Parents often feel it’s their job to get their kids to do well in school. Naturally, you might get anxious about this responsibility as a parent. You might also get nervous about your kids succeeding in life—and homework often becomes the focus of that concern.
But when parents feel it’s their responsibility to get their kids to achieve, they now need something from their children—they need them to do their homework and be a success. I believe this need puts you in a powerless position as a parent because your child doesn’t have to give you what you want.
The battle about homework becomes a battle over control. Your child starts fighting to have more control over the choices in their life, while you feel that your job as a parent is to be in control of things. So you both fight harder, and it turns into a war in your home.
Over the years, I’ve talked to many parents who are in the trenches with their kids, and I’ve seen firsthand that there are many creative ways kids rebel when it comes to schoolwork. Your child might forget to do their homework, do their homework but not hand it in, do it sloppily or carelessly, or not study properly for their test. These are just a few ways that kids try to hold onto the little control they have.
When this starts happening, parents feel more and more out of control, so they punish, nag, threaten, and argue. Some parents stop trying altogether to get their children to do homework. Or, and this is common, parents will over-function for their kids by doing the work for them.
Now the battle is in full swing: reactivity is heightened as anxiety is elevated—and homework gets lost in the shuffle. The hard truth for parents is that you cannot make your children do anything, let alone homework. But what you can do is to set limits, respect their individual choices, and help motivate them to motivate themselves.
You might be thinking to yourself, “You don’t know my child. I can’t motivate him to do anything.” Many parents tell me that their children are not motivated to do their work. I believe that children are motivated—they just may not be motivated the way you’d like them to be. Keep reading for some concrete tips to help you guide them in their work without having to nag, threaten, or fight with them.
Also, keep in mind that if you carry more of the worry, fear, disappointments, and concern than your child does about their work, ask yourself, “What’s wrong with this picture, and how did this happen?” Remember, as long as you carry their concerns, they don’t have to.
The way you can stop fighting with your kids over homework every night is to stop fighting with them tonight. Disengage from the dance. Choose some different steps or decide not to dance at all. Let homework stay where it belongs—between the teacher and the student. Stay focused on your job, which is to help your child do their job. Don’t do it for them.
If you feel frustrated, take a break from helping your child with homework. Your blood pressure on the rise is a no-win for everyone. Take five or ten minutes to calm down, and let your child do the same if you feel a storm brewing.
Set limits around homework time. Here are a few possibilities that I’ve found to be effective with families:
I recommend that your child be free to make their own choices within the parameters you set around schoolwork. You need to back off a bit as a parent. Otherwise, you won’t be helping them with their responsibilities.
If you take too much control over the situation, it will backfire on you by turning into a power struggle. And believe me, you don’t want a power struggle over homework. I’ve seen many kids purposely do poorly just to show their parents who’s in charge. I’ve also seen children who complied to ease their parents’ anxiety, but these same kids never learned to think and make choices for themselves.
I’m a big believer in natural consequences when it comes to schoolwork. Within the structure you set up, your child has some choices. They can choose to do their homework or not. And they can choose to do it well and with effort or not. The natural consequences will come from their choices—if they don’t choose to do their work, their grades will drop.
When that happens, you can ask them some honest questions:
“Are you satisfied with how things are going?”
“What do you want to do about your grade situation?”
“How can I be helpful to you?”
Be careful not to be snarky or judgmental. Just ask the question honestly. Show honest concern and try not to show disappointment.
The expectation is that homework is done to the best of your child’s ability. When they stop making an effort, and you see their grades drop, that’s when you invite yourself in. You can say:
“It’s my job to help you do your job better. I’m going to help you set up a plan to help yourself, and I will check in to make sure you’re following it.”
Set up a plan with your child’s input to get them back on their feet. For example, the new rules might be that homework must be done in a public place in your home until they get their grades back up. You and your child might meet with the teacher to discuss disciplinary actions should their grades continue to drop.
In other words, you will help your child get back on track by putting a concrete plan in place. And when you see this change, you can step back out of it. But before that, your child is going to sit in a public space and you’re going to monitor their work.
You’re also checking in more. Depending on your child’s age, you’re making sure that things are checked off before they go out. You’re adding a half-hour of review time for their subjects every day. And then, each day after school, they’re checking with their teacher or going for some extra help.
Remember, this plan is not a punishment—it’s a practical way of helping your child to do their best.
Many parents will say that their kids just don’t care about their grades. My guess is that somewhere inside, they do care. “I don’t care” also becomes part of a power struggle.
In other words, your child is saying, “I’m not going to care because you can’t make me. You don’t own my life.” And they’re right. The truth is, you can’t make them care. Instead, focus on what helps their behavior improve. And focus more on their actions and less on their attitude because it’s the actions that matter the most.
It’s important to understand that caring and motivation come from ownership. You can help your child be motivated by allowing them to own their life more.
So let them own their disappointment over their grades. Don’t feel it more than they do. Let them choose what they will do or not do about their homework and face the consequences of those choices. Now they will begin to feel ownership, which may lead to caring.
Let them figure out what motivates them, not have them motivated by fear of you. Help guide them, but don’t prevent them from feeling the real-life consequences of bad choices. Think of it this way: it’s better for your child to learn from those consequences at age ten by failing their grade and having to go to summer school than for them to learn at age 25 by losing their job.
I want to note that it’s very important that you check to see that there are no other learning issues around your child’s refusal to do homework. If they’re having difficulty doing the work or are performing below grade-level expectations, they should be tested to rule out any learning disabilities or other concerns.
If there is a learning disability, your child may need more help. For example, some kids need a little more guidance; you may need to sit near your child and help a little more. You can still put structures into place depending on who your child is.
But be careful. Many times, kids with learning disabilities get way too much help and develop what psychologists call learned helplessness. Be sure you’re not over-functioning for your learning disabled child by doing their work for them or filling in answers when they’re capable of thinking through them themselves.
Your child needs guidance from you, but understand that guidance does not mean doing their spelling homework for them. Rather, it’s helping them review their words. When you cross the line into over-functioning, you take on your child’s work and put their responsibilities on your shoulders. So you want to guide them by helping them edit their book report themselves or helping them take the time to review before a test. Those can be good ways of guiding your child, but anything more than that is taking too much ownership of their work.
If your child asks for help, you can coach them. Suggest that they speak with their teacher on how to be a good student and teach them those communication skills. In other words, show them how to help themselves. So you should not back off altogether—it’s that middle ground that you’re looking for. That’s why I think it’s essential to set up a structure. And within that structure, you expect your child to do what they have to do to be a good student.
When you start over-focusing on your child’s work, pause and think about your own goals and what do you need to get done to achieve those goals. Model your own persistence and perseverance to your child.
I also tell parents to start believing in their children. Don’t keep looking at your child as a fragile creature who can’t do the work. I think we often come to the table with fear and doubt—we think if we don’t help our kids, they’re just not going to do it.
But as much as you say, “I’m just trying to help you,” what your child hears is, “You’re a failure; I don’t believe you can do it on your own.”
Instead, your message should be, “I know you can do it. And I believe in you enough to let you make your own choices and deal with the consequences.”
What Can I Do When My Child Refuses to Go to School?
“My Child Refuses to Do Homework” — How to Stop the Nightly Struggle Over Schoolwork
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.
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So, after reading this I get to say…GREAT…You really do not know my child. We have done 100% of everything listed in this article. In the end, my son has utterly declared “I DON’T CARE, AND I DON’T NEED SCHOOL”. We have attempted a “reward” system as well, and that doesn’t work. He cares about 3 or 4 things. Nintendo DS, Lego, K’Nex, TV…all of those he has lost over the past year. Now he reads, ALL the time. Fine, but that doesn’t get his homework done. It also doesn’t get anything else he needs to do done. We’ve done “task boards”, we’ve done “Reward Systems”, we’ve done the “What is on your list to complete”. EVERYTHING is met with either a full fledged meltdown (think 2 year old…on the floor, kicking and screaming and crying). His IMMEDIATE response to ANYTHING that may interrupt him is “NO” or worse. If something doesn’t go his way directly he throws a fit INSTANTLY, even if the response is “Give me a second” it’s NOW OR I’M DESTROYING SOMETHING. He’s been suspended multiple times for his anger issues, and he’s only 10. Unfortuantely we have no family history as he was adopted from Russia. His “formal” diagnosis are ADHD and Anxiety. I’m thinking there is something much more going on. BTW: He did have an IQ test and that put him at 145 for Spacial and Geometric items, with a 136 for written and language. His composite was 139, which puts him in the genius category, but he’s failing across the board…because he refuses to do the work.
Interesting article and comments. Our son (6th grade) was early diagnosed as ADHD and for the first 3 years of elementary school several of his teachers suggested he might require special education. But then the school counseling staff did a workup and determined that his IQ is 161 and from that point forward his classroom antics were largely tolerated as “eccentric”. He has now moved to middle school (6th grade) and while his classroom participation seems to be satisfactory to all teachers, he has refused to do approximately 65% of his homework so far this school year. We have tried talking with him, reasoning with him, removing screen time, offering cash payments (which he lectures us as being unethical “bribes”), offering trips, offering hobbies and sporting events, and just about anything we can think of. Our other children have all been through the “talented and gifted” programs, but he simply refuses to participate in day-to-day school work. His fall report card was pretty much solid “F” or “O” grades. He may be bored out of his mind, or he may have some other issues. Unfortunately, home schooling is not an option, and neither is one of the $40,000 per year local private schools which may or may not be in a better position to deal with his approach to school. Do “learning centers” work for kids like this? Paying somebody else to force him to do his homework seems like a coward’s solution but I am nearly at the end of my rope! Thanks..
I’m sorry to hear about the challenges you are experiencing with your
son.I also hear the different
approaches you and your ex are taking toward parenting your son.While it would be ideal if you were able to
find common ground, and present a consistent, united response to your son’s
choices, in the end, you can only https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/parenting-after-divorce-9-ways-to-parent-on-your-own-terms/.At
this point, it might be useful to meet with the school to discuss how you can
work together to hold your son accountable for his actions, such as receiving a
poor grade if he refuses to do his work.Janet Lehman discusses this more in https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/when-your-child-has-problems-at-school-6-tips-for-parents/.Take care.
It can be so challenging when your child is acting out at school, yet does
not act that way at home.One strategy I
recommend is talking with your son at home about his behavior at school.During this conversation, I encourage you to
address his choices, and come up with a specific plan for what he can do differently
to follow the rules.I also recommend
working with his teachers, and discussing how you can assist them in helping
your son to follow the rules.You might
find additional useful tips in our article, https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/acting-out-in-school-when-your-child-is-the-class-troublemaker/.Please be sure to write back and let us know
how things are going for you and your son.Take care.
I hear you.It can be so challenging
when your young child is having outbursts like this.A lot of young children tend to act out and
have tantrums when they are experiencing a big transition, such as starting a
new school or adjusting to having a younger sibling, so you are not alone.Something that can be helpful is to set up
clear structure and expectations around homework, as Janet Lehman points out in
https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/my-child-refuses-to-do-homework-heres-how-to-stop-the-struggle/.I also encourage you to set aside some time
for you to have https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/attention-seeking-behavior-in-young-children-dos-and-donts-for-parents/ with your daughter as well.Please be sure to write back and let us know
how things are going for you and your family.Take care.
JoJoSuma I am having the exact same problem with my 9 year old son. His grades are quickly falling and I have no idea why or where to begin with helping him turn things around. When he applies himself he receives score of 80% or higher, and when he doesn't it clearly shows and he receives failing scores. He, too, says that he doesn't do or want to do the work because it is boring, or that he "Forgot" or "lost it". He has started to become a disruption to the class and at this rate I am afraid that he will have to repeat 5th grade. I am also a single parent so my frustration is at an all time high. You are not alone and I wish you and your family the best.
Thank you so much for these tips RebeccaW_ParentalSupport because I SERIOUSLY had nowhere to turn and no clue where to begin. I have cried many nights feeling like I was losing control. I will try your tips and see where things go from here.
It’s not uncommon
for kids to avoid doing homework, chores or other similar tasks. After
all, homework can be boring or difficult, and most people (both kids and adults
alike) tend to prefer activities which are enjoyable or fun. This does
not mean that you cannot address this with your daughter, though.
Something which can be helpful for many families is to set up a structured
homework time, and to require that your daughter complete her homework in order
to earn a privilege later on that evening. You can read about this, and
other tips, in https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/end-the-nightly-homework-struggle-5-homework-strategies-that-work-for-kids/.
Please be sure to write back and let us know how things are going for you and
your daughter. Take care.
I can hear how much your
daughter’s education means to you, and the additional difficulties you are
facing as a result of her learning disabilities. You make a great point
that you cannot force her to do her work, or get additional help, and I also
understand your concern that getting her teachers to “make” her do these things
at school might create more conflict there as well. As James Lehman
points out in his article, https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/stop-the-blame-game-how-to-teach-your-child-to-stop-making-excuses-and-start-taking-responsibility/, lowering your expectations for your daughter due to her
diagnosis is probably not going to be effective either. Instead, what you
might try is involving her in the https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/the-surprising-reason-for-bad-child-behavior-i-cant-solve-problems/, and asking her what she thinks she needs, and what she will do
differently, to meet classroom expectations. Please be sure to write back
and let us know how things are going for you and your family. Take care.
Thank you for
your question. You are correct that we recommend setting up a structured
time for kids to do homework, yet not getting into a power struggle with them
if they refuse to do their work during that time. It could be useful to
talk with your 11 year old about what makes it difficult to follow through with
doing homework at that time, and perhaps experimenting with doing homework at
another time to see if that works more effectively. In the end, though,
if your child is simply refusing to do the work, then we recommend giving a
consequence and avoiding a power struggle. Megan Devine details this
process more in her article, https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/end-the-nightly-homework-struggle-5-homework-strategies-that-work-for-kids/.
Please let us know if you have any additional questions. Take care.
I can hear your concern. Academic achievement is important
to most parents and when your children seem to be struggling to complete their
work and get good grades, it can be distressing. Ultimately, your childrens’
school work and grades are their responsibility. You shouldn’t have to quit
your own studies in order to help them improve theirs. The above article gives
some great tips for helping motivate your children to complete their homework.
We do have a couple other articles you may also find useful: https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/10-ways-to-motivate-your-child-to-do-better-in-school/ & https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/sinking-fast-at-school-how-to-help-your-child-stay-afloat/. We appreciate you
writing in and hope you find the information useful. Take care.
What? "Let homework stay where it belongs—between the teacher and the student. Refuse to get pulled in by the school.." I do not see the logic or benefit of this advice. Homework, by definition, is the responsibility of the student and parent (NOT the teacher). The teacher does not live at the student's home or run the house.
In my opinion, the lack of parental involvement with academics often causes the low student performance evident across the U.S. I do not agree with advocating for even LESS parental involvement.
I completely agree with you. Parental, or adult, engagement at home can be a deal-maker/breaker when it comes to student performance. I subscribe to theories that differ from the author's.
First, if an adult is involved with the child and his activities, then the child will commonly react with "hey, somebody cares about me" leading to an increased sense of self-worth. A sense of caring about one's-self leads to caring about grades and other socially acceptable behaviors (Maslow).
Secondly, I am a FIRM believer in the techniques of behavior modification through positive reinforcement (Karen Pryor). It's up to an invested adult to determine what motivates the student and use those motivators to shape and reinforce desirable behavior such as daily homework completion. A classroom teacher has too many students and too little time to apply this theory.
Letting a child sink or swim by himself is a bad idea. Children have only one childhood; there are no do-overs.
And yes, children are work.
Many experience similar feelings of being at fault when
their child fails, so, you’re not alone. Truth of the matter is, allowing your
child to experience natural consequences of their actions by allowing them to
fail gives them the opportunity to look at themselves and change their
behavior. We have a couple articles I think you may find helpful: When You Should Let Your Child Fail: The Benefits of Natural Consequences & 5 Natural Consequences You Should Let Your Child Face. Good luck to you and
your family moving forward. Take care.
How great it is that you want to help your brother be more
productive with his homework. He’s lucky to have a sibling who cares about him
and wants him to be successful. Because we are a website aimed at helping
parents develop better ways of managing acting out behavior, we are limited in
the advice we can offer you as his sibling. There is a website that may be able
to offer you some suggestions. http://www.yourlifeyourvoice.org/
is a website aimed at helping teens and young adults figure out ways of dealing
with challenges they may be facing in their lives. They offer several ways of
getting support, such as by e-mail or text, through an online forum and chat,
and also a call in helpline. You can check out what they have to offer at http://www.yourlifeyourvoice.org/. Good luck
to you and your family moving forward. Take care.
Thank you so much for your humble support....
It sounds like you have done a lot
of work to try to help your daughter achieve her educational goals, and it’s
normal to feel frustrated when she does not seem to be putting in the same
amount of effort. It can be useful to keep your focus on whether your
daughter is doing her work, and to keep that separate from whether she “cares”
about doing her work. Ultimately, it is up to your daughter to do her
work, regardless of how she appears to feel about it. To that end, we
recommend working with the various local supports you have in place, such as
her therapists and others on her IEP team, to talk about what could be useful
to motivate your daughter to do her school work. Because individuals with
autism can vary greatly with their abilities, it’s going to be more effective
to work closely with the professionals who are familiar with your daughter’s
strengths and level of functioning in order to develop a plan to address this
issue. Thank you so much for writing in; we wish you and your daughter
all the best as you continue to address her difficulties with school.
is there a blog for parents that went to Therapeutic boarding schooling for their adolescent?