen #babyhealth #parentdata #emilyoster

Sun safety is a must for all ages, especially babies! Here are my tips for keeping your littlest ones protected in the sunshine:
☀️ Most importantly, limit their time out in hot weather. (They get hotter than you do!)
☀️ Keep them in the shade as much as possible when you’re out.
☀️ Long-sleeve but lightweight clothing is your friend, especially on the beach, where even in the shade you can get sunlight reflecting off different surfaces.
☀️ If you want to add a little sunscreen on their hands and feet? Go for it! But be mindful as baby skin tends to more prone to irritation.

Comment “Link” for a DM to an article on the data around sun and heat exposure for babies.

#sunsafety #babysunscreen #babyhealth #parentdata #emilyoster
...

I’m calling on you today to share your story. I know that many of you have experienced complications during pregnancy, birth, or postpartum. It’s not something we want to talk about, but it’s important that we do. Not just for awareness, but to help people going through it feel a little less alone.

That’s why I’m asking you to post a story, photo, or reel this week with #MyUnexpectedStory and tag me. I’ll re-share as many as I can to amplify. Let’s fill our feeds with these important stories and lift each other up. Our voices can create change. And your story matters. 💙

#theunexpected #emilyoster #pregnancycomplications #pregnancystory

I’m calling on you today to share your story. I know that many of you have experienced complications during pregnancy, birth, or postpartum. It’s not something we want to talk about, but it’s important that we do. Not just for awareness, but to help people going through it feel a little less alone.

That’s why I’m asking you to post a story, photo, or reel this week with #MyUnexpectedStory and tag me. I’ll re-share as many as I can to amplify. Let’s fill our feeds with these important stories and lift each other up. Our voices can create change. And your story matters. 💙

#theunexpected #emilyoster #pregnancycomplications #pregnancystory
...

OUT NOW: My new book “The Unexpected: Navigating Pregnancy During and After Complications” is available on April 30th. All of my other books came out of my own experiences. I wrote them to answer questions I had, as a pregnant woman and then as a new parent. “The Unexpected” is a book not to answer my own questions but to answer yours. Specifically, to answer the thousands of questions I’ve gotten over the past decade from people whose pregnancies were more complicated than they had expected. This is for you. 💛 Order now at my link in bio!

OUT NOW: My new book “The Unexpected: Navigating Pregnancy During and After Complications” is available on April 30th. All of my other books came out of my own experiences. I wrote them to answer questions I had, as a pregnant woman and then as a new parent. “The Unexpected” is a book not to answer my own questions but to answer yours. Specifically, to answer the thousands of questions I’ve gotten over the past decade from people whose pregnancies were more complicated than they had expected. This is for you. 💛 Order now at my link in bio! ...

OUT NOW: My new book “The Unexpected: Navigating Pregnancy During and After Complications” is available on April 30th. All of my other books came out of my own experiences. I wrote them to answer questions I had, as a pregnant woman and then as a new parent. “The Unexpected” is a book not to answer my own questions but to answer yours. Specifically, to answer the thousands of questions I’ve gotten over the past decade from people whose pregnancies were more complicated than they had expected. This is for you. 💛 Order now at my link in bio!

OUT NOW: My new book “The Unexpected: Navigating Pregnancy During and After Complications” is available on April 30th. All of my other books came out of my own experiences. I wrote them to answer questions I had, as a pregnant woman and then as a new parent. “The Unexpected” is a book not to answer my own questions but to answer yours. Specifically, to answer the thousands of questions I’ve gotten over the past decade from people whose pregnancies were more complicated than they had expected. This is for you. 💛 Order now at my link in bio! ...

OUT NOW: My new book “The Unexpected: Navigating Pregnancy During and After Complications” is available on April 30th. All of my other books came out of my own experiences. I wrote them to answer questions I had, as a pregnant woman and then as a new parent. “The Unexpected” is a book not to answer my own questions but to answer yours. Specifically, to answer the thousands of questions I’ve gotten over the past decade from people whose pregnancies were more complicated than they had expected. This is for you. 💛 Order now at my link in bio!

OUT NOW: My new book “The Unexpected: Navigating Pregnancy During and After Complications” is available on April 30th. All of my other books came out of my own experiences. I wrote them to answer questions I had, as a pregnant woman and then as a new parent. “The Unexpected” is a book not to answer my own questions but to answer yours. Specifically, to answer the thousands of questions I’ve gotten over the past decade from people whose pregnancies were more complicated than they had expected. This is for you. 💛 Order now at my link in bio! ...

Is side sleeping important during pregnancy? Comment “Link” for a DM to an article on whether sleep position affects pregnancy outcomes.

Being pregnant makes you tired, and as time goes by, it gets increasingly hard to get comfortable. You were probably instructed to sleep on your side and not your back, but it turns out that advice is not based on very good data.

We now have much better data on this, and the bulk of the evidence seems to reject the link between sleep position and stillbirth or other negative outcomes. So go ahead and get some sleep however you are most comfortable. 💤

Sources:
📖 #ExpectingBetter pp. 160-163
📈 Robert M. Silver et al., “Prospective Evaluation of Maternal Sleep Position Through 30 Weeks of Gestation and Adverse Pregnancy Outcomes,” Obstetrics and Gynecology 134, no. 4 (2019): 667–76. 

#emilyoster #pregnancy #pregnancytips #sleepingposition #pregnantlife

Is side sleeping important during pregnancy? Comment “Link” for a DM to an article on whether sleep position affects pregnancy outcomes.

Being pregnant makes you tired, and as time goes by, it gets increasingly hard to get comfortable. You were probably instructed to sleep on your side and not your back, but it turns out that advice is not based on very good data.

We now have much better data on this, and the bulk of the evidence seems to reject the link between sleep position and stillbirth or other negative outcomes. So go ahead and get some sleep however you are most comfortable. 💤

Sources:
📖 #ExpectingBetter pp. 160-163
📈 Robert M. Silver et al., “Prospective Evaluation of Maternal Sleep Position Through 30 Weeks of Gestation and Adverse Pregnancy Outcomes,” Obstetrics and Gynecology 134, no. 4 (2019): 667–76.

#emilyoster #pregnancy #pregnancytips #sleepingposition #pregnantlife
...

My new book, “The Unexpected: Navigating Pregnancy During and After Complications” is available for preorder at the link in my bio!

I co-wrote #TheUnexpected with my friend and maternal fetal medicine specialist, Dr. Nathan Fox. The unfortunate reality is that about half of pregnancies include complications such as preeclampsia, miscarriage, preterm birth, and postpartum depression. Because these are things not talked about enough, it can not only be an isolating experience, but it can also make treatment harder to access.

The book lays out the data on recurrence and delves into treatment options shown to lower risk for these conditions in subsequent pregnancies. It also guides you through how to have productive conversations and make shared decisions with your doctor. I hope none of you need this book, but if you do, it’ll be here for you 💛

#pregnancy #pregnancycomplications #pregnancyjourney #preeclampsiaawareness #postpartumjourney #emilyoster

My new book, “The Unexpected: Navigating Pregnancy During and After Complications” is available for preorder at the link in my bio!

I co-wrote #TheUnexpected with my friend and maternal fetal medicine specialist, Dr. Nathan Fox. The unfortunate reality is that about half of pregnancies include complications such as preeclampsia, miscarriage, preterm birth, and postpartum depression. Because these are things not talked about enough, it can not only be an isolating experience, but it can also make treatment harder to access.

The book lays out the data on recurrence and delves into treatment options shown to lower risk for these conditions in subsequent pregnancies. It also guides you through how to have productive conversations and make shared decisions with your doctor. I hope none of you need this book, but if you do, it’ll be here for you 💛

#pregnancy #pregnancycomplications #pregnancyjourney #preeclampsiaawareness #postpartumjourney #emilyoster
...

We are better writers than influencers, I promise. Thanks to our kids for filming our unboxing videos. People make this look way too easy. 

Only two weeks until our book “The Unexpected” is here! Preorder at the link in my bio. 💙

We are better writers than influencers, I promise. Thanks to our kids for filming our unboxing videos. People make this look way too easy.

Only two weeks until our book “The Unexpected” is here! Preorder at the link in my bio. 💙
...

Exciting news! We have new, high-quality data that says it’s safe to take Tylenol during pregnancy and there is no link between Tylenol exposure and neurodevelopmental issues in kids. Comment “Link” for a DM to an article exploring this groundbreaking study.

While doctors have long said Tylenol was safe, confusing studies, panic headlines, and even a lawsuit have continually stoked fears in parents. As a result, many pregnant women have chosen not to take it, even if it would help them.

This is why good data is so important! When we can trust the data, we can trust our choices. And this study shows there is no blame to be placed on pregnant women here. So if you have a migraine or fever, please take your Tylenol.

#tylenol #pregnancy #pregnancyhealth #pregnancytips #parentdata #emilyoster

Exciting news! We have new, high-quality data that says it’s safe to take Tylenol during pregnancy and there is no link between Tylenol exposure and neurodevelopmental issues in kids. Comment “Link” for a DM to an article exploring this groundbreaking study.

While doctors have long said Tylenol was safe, confusing studies, panic headlines, and even a lawsuit have continually stoked fears in parents. As a result, many pregnant women have chosen not to take it, even if it would help them.

This is why good data is so important! When we can trust the data, we can trust our choices. And this study shows there is no blame to be placed on pregnant women here. So if you have a migraine or fever, please take your Tylenol.

#tylenol #pregnancy #pregnancyhealth #pregnancytips #parentdata #emilyoster
...