Ask the Expert: Homework… You can’t make me!
Question: I have a 6th grade son who is in gifted classes, and recently he has decided that he doesn’t want to do the work. In fact, he told me, “I don’t want to be in the gifted class; I don’t want to do the work, and you can’t make me.” He’s smart, and he’s driving me crazy! Help!!
- The more you push on this issue, the more likely he will resist, and his resistance will probably come in the form of slacking off even more. He’ll see how passionate you are about his homework and decide that he doesn’t need to be passionate at all, OR he’ll see this as an opportunity to exert some control over his own life. He’ll see it as a power struggle and the more you pull, the harder he will pull in the opposite direction. As you back off, you allow him to take responsibility for his own actions and focus on his own desires rather than concern himself with what you think/feel about it.
- This is the time to let him fail. Now I know that this statement is anxiety producing, but let me explain. From a purely academic perspective, his grades don’t really count yet. When he enters high school, his grades have an impact on his ability to get into the college of his choice, but right now, they don’t. So if there’s a time for him to experience the consequences of bad choices with the least long term effect, now would be that time.
- Let the consequences do the screaming. This principle says it all—let the consequences do the screaming. Once you’ve calmed yourself, it’s important to think through what would be an appropriate consequence for failing to do homework. This is best done before you actually need to implement it—not in the heat of the moment. And it can even be presented before it becomes necessary. For instance, “You can watch TV after your homework is done.” Do you notice how non confrontational that sounds? Very different from, “You can’t watch any TV unless your homework is done.” A slight change, but the tone is more positive, it invites less resistance, and even sounds like a reward. One more comment on consequences…sometimes it’s tempting to pile on consequences, especially when your child starts to dig in his heels. Unfortunately that tends to backfire, so if you see yourself taking away every privilege and good thing in your child’s life, slow down. Take a pause. Mentally switch places with your child and ask yourself what it’s like from his position. Then have a talk with him, a respectful, not dogmatic talk. Maybe you’ll discover he really doesn’t like Language Arts or he doesn’t get along with his teacher or he’s distracted by a girl in his class.
Middle school, as you know and probably remember from your own experience, is a time of transition—good transitions and painful ones. The more you can seek to develop your relationship with your son, the better you will both be able to tackle these challenges. Enjoy him. Find ways to balance the business side of parenting (supervising homework, dishing out consequences, managing the home schedule) with the nurturing/fun side of parenting. Give him opportunities to make more of his own decisions. So many kids at this age are seeking to expand their influence and wanting to manage more of their own lives. Give him those opportunities and as you do so, encourage him, praising his efforts.