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Defiant Children Who Refuse To Do Homework: 30 Tips For Parents

How many times have you said something like, “My child can focus on TV, movies or video games for hours, but getting her to complete homework is like pulling teeth”?

Kids, even defiant ones, usually don’t consciously choose to fail. Yet, your child refuses to do her homework, which causes her to fail. Neither you nor your child know why she is sabotaging herself.

Most moms and dads struggle with getting their youngster to complete homework after school.  Rarely is a kid ever eager to get back to work when she returns home from a long day in the classroom. To minimize “homework battles” (i.e., parent-child conflict over homework), you need to understand why your child is resistant to doing homework in the first place. 

Here are just a few possibilities:
  • Your child doesn’t understand the work and needs some extra help. It’s possible that your youngster doesn’t want to do his homework because he really needs help.  Also, it can be challenging for moms and dads to accept that their youngster might need help with homework, because there is often a stigma attached to kids who need tutoring. 
  • Your child is addicted to TV and video games. Moms and dads often find it very difficult to limit these activities. But, understand that playing video games and watching TV doesn’t relax a youngster’s brain.  In fact, it actually over-stimulates the brain and makes it harder for him to learn and retain information.  Too much of watching TV and playing video games contributes to your youngster struggling with school and homework in more ways than one.
  • Your child is exhausted from a long day at school. In the last 10 to 20 years, the needs of kids have not changed, however the pace of life has.  Most moms and dads are busy and have very little down time, which inevitably means that the youngster ends up with less down time too.  He is going to be less likely to be motivated to work when there is chaos all around him.  
  • Your child is not sleeping enough. Sleep is one of the most under-appreciated needs in our society today. When a child doesn’t get enough sleep, it can cause him to be sick more often, lose focus, and have more emotional issues. Kids often need a great deal more sleep than they usually get.  
  • Your child is over-booked with other activities. Moms and dads want their youngster to develop skills other than academics. Because of this, they often sign-up their youngster for extracurricular activities (e.g., sports or arts).  
  • Your child is overwhelmed by your expectations. Moms and dads want their youngster to be well-rounded and to get ahead in life.  Along with this comes getting good grades.  All these expectations can put a lot of pressure on your youngster and may cause him to become burned-out and want to find an escape.

==> My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

So, what is a parent to do? Below are some tips that will help your child be less neglectful of his homework assignments – BUT – these ideas will take some hard work on your part too:

1. Be a cheerleader. Some children need a little extra boost of confidence. Let’s say your youngster has a big test to study for, but can’t seem to get started. You can help out by running through the first few problems until she gets the hang of it. Or you might brainstorm with your youngster to help her choose a topic for the big paper she has to write. You're not doing the work for her, rather you're helping her to get going so the task doesn't seem so daunting.

2. Be clear and firm, but don’t argue with your kids about homework. Make eye contact and tell them calmly that they are responsible for the work.

3. Choose a powerful incentive that your youngster will recognize as meaningful. This might be extra time on the computer, a special meal, or attending an activity that she is looking forward to. Incentives can be phased out when kids attend to the homework responsibly.

4. Communicate regularly with your youngster's educators so that you can deal with any behavior patterns before they become a major problem.

5. Consider adding in break times (e.g., your child might work on her math homework for 15 minutes, and then take a 5 minute break).

6. Contact the teacher as soon as you suspect that your youngster has a homework problem. Schools have a responsibility to keep moms and dads informed, and you have a right to be upset if you don't find out until report-card time that your youngster is having difficulties. On the other hand, sometimes moms and dads figure out that a problem exists before the teacher does. By alerting the teacher, you can work together to solve a problem in its early stages.

7. Don't do the assignments yourself. It's not your homework – it's your youngster's. Doing assignments for your youngster won't help him understand and use information. And it won't help him become confident in his own abilities. It can be hard for moms and dads to let kids work through problems alone and learn from their mistakes. It's also hard to know where to draw the line between supporting and doing.

8. Engage your youngster in constructive, mind-building activities – any activity that supports learning (e.g., reading, puzzles, educational games, library visits, walks in the neighborhood, trips to the zoo or museums, chores that teach a sense of responsibility, etc.). Join in these activities yourself.

9. Help your youngster get organized. It's a good idea to set a regular time and place for kids to do homework. Also, stick to a routine as much as possible. Put up a calendar in a place where you'll see it often and record assignments on it. Writing out assignments will get him used to the idea of keeping track of what's due and when. You may want to use an assignment book instead of a calendar.

10. If you understand something about the style of learning that suits your youngster, it will be easier for you to help her. If you've never thought about this style, observe your youngster. See if she works better alone or with someone else. If your youngster gets more done when working with someone else, she may want to complete some assignments with a brother or sister or a classmate. (Some homework, however, is meant to be done alone. Check with the teacher if you aren't sure.) Does your youngster learn things best when she can see them? If so, drawing a picture or a chart may help with some assignments. Does your youngster learn things best when she can hear them? She may need to listen to a story or have directions read to her. Too much written material or too many pictures or charts may confuse her. Does your youngster understand some things best when she can handle or move them? An apple cut four or six or eight ways can help kids learn fractions.

11. Involve your child. As your youngster matures, you should involve her in setting expectations, rewards, and consequences. This empowers her, which may improve her self-esteem and reinforce the concept that she is in charge of her own behavior.

12. Keep the house generally quiet during homework time.

13. Kids are more likely to complete assignments successfully when moms and dads monitor homework. How closely you need to monitor depends upon the age of your youngster, how independent she is, and how well she does in school. Whatever the age of your youngster, if assignments are not getting done satisfactorily, more supervision is needed.

14. Look over completed assignments when possible. It's usually a good idea to check to see that your youngster has finished her assignments. If you're not there when an assignment is finished, look it over when you get home. After the teacher returns completed homework, read the comments to see if your youngster has done the assignments satisfactorily.

15. Make sure your child has enough “space” for doing her work. For some children, this will mean a large work space like a kitchen table to spread out their papers and books.

==> My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

16. Make your youngster responsible for her choices. All privileges are suspended until the work is done, even if it takes all evening.

17. Model good study habits. Kids are more likely to study if they see you reading, writing, and doing things that require thought and effort on your part. Talk with your youngster about what you're reading and writing, even if it's something as simple as making the grocery list. Also, tell them about what you do at work.

18. Offer snacks to keep your youngster “fueled-up” for the work.

19. Pre-teach. It’s easier to prevent negative behaviors in defiant children than to deal with them after they occur. A very effective tool is to pre-teach behavior prior to an event (in this case, doing homework) or potentially vulnerable situation. This involves talking with the child in detail about what will be happening, why, and what her role and expected behaviors will be. Pre-teaching reduces anxiety, clarifies expectations, and builds confidence.

20. Reward the youngster appropriately for good behavior and tasks completed. Set up a clear system of rewards so that your youngster knows what to expect when she completes a task or improves behavior.

21. Seek outside assistance. If you find yourself becoming overwhelmed by “homework battles,” speak to a professional. It's only natural that you have needs and questions in this process, so seek help when needed.

22. Separate the youngster's behavior from the youngster, using thought rather than feelings. Another way to say this is "disengage" from the defiant behavior. (This doesn’t mean ignore it.) Consistency and follow through on consequences still apply, especially when it comes to “homework refusal.”

23. Set a good example. Children don't always show it, but their parents are very important. They are watching YOUR behavior. Thus, if you are a “follow through” person (i.e., someone who always starts what he finishes), then you will be modeling “task completion” skills for your child, and she will likely follow your lead.

24. Share concerns with the teacher. You may want to contact the teacher if:
  • instructions are unclear
  • neither you nor your youngster can understand the purpose of assignments
  • the assignments are often too hard or too easy
  • the homework is assigned in uneven amounts
  • you can't provide needed supplies or materials 
  • you can't seem to help your youngster get organized to finish the assignments
  • your youngster has missed school and needs to make up assignments
  • your youngster refuses to do her assignments, even though you've tried hard to get her to do them

25. Show an interest. Make time to take your youngster to the library to check out materials needed for homework (and for fun too), and read with your youngster as often as you can. Talk about school and learning activities in family conversations. Ask your youngster what was discussed in class that day. If he doesn't have much to say, try another approach. For example, ask your youngster to read aloud a story he wrote, or discuss the results of a science experiment. Another good way to show your interest is to attend school activities, such as parent-teacher meetings, shows, and sports events. If you can, volunteer to help in the classroom or at special events. Getting to know some classmates and other moms and dads not only shows you're interested, but helps build a network of support for you and your youngster.

26. Talk about the assignments. Ask your youngster questions. Talking can help him think through an assignment and break it down into small, workable parts. Here are some sample questions:
  • Do you understand what you're supposed to do?
  • What do you need to do to finish the assignment?
  • Do you need help in understanding how to do your work?
  • Have you ever done any problems like the ones you're supposed to do right now?
  • Do you have everything you need to do the assignment?
  • Does your answer make sense to you? 

If your youngster is still confused, ask:
  • Are you still having problems? Maybe it would help to take a break or have a snack.
  • Do you need to review your notes (or reread a chapter in your textbook) before you do the assignment? 
  • How far have you gotten on the assignment? Let's try to figure out where you're having a problem.

27. Talk with educators early in the school year. Get acquainted before problems arise, and let educators know that you want to be kept informed. Most schools invite moms and dads to come to parent-teacher conferences or open houses. If your youngster's school doesn't provide such opportunities, call the teacher to set up a meeting.

28. Tie responsibilities to privileges. When your youngster chooses to do her work reliably, she may then expect to participate in activities that interest her.

29. Use a broken record technique to respond to any rebuttal your youngster may offer (e.g., "I hear you, but I want you to start your homework now").

30. Use a timer. Some moms and dads find that using a timer for “homework time” is a good way to build and reinforce structure. Setting a reasonable time limit for completing homework helps train your youngster to expect limitations, even on unpleasant activities like homework. Giving your youngster a time limit for completing his work is useful, especially if you reward finishing on time.

Homework is a major struggle in many homes, but it doesn’t have to be.  Recognizing why your youngster might be fighting it is key to establishing healthy homework habits.  By doing this, you may find you have fewer battles to fight on that front.


==> My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

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