Do you homeschool your kids? Recently, a reader wrote in with this question about her 13-year-old daughter, who thinks being homeschooled means she can do work whenever she wants to.
“I know EmpoweringParents.com has written about how to get kids to do their homework, but we have a unique situation. We homeschool our two children, and while my son does his work just fine, my 13-year-old daughter refuses to do any work at all! She won’t even get up in the morning. She says that because she is homeschooled, she can work whenever and wherever she wants! I’ve tried to give her the freedom to structure her day, but she still doesn’t get her work done. She’s falling behind, and when I try to get her interested in something, she just blows up at me. I can’t just let her fail, but I am working so much harder than she is. My house is a battle zone all day long, and I’m afraid my son will start to pick up her habits. What can I do?”
Homework and school behavior are often on the top of the list of concerns when parents contact us. Most of our parenting advice talks about the importance of structure and enlisting the aid of teachers and other school officials to help your child improve their behavior. But what happens when you are the teacher, the principal — and the school nurse?
Sit down with your kids and let them know what you expect of them during their school day. You might even tell them what you’ve seen them do well. Then, choose one or two behaviors you’d like them to improve or change. Help them figure out what they will do, specifically, to help them meet your expectations. Aim for specific, measurable improvements, not vague suggestions.
For example, telling your child you need to get better at following directions is a vague request, and you may not get the results you’d like. Instead, say something like this to your child:
“I need to see that you are out of bed, dressed, and ready for your English assignment by 8:30 every morning. When you are at the table and ready on time, you’ll earn half an hour of movie time that night.”
Tell your child that if they’re late or argue, they won’t earn that time. And talk with them about what they can do differently to help reach this goal. If your child fails to meet your expectations, you can remind them that they already know what to do differently to earn their privileges, and it is up to them to make those changes.
As parents, we know the importance of education. We often try to get our kids to understand this importance and to take their schoolwork seriously. The truth is, kids don’t care about schoolwork the way that grown-ups do. As much as we might want to, we can’t make them care about math or science or literature. Homeschooling parents don’t have report cards or in-school suspensions to help them to force kids to take their work or their behavior seriously, either.
To more effectively convince your child to take their school day seriously, you need to use something that they value to get them to do what you value. Sit down with your kids and come up with a menu of rewards and consequences. Find out from your child what they would like to earn every day. It doesn’t have to be anything too large or extravagant it could be daily computer time, more unstructured free time, or even a later bedtime. Focus on short-term, daily privileges, not long term or big-ticket items. Understand that far off rewards are not enough of a motivation to create change in daily performance.
We often hear from parents who try to force their kids to complete their work by threatening the loss of special events or giving them additional chores to complete if they don’t behave appropriately. Just remember that you can’t punish kids into better behavior. And, if you give them an additional chore as punishment for not doing their schoolwork, you may find that you have a whole new power struggle over getting them to complete that chore!
Find out what your kids value, allow them to earn that valuable item each day, and you may find that your school day goes much more smoothly.
Electronics are often a high-interest item for kids and teens. In our EmpoweringParents.com articles on homework issues, we suggest letting your child earn time with electronics only after specific work is completed within a specific time frame.
In a homeschool family, you may find that electronics are best kept off limits until the entire school day is done. Some kids have tried to convince their parents to let them play with video games or the computer before they do any school work, only to refuse to turn the electronics o when mom or dad says it’s time to get to work.
Some parents allow their children to take a break within the school day to play video games. Certainly, if that works for your family, you don’t need to change it. But if a midday game break makes your afternoon more difficult, you may want to find another activity for your child. Keep those high-interest items off-limits until the end of the day.
Let your child earn their privileges – time that can be cashed in when the day’s work is completed. For example, let your child know they will earn 30 minutes of electronics time when they have finished the morning school work. In addition, they have an opportunity to earn a second 30 minutes when they complete their afternoon work.
Splitting up your rewards can also help improve compliance if your child has a rough morning, remind them they have another chance to pull it together for the afternoon. You may find that your child will improve their behavior when they know they get a second chance. It’s true that there may be days when your child does not complete their work and don’t earn their privileges for that day. Let them know that tomorrow is a new day, and they get a chance to try again.
Some homeschool families tell us their lives are so hectic, they don’t have any unstructured free time, and their kids have no time for rewards or privileges. If you’ve set up your daily life so that there is no free time, you may have difficulty getting compliance out of your children when they decide to dig in their heels.
Remember, you need to use something that they value to get them to do something you value. Is there any room for an extra half hour or so of free time in your homeschool day? Ask your children what they might like as a privilege — you may find that it is something as simple as an extra half-an-hour of time before bed.
Homeschool parents often tell us that their child refuses to follow the family’s schedule, making every day an ongoing struggle. Usually, the child will say things like, “I’ll do my work after you let me do what I want.” Or they may say, “You can’t make me do it your way.”
Remember, power struggles are a normal part of child development. There is no need to convince your child that your way is right and their way is wrong. You don’t need to attend that fight. Instead, calmly let your child know that doing work independently is a privilege, not a right, and they will need to earn that privilege.
Let your child know that you need to see them comply with your schedule before you are willing to give them a chance to do it on their own. When they can show you they can complete their work consistently and appropriately for a few days in a row, let them experiment with their schedules.
If they manage to complete the work on their own, they can continue at their own pace. If they start slipping, let them know you will go back to your original structure until they can be successful for a few more days in a row. Step by step, they can earn their independence.
Whatever rules and structures you put in place, be sure that your child knows what they are. Write them down and put them on the refrigerator. And if you are implementing consequences, don’t be alarmed if you get the desired effect immediately. It can sometimes take a few weeks for kids to come around. Just be patient and give your changes time to work. And be sure to notice and let them know when they’ve had a good day.
Kimball Lewis is the CEO of EmpoweringParents.com. In addition to his leadership and management roles, he contributes as an editor, a homeschooling expert, and a parent coach. He resides in Orlando, Florida, with his wife and two teenage sons.