Why Things Can Go Wrong When Parents Try to Help Children With Their Homework: The Role of Parental Emotion Regulation and Mentalization

Racheli Cohen, Naama Gershy*, Maayan Davidov

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Parents’ involvement in homework can enhance children’s self-efficacy, self-regulation, and autonomous motivation for learning. Regrettably, in practice, parental involvement often contains intrusive, controlling, and discouraging behaviors that can curtail benefits. The present study sought to identify parenting characteristics that may contribute to counterproductive parental homework involvement. Two central mechanisms were examined: parental emotion dysregulation and low parental mentalization. We hypothesized that difficulties regulating negative affect would contribute to negative and hostile parental behavior during homework (but not to controlling behavior), whereas difficulties in parental mentalization would contribute to increased controlling parental practices (but not to parental negativity). The sample included 101 Israeli parents and their elementary school children (M = 8.32, SD = 1.77, 51.5% girls). Parent–child interaction during homework was videotaped at a home visit and subsequently coded to reflect the levels of control and negativity shown by the parent. Parental emotion dysregulation was assessed using a self-report questionnaire (the difficulties in emotion regulation scale), and parental capacity for mentalization was coded from interviews using the reflective functioning manual. Consistent with hypotheses, parental mentalization difficulties were linked to increased parental control, whereas parental emotion dysregulation was linked to parental negativity. These associations persisted even after controlling for children’s externalizing problems and children’s homework performance, as reported by parents. The findings highlight the differential paths by which parents’ diminished emotion regulation and decreased mentalization can foster counterproductive involvement in their children’s homework. We discuss the implications of the findings for parents’ homework involvement and teachers’ support of positive parental involvement.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Educational Psychology
StateAccepted/In press - 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2024 American Psychological Association

Keywords

  • control
  • emotion regulation
  • homework
  • mentalization
  • parenting

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