Back-to-School Advice: Scholars Share Tips for Tackling Homework, Learning Difficulties and Bullying

Advice on bullying, homework and learning disorders
Duke researchers provide advice on bullying, homework and learning difficulties.

This week marks the first week of school for millions of children across the United States. To help parents prepare their students for the transition back to school, Duke experts offer tips on how navigate potentially tricky situations such as homework, identifying learning difficulties and bullying.


Let Homework be a Way to See What’s Going on at School

“Parents should not expect large achievement gains from homework in the early grades,” says Harris Cooper, a professor of psychology and neuroscience and an expert on homework. “But, homework teaches other important skills such as good study habits, time management and a recognition that academic learning can occur anywhere, not just at school. Homework can foster independent learning and responsible character traits.

“Homework can also give parents an opportunity to see what’s going on at school and learn about their child’s academic strengths and weaknesses.” 


Open Lines of Communication with Your Child’s Teacher Early On

“Parents should open up lines of communication with their child’s teacher from the very beginning, especially when it comes to sharing about their child’s medical history and learning and development,” says Amy Schulting, visiting research scholar at the Duke Center for Child and Family Policy. 

“We know early identification and intervention is the best approach to address learning difficulties, like dyslexia, so having those conversations with teachers early in the school year helps ensure students get the appropriate support and intervention they need.”


Monitor for Signs of Bullying

William Copeland, a faculty affiliate of the Duke Center for Child and Family Policy, says parents can help spot bullying early. 

“In any given year about 1 in 5 children report being a victim of bullying—and these children are at an elevated risk for experiencing academic difficulties and emotional problems now and later in life,” says Copeland,a professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and an expert on bullying. “Parents can, however, make a difference by taking a few concrete steps:

“First, ask your child about their day. What made you feel good or proud? Did anything make you feel sad? This includes asking them about how they are getting along with their friends.

“Second, note if there appears to be an unexpected change in their mood or social behavior. Are they feeling down, nervous, or even just reluctant to go to school all of a sudden? Sometimes this will express itself by a change in their appetite or sleep.

“Third, check in with their teachers. Not all kids want to talk about what is going on with their peers, but teachers often can pick up on peer problems.

“Fourth, cyberbullying allows children to be bullied even when they are alone or at home.There are free apps that allow parents to check in on their children’s online activities without looking at their child’s device every day.”