You Can’t Help Him Too Much


“Moms, let me say it again. You can’t help him too much. Okay?” These firm, but gentle, generous words from my son’s Essentials tutor washed over me for the second week in a row and I realized what freedom they had brought to our homeschool experience. I had been warned the first year in Essentials could be overwhelming and it’s certainly had its moments for us, but I’ve found giving myself permission to help my son “too much” has been the key for us. I sit next to him and settle in to do his work with him. We work each step together. If he doesn’t know the answer in a few beats, I give it to him. Now before you go thinking this is only for Essentials, let me share how this has changed all of homeschooling for us. I’m not being dramatic. Literally all.


This perspective shift has effected us all, but for clarity I’ll keep this conversation strictly on my oldest. Here’s an example of a typical interaction for us and then how it’s changed.


My son encounters a math problem I think he should know how to do. He asks me for help. I reply, “Try again, bud. You know how to do this.” But he already feels stumped and my response exasperates him. Now I’m frustrated, because I see he’s close and I’m asking for a little more effort, but he’s not giving it. Mainly I just don’t want him to quit before he feels the satisfaction of figuring it out. But now it feels like we’re in a standoff, because he thinks he’s at the end of himself and I asked him to try harder. Blegh.


That was before. Now I think, “You can’t help him too much.” While I still think he could do more, I don’t feel the need to force his hand. (Remember, this is not when there’s a genuine lack of understanding. I *think* I’ve always helped when he doesn’t understand!) I don’t give him the answer, but I walk through the steps with him. I ask better questions. Questions that feel kind of like answers and definitely feel like help. If it’s math he’s struggling with, maybe I’ll work the problem on paper while he notes what I did different from him. If it’s piano, maybe I’ll play the piece for him. At the end of our interaction, he perks up, smiles, and gets back to work. He continues on without trouble. He just got stuck for a minute and needed someone to unstuck him. I can be that for him. I can help him “too much”. Instead of feeling stubborn and isolated from a perceived standoff, he feels comforted by our joint effort and my sympathy for his struggle. We’re in it together.


That relationship building alone is worth it to me.


Of course, there’s a time for the first approach and the “too much” approach won’t be the solution every time. And I realize as he grows older this approach may be used less and less. But, for sure and for now, we needed it more in our homeschool. I could go on and on about the reasons helping “too much” has resonated with me personally, but I think you guys get it.


Because is there really such a thing as helping “too much”? It’s like too much chocolate or too many hugs or too much sleep. It’s just not possible, am I right, friends?


I’d love to hear from you on this. Have you tried something new that’s making a difference in your homeschooling days?


Note: My son’s Essential tutor has kindly reminded me she was sharing words of wisdom from Andrew Pudewa. For more teaching wisdom from Andrew Pudewa, check out these two articles: So…So…Awkard and 4 Deadly Errors of Teaching Writing


  1. CarrieAnne says

    Feeling like I had permission to “help” actually freed me and improved my relationship with my children. I found that it was just a short time before my children were saying, “I got this, Mom!”

    Thank you for writing about your experience.

  2. dani says

    I’m wondering if it wouldn’t just be easier to wait until the child is older (8? 9? 10? 11?) and able to do his work on his own? From my experience, the first 2-3 years of “school” in the traditional sense are not really necessary. An older child will be mature enough to work independently and will very quickly learn all that he has “missed” – if he hasn’t picked it up automatically, anyway. So where would the advantage be to start early? That said, I do believe that reading aloud is an important part of “school” for all ages :-).

    • Beth Watson says

      Hi Dani! I am familiar with that train of thought and have considered it. Makes a lot of sense to me & my younger ones definitely have a much lighter “school” routine. But even though the picture doesn’t reflect it, my oldest I’m referring to is 10. 🙂 He is largely independent, but sometimes when encountering new information he needs help. With his Essentials class in particular, he is encountering a lot at a time. Some of that info is new to me and other parts of it are a refresher, so it’s great for us to do together. I think at any age you can require help, especially when encountering something new or challenging. 🙂

  3. says

    I have found myself trying to get my 8 year to do more of his own 3rd grade work this year while at the same time really spending lots of time with my 13 year old (who has been working independently since 3rd grade with minimal involvement on my part) on pre-algebra. He went through pre-algebra with Teaching Textbooks last year and really didn’t seem to grasp everything, based on his scores. So this year we switched to Math-U-See Pre-Algebra and we are meticulously working through it together. Sometimes we do every single problem together — especially on the first day of a new concept and I’m finding that it has vastly improved our math relationship. The math relationship (which exists separate and apart in a homeschooling relationship world of its own) has always been rocky for us — he doesn’t get it, I tell him to look at the sample problem again, he gets frustrated, I get frustrated, one of us cries, etc. But in our new math relationship, where I’m helping “too much,” we are both learning a lot of pre-algebra. So while you may find that your young children won’t need you to help “too much” in every subject as they get older, you are laying a great foundation for sliding back in and doing some side-by-side learning whenever the need arises. Helping too much is really the best part of my homeschool day, so thanks for reminding me that my young one can grow into independence at a slower pace and I should just stop stressing about that.
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    • Beth Watson says

      Oh my, you are so right to distinguish the math relationship as its own thing and to explain the impact this one little change can make. Thank you so much for sharing! I especially love hearing how this applies for both your younger and older ones.

  4. says

    I’m a writing teacher and just this year a 1st time Essentials tutor and when I heard those words on the training video I had the HUGEST lightbulb moment! That’s exactly what my dilemma always was as a teacher in the classroom!! Feeling like they needed to just “try that a bit longer’ when they were “stuck”! I wish I’d known this then, and it DEFINITELY shapes our homeschooling now!! 🙂
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    • Beth Watson says

      Julie, thank you for sharing that perspective. I’m glad to hear it was a lightbulb moment for someone else too. 🙂

  5. Cecilia says

    I know this may sound silly and unrelated to this topic but….when you say “read alound together”, what does this mean? How do you do it? Do you do all of the reading? Do you take turns? What if the material is too advanced for your little to read? I think it would really help us to do this. I always make them read aloud to me. I’m thinking I may have it all wrong!

    • Beth Watson says

      Actually, great question! I should’ve been more clear. For now, I do all of the reading. Usually for about an hour total each day, but it can vary depending on our time and their attention. Occasionally, I’ll ask my oldest to read some to us…tends to be when I’m sleepy. 😉 Ultimately, my goal is to keep the reading aloud time to just me reading. It’s fun for me and them and good for all of us.

    • Beth Watson says

      Cecilia, sorry, I haven’t been checking in here very often. Let me answer your question now, despite the delay. I do all of our read-alouds right now. On occasion, my oldest two (10 and 9) will read in my stead. If I’m sick or too tired, etc. There are so many benefits of reading aloud to them: they hear a good story, learn new vocabulary and information, and understand cadence. I read aloud to them about an hour each day. We also use audiobooks when we travel. I hope I can always read aloud to them, even as they enter their teenage years eventually. 🙂

  6. Selena says

    I often take this approach in tutoring and in our homeschooling. It just makes sense to me. I think back to college when in study groups. We all had a piece of the iformation or something one understood better than the other. Working with everyone brought us a stronger understanding altogether. I often feel working/learning alongside my son helps him to see he can help me and I can help him. At that point we are both vested in the process, and learning flows through our relationship instead of blocking it.

    • Beth Watson says

      I love this thought. Thanks for sharing, Selena. I often talk with my kiddos about us being a team, and this just falls right in line with that idea. 🙂


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