Do you find yourself in full-on homework battles most nights of the week? It’s no surprise that most children and teens will dig in their heels when it comes to doing schoolwork. Think of it this way: How many kids want to do something that isn’t particularly exciting or pleasant? Most would prefer to be playing video games, riding their bikes or driving around with friends, especially after a long day of school and activities.

As long as you believe you are accountable (or to blame) for your child’s outcome, you are under her control.

The underlying truth here is that you and your child might already be caught in a power struggle over this. Like most parents, you probably want your children to do well and be responsible. Maybe you worry about your child’s future. After all, doing homework and chores are your child’s prime responsibilities, right? Let’s face it, it’s easy to get anxious when your kids are not doing what they’re supposed to be doing—and when you know how important doing schoolwork is. And when you believe you are ultimately responsible for the choices your child makes (and many of us do, consciously and unconsciously), the ante is upped and the tug of war begins.

Nagging, Lecturing and Yelling—But Nothing Changes?

If you’re in the habit of threatening, lecturing, questioning your child, nagging or even screaming at them “do the work!” (and trust me, we’ve all been there), you probably feel like you’re doing whatever it takes to get your kids on track. But when you’re in your child’s head, there’s no room for him to think for himself. And unfortunately, the more anxious you are, the more you’ll hold on in an attempt to control him and push him toward the task at hand. What happens then? Your child will resist by pushing back. That’s when the power struggle ensues. Your child, in essence, is saying, “I own my own life—stay out!” Now the battle for autonomy is getting played out around homework and chores, and exactly what you feared and hoped to avoid gets created.

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This is very aggravating for parents to say the least. Many of us get trapped into thinking we are responsible for our child’s choices in life. As long as you believe you are accountable (or to blame) for your child’s outcome, you are under their control. This is because you will need your child to make those good choices—do the work—so you will feel that you’re doing a good job. Your child’s behavior becomes a reflection of you. You are now at your child’s mercy as you trying to get him to do what you want him to do so you can feel validated as a good parent. Your child does not want to be taking care of your emotional well-being, so he will naturally resist.

When kids are not following through on their responsibilities, it can easily trigger a number of feelings in parents. Note that your child did not cause these feelings, but rather triggered feelings that already belong to you. You might be triggered by a feeling of anger because you feel ineffective or fear that your child will never amount to anything. Or you might feel guilt about not doing a good enough job as a parent. Here’s the truth:  You have to be careful not to let these triggered feelings cause you to push your kids harder so that you can feel better. One of the toughest things parents have to do is learn how to soothe their own difficult feelings rather than ask their children to do that for them. This is the first step in avoiding power struggles.

Why are power struggles important to avoid? They inadvertently create just what you’ve feared. Your child is living his life in reaction to you rather than making his own independent choices. Learning how to make those choices is a necessary skill that develops self-motivation.  How can you avoid ending up in these battles? Here are 7 tips that can really help.

1. You are not responsible for your child’s choices

Understand that you are not responsible for the choices your child makes in his life. It’s impossible to take on that burden without a battle for control over another human being. Measure your success as a parent by how you behavenot by what your child chooses to do or not do. Doing a good job as a parent means that you have done all that you can do as a responsible person. It does not mean that you have raised a perfect person who has made all the right choices. Once you really get this, you won’t be so anxious about your child’s behaviors, actions, and decisions. You will be able to see your child from objective, not subjective, lenses and therefore be able to guide their behavior, because you’ll have seen what he actually needs.

2. You cannot make someone care—but you can influence them

You cannot get a person to do or care about what they don’t want to do or care about. Our kids have their own genetics, roles, and ultimately their own free will. So focusing on getting your child to change or getting something from her will not work long-term and will most often turn into a power struggle. What you can do is try to influence your child using only what is in your own hands. For example, when it comes to homework, you can structure the environment to create the greatest probability that the work will get done.

3. Think about the “fences” you’d like to create for your child

Take charge of your own best thinking and decisions rather than trying to control your child’s. Pause, think and decide what fences you want to create for your child. What are your bottom lines? Know what you can and can’t do as a parent. Recognize that what will make the biggest difference to your child (and helping him become a responsible kid who makes good choices) will be learning how to inspire him, not control him. Building a positive relationship with your kids is your best parenting strategy. Children want to please the people in their lives that they have loving feelings toward. You cannot ultimately make them accept your values, but you can inspire them to do so. Getting a child to listen to you is primarily about setting up the conditions under which they choose to do so. In order to do this, make a conscious effort to sprinkle your relationship with more positive interactions than negative ones. Hug, show affection, laugh together, and spend time with one another. Point out your appreciations most instead of constantly correcting, instructing, teaching, yelling, complaining, or reprimanding.  Don’t get me wrong, you need to correct and reprimand as a parent. But make a conscious effort so that every time you do this, you will follow it with many positive interactions. The human brain remembers the negatives much more than the positives. Most kids will be happy to listen and be guided by the people in their lives who they like and respect.

4. Should you give consequences when kids don’t do homework?

Parents always ask whether or not they should give consequences to kids if they don’t do their homework—or instead just let the chips fall where they may.  I think you can give consequences, and that might work temporarily—maybe even for a while. Perhaps your child will learn to be more responsible or to use anxiety about the consequences to motivate themselves. You can’t change someone else, but consequences might help them get some homework done. You can’t “program” your child to care about their work, but you can create a work environment that promotes a good work ethic. Kids who regularly get their homework done and study do better throughout school and overall in life.

5. How structuring the environment can encourage studying

Again, you can’t make a child do anything that he doesn’t feel like doing, but you can structure his environment to create the greatest probability that the work will get done. When your child’s grades slip, or you find that he’s not getting his work in on time, you are automatically “invited in” to supervise and help him get on track. You can make sure that for certain periods of time, he will not be able to do anything other than schoolwork. The rule is during that time, no electronics are allowed—just homework and studying. By doing this, you are providing a structure to do what your child probably can’t do yet for himself. The hour and a half that you set aside should be a time when you will be around to enforce the rules that you have set. Give a fixed amount of time and once that time is up, your child is free to go elsewhere, homework done or not. Stay consistent with this plan, even if he fights you on it. This plan will accomplish the possibility that your child will get some homework done and maybe over time, create some better work habits. That’s all. This plan should be in place, whether or not he has homework. He can read, review or study if he doesn’t have any during that time. Let him know that these rules will change when his grades begin to reflect his potential and when you are not getting negative reports from teachers about missing homework. When he accomplishes this, tell him you will be happy to have him be fully in charge of his own homework.

6. Parents of Defiant kids

 Extremely defiant kids who don’t seem to care about consequences really try their parents. Some of these kids suffer from ADHD, ODD, learning disabilities, emotional issues and many other issues. Defiance has become a way for them to try and solve their problems. With defiant kids, parents need to be very cognizant of working to develop positive relationships, no matter how difficult. Above all, work to avoid getting pulled into a power struggle. Your child will need many more learning opportunities and more rewards and negative consequences—and more time to learn these lessons than less defiant child. And if nothing changes, and your child continues to be defiant, you must continue to work on your own patience and be thoughtful about your own bottom line. Most important, continue to love your child and keep showing up.

7. Your simple message to your child

Be clear, concise and direct. Your simple message to your kids, which does not require lectures or big sit down conversations is, “Your job is to take care of your responsibilities, which includes getting your homework done and helping out in the house. That’s my expectation for you. Once you’ve done that each day, you are welcome to do what you’d like.” Remember, as a parent your job is to essentially help your child do her job.

Related content:
What to Do When Your Child or Teen is Suspended or Expelled from School
“My Child Refuses to Do Homework” — How to Stop the Nightly Struggle Over School Work


For more than 25 years, Debbie has offered compassionate and effective therapy and coaching, helping individuals, couples and parents to heal themselves and their relationships. Debbie is the creator of the Calm Parent AM & PM™ program and is also the author of numerous books for young people on interpersonal relations.

Comments (7)
  • Frustrated mom
    This is by far the very worst parenting advice I have ever heard. Can it be anymore vague and general? There’s literally nothing in this article that deals with actually doing homework! In fact it is more so a guide on things that most parents already know and shouldMore be doing! The other part of this article is basically saying that you should allow your child to be their own authority. Do kids not need to learn to obey rules in today’s world? A lesson in life is that your children aren’t always going to be given a choice and when they are given a choice, it doesn’t mean they’re going to like any of the possible outcomes. Allowing them to think they have a choice in order to circumvent basic responsibilities is completely and utterly counter productive! I had to do homework when I was a kid whether I liked it or not! I knew this even as a small child. Children historically do not make the best decisions on their own. There’s a reason we have an age where it’s considered by society that you’re officially an adult. Until children reach that age, they don’t have a choice!
  • enriquepeters

    I am a special education preschool educator. Yes, I do send homework home for the following reasons:1. It starts good habits relating to reinforcing skills taught at school.

    2. It allows me to educate and inform parents on what skills children need to be learning.

    3. Some skills need more effort to be learned- such as name writing.

    4. I want my kiddos to have a headstart and school is important! Homework is a way of getting kids ahead.

    Hands down- my kiddos who learn skills at home- for example "economics homework" are more likely to master this skill when taught at school AND at home! It helps! Trust me! and all kiddos undergo assessments when entering kindergarten and often it is considered a predictor in success for the year!

  • georgeesmith
    Very methodical, can give a try to make it possible :)
  • lisakelper9
    Sounds good but very hard to implement in reality. But still its a good attempt.
  • JackRusso1
    I disagree with this as a whole. This person has no idea what children are really like. Children are stressed a lot, nagging them won't help. They don't want to talk about homework at home because then the parent asks irritating questions. It's not that they don't care, it's thatMore they need to do things on their own. When a parent is constantly on their backs the child gets stressed out. In my eyes, few parents understand this. Believe it or not...I'm 13 and I can do better then you. This isn't a helpful list of tips, it's a list of how to make the situation worse!
  • kingermom5

    Oh my goodness!   This all sounds very charming but has no real application!  

    Let me give you my scenario of raising a "Defiant" child:

    Our homework structure is that she work at her well organized desk...quite charming in fact.  

    She is expected to work 15 minutes per subject which is a grand total of an hour and 30 min.

    No tech unless all work is complete and no matter what, no tech before 6:30 pm.

    Down time for reading (which she loves) is after homework and her home chore is done.

    we have a rewards currency.  We have a consequence system.  

    Guess what?  It is not that simple.  She will waste her time "studying" so we require her to log notes on what she is reading so does not just sit and stare at her books for an hour and a half (which she will do).  We periodically check her log as she is working and help review info.  Again...quite charming.

    She is failing most of her subjects because she does not bring ANY assigned work home.  None.  And then she lies about the work that we track down.  

    She is not internally nor externally motivated. 

    Sometimes a child is not emotionally mature enough to handle things like this and their brains are unable to really connect action and consequence.  Sometimes you need to let your child fail.  I hear from her teachers "I have no idea what to do with _________"  My response is....there is nothing YOU can do.  Only what ______ can do and she chooses not to.

    A child who is unable to focus on learning is focusing on something else instead.  For my daughter it is the undying need for acceptance....peer acceptance.  So how to retrain the brain is tough.  Wish me luck because THERE IS NO ANSWER!  THERE IS NO FIX!

  • tcmac

    I often wonder about the value of homework. While I appreciate the article and noted some key takeaways here that will be very helpful to me, such as "Learn how to inspire, not control" and "Measure your success as a parent by how you behave"...I often find myself yelling at my seven year old angel because she just doesn't have an interest in learning..and then I spend the rest of the night disgusted with myself for being angry with her. She is the sweetest, most lovable little girl filled with street smarts. But she's behind in school, slow with reading, and fights me constantly with her homework.

    I stepped up over the summer and had assignments all summer long so she could hopefully catch up. But little has changed. She continues to have no interest, which I interpret as lazy. She would much rather watch Netflix or play; something I try to balance. I wasn't a great student in school but I did love homework. I hated the "institution" and rebelled against control. But I've managed to make a good life for myself because I've been highly motivated, driven and disciplined. My concern is she doesn't seem to have those traits...yet. It might still be too soon. However, I struggle to push too hard (contrary to how it sounds) because I'm a big advocate of work-life balance.

    She is busy all day with school and activities and the idea of having her do more when she gets home before she rests, plays or unwinds, seems like corporal punishment. Yes. And I'm not dramatic. But really? I get the importance of establishing a good work ethic. However,  I work all day. When I get home, I'm tired. I take a break before I tend to house chores. Nothing gets neglected but I pace myself. I also take home work but that's done later in the evening, after I've tended to my family AND had some down time. Don't kids deserve down time too?

    I hate putting this pressure on my child, yet I know the pressure she feels being a slower reader, struggling with phonetics, etc. is as great if not worse. I can see her as a very successful person later on because she has very strong social skills and a kindness that far surpasses most of the other kids I've seen. But I struggle with finding that balance between pushing academics and just letting time prove itself. I am a big advocate of moderation and balance, yet I really struggle with applying that value in today's academic world which starts as young as kindergarten!

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