Our three oldest children were fairly self-motivated when it came to school work. Naturally bright, they successfully navigated preparing for tests, completing class assignments and managing their weekly homework load. We as their parents didn’t feel the need to track grades or worry about progress reports because it wasn’t necessary—they had had it figured out.
Then our fourth child came along.
While also extremely bright he just didn’t seem interested when it came to completing his work. Unsatisfactory progress reports became the norm, half- done class assignments lay crumbled in the bottom of his back pack and before too long there were a lot more missing homework assignments in the gradebook than completed ones. By 8th grade we had a problem on our hands.
Our first strategy was to sit down with our son and try to figure out what was going on. Was the work too difficult? Was there not enough time in his schedule to complete his assignments? Neither seemed to be the case as when it came to tests he was doing very well and generally speaking he had hours after school to work on homework. He was simply choosing not to do it because, in his own words, “It’s boring. I’d rather be doing something else.”
Hmmm. Well, at least he was honest.
What ensued over the next few years was a myriad of strategies all aimed at correcting the problem. First, we partnered with his teachers to see exactly where he was at and what needed to be completed. Then we helped him set a schedule, make lists of missing assignments and begin to whittle away at them. I would love to tell you that these strategies always worked. Often, in the short term they would make a difference, but repeatedly he would fall back into old patterns. Incentives didn’t seem to do much good and punishments didn’t work at all. In fact, they seemed to have the opposite effect, resulting in more missing assignments and less effort. It was, in a word, maddening.
One day, at the end of my rope, I had a conversation with one of his high school teachers who said to me, “it’s not unusual for a teenager to be this way. He’s a good kid and he’ll figure it out.” Huh. Maybe he was right.
Eventually we started to shift our focus. Not doing your homework has natural consequences and maybe we needed to let those consequences play out. As the school years wore on and graduation loomed we did fret a bit, but in the end, all classes were passed (and some with grades much better than we had anticipated.) Could he have done better with more effort? Yes. Did his grades prevent him from getting into his #1 choice of college? It did. But perhaps those were lessons he needed to learn to move himself in the right direction.
There are many strategies we can use to arm our children with great tools to hopefully be more successful in school. It can often be trial and error to figure out what will make a difference and we should continually look for ways to build these life skills in our kids. (For our son we saw that though our strategies didn’t seem to make a huge difference in school, they did help him in other rigorous leadership positions). Sometimes the turn- around will be a quick fix, but sometimes it won’t, and that’s ok. Don’t be discouraged if the results you are seeking don’t happen when or how you envision. Just do your best.
QUESTION: What are some strategies you have used to deal with a child that doesn’t do their homework? Share your stories and ideas in the comments below!
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