Ending The Homework Battle
What do you do when your child won’t do schoolwork without an epic battle every.single.day?
What happens if you throw gifted in the mix, just for fun?
Motivation is a tricky thing, and every child is different, but here are 11 ideas for how to get kids to do homework without raising your blood pressure thirty points.
This topic was prompted by a question that appeared in the Facebook group that Mensa has for parents and educators of gifted kids, some in Mensa and some not.
The question was this:
[My] eleven year old son is In the profoundly gifted range (IQ of 162) and he is failing in school. He refuses to do class work and is falling so far behind I have no idea how he could ever catch up. He HATES writing and constantly says he doesn’t see value in literature webs or essay assignments. Our nightly homework has become such battle that I feel like giving up and letting him fail, but then I don’t want him to think he can chose what matters at 11 years old. Has anyone else had this experience? What did you do? Any and all suggestions will be greatly appreciated.
Also I would like to mention he does not have ADD or ADHD or at least he didn’t a year ago when we had him tested. We were told he is just a genius and just bored.
Let’s start with this: Being highly intelligent does not come with one-to-one correspondence with boredom or low motivation or refusal to work. It’s not a pathological condition. It is just as harmful to gifted children for people to think that if you’re really smart you can’t function in the world as it is for people to perpetuate the idea that gifted children have no special needs with regard to education, in my opinion.
That’s not what this parent is implying; I just wanted to clarify that that’s the angle from which I’m coming: gifted children can be successful in cognitive and affective domains, even doing homework. Parents who secretly (or not-so-secretly) harbor the idea that their children are “above” homework will have kids who overtly rebel against it in ways that are not helpful.
So with that, let’s look at 11 ideas for how to stop the homework battle with gifted kids.
1. Eliminate the Physical
If a child hates writing, really hates it, sometimes it’s the actual physical act of writing that is problematic. An evaluation by an occupational therapist can eliminate that as an issue.
Additionally, you can be gifted and have another underlying condition, so if I really felt my child had a serious disconnect between genotype (what he/she is at the core) and phenotype (how that’s appearing on the outside), I would fork over the cash for a serious and quality assessment by the best psychologist I could find who knew about gifted.
An evaluation by someone unfamiliar with giftedness is not ideal because you are so likely to get a misdiagnosis.
2. Support Executive Functioning
There’s a lot to manage in homework completion: supplies, prioritizing work, planning the time and energy, storing and organizing completed work properly, transporting back to school, and turning it in (Yes, that is actually a step. Who knew?).
That’s a whole lot o’ executive functioning.
Parents can support kids in this by:
- helping them break down projects into manageable components and timelines
- establishing routines and create checklists (see Tips #5 & #8)
- being a sounding board before homework begins, allowing kids to talk through what needs to be done
- familiarizing themselves with the expectations of the teachers (all work done in pen? pencil? wide-rule paper? one side of paper only?)
If your child has executive functioning struggles, homework will definitely bring those issues to the surface.
3. Natural Consequence
Right now the child in the question above can’t possibly see the value in doing the work because he isn’t doing it and nothing horrible is happening. I know how hard it would be (believe me), but if he fails or has to stay in for recess or whatever and sees what happens when he doesn’t do the homework, he will see at least one side of the value of work.
Too many parents worry about students’ grades and end up completing the homework themselves. This is theft. These parents are stealing their child’s opportunity.
This is academic dishonesty, and is not defensible. Ever. If you are doing this, stop immediately. If homework isn’t done, the consequence will come.
Many parents think, “But if he doesn’t do this assignment, he’ll fail the class, and then he’ll never get into college.” This may be catastrophizing, but even if it’s not, think about this: if not now, when? When will he/she learn to do the work him/herself? If you’re not planning to cheat in college, too, the time to have the child learn to work on his/her own is now.
Let the consequences fall where they may.
4. Back Off
This is natural consequence on steroids.
Just back off.
Stop checking to see what homework there is. Stop emailing the teacher about it. Don’t check the backpack. I know, I know. But just stop. Don’t ask. Don’t even ask.
Allow time in the schedule for the completing of homework (see Tip #7) and have the needed supplies available, but other than that, back off. This is a temporary solution to reset the dynamic. It’s not a long-term strategy for younger students.
This works in three situations:
- The relationship between the child and the parent is so stressed by the homework headaches that it’s causing real damage. The relationship is the most important thing, always.
- The situation has become an oppositional defiance thing, and the child is rebelling. Removing the pushback can allow the child to feel less backed into a corner. Sometimes the child feels like the parent “wins” (meaning she loses) if the homework is done after a battle.
- The child does not have some issue (ADHD, Autism Spectrum, etc.) that affects executive functioning. (see Tip #2)
5. Establish Routine
Routine is the key to conquering bad homework habits, which is what most homework hassle boils down to. It’s all habit, and habit is powerful.
Make sure the routine includes breaks. Some kids work best after a snack and some physical exercise. In fact, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that nearly all kids work best after a snack and gross motor exercise.
Routine includes establishing a place for homework completion. Some kids like to work at the kitchen table, and this can be okay, but it can also cause problems with distraction, with having to clear work away before it’s done, and with too ready access to parents ready to leap in and interfere. Consider if this is really the best place for your child to do homework.
I don’t recommend the bargain that some parents make of work in exchange for screen time. That sends a message that homework is undesirable. Homework is not undesirable. Homework is part of life. Even if you disagree with the idea of it (and I strongly disagree with too much homework), it’s not going anywhere anytime soon in most cases. Sending negative messages about it won’t help.
Routine also includes what kids are wearing. This sounds a little crazy, but for kids with sensory intensities, and even those without, changing into really comfy clothes can help. Tight or pinching waistbands or too-tight necklines can create issues.
6. Find the Reason
Have a non-confrontational discussion about what’s really behind the resistance to the work.
Avoid stopping at the low-hanging fruit of boredom. Look, no one finds doing dishes cognitively challenging, yet there are many of us with master’s degrees up to our elbows in suds. Being smart is no get-out-of-work free card.
What is really going on, cop-outs aside?
Some kids actually enjoy the negative attention, especially if it’s the only attention they’re getting or is the fastest way to get a parent’s attention.
Sometimes impostor syndrome can make kids worry that if they don’t remember how to do the work, it proves they’re not really smart.
They may be physically tired.
Sometimes they don’t understand the why behind the work (see Tip #10).
Do they struggle to really know how to study? (I have ideas about that)
The reasons go on and on. Discover them by asking respectful questions.
This conversation should not occur at homework time. Make sure everyone is happy and calm before bringing this up unless you need more drama in your life.
Sometimes there is no reason, or at least not one the student can describe. If that’s the case, it’s important that parents and teachers make the case for homework effectively.
7. Allow time in the schedule
Kids feel time pressure, too. If you’ve got your family so overscheduled that you’re rushing everywhere every day, homework stress goes way up. The child becomes the focus of the homework headache, but really it’s the parents’ overscheduling of the family that is the problem.
Kids can’t be rushed from practice to rehearsal to lessons and back again without feeling that pressure.
Slow down and let the magic begin.
8. Use Charts & Checklists
Charts and checklists can help kids with executive functioning, but also just with general homework management. You can poke around for checklists that work for you.
John Rosemond’s book Ending the Homework Hassle has checklists (I haven’t read it, but I’ve heard that it does).
Make sure you have a checklist that includes the routine. For example, unpacking and repacking the backpack, planning out the homework time, etc.
You may want a checklist for each day or one for a week. You may want subjects listed separately. Try out a few of them and pick the one that works best for you.
Should I make one? I should make one. Stay tuned.
How much time should the homework be taking? You know who knows? The teacher.
When I was teaching, I would indicate how long the assignment should take. It’s important to know so that you can plan. It’s also important to know so that you don’t get mad at the teacher because he assigned three hours of homework to a six-year-old when really he thought it was fifteen minutes’ worth of homework. I write about this more deeply in my book.
What projects are coming up that need to be planned for? You know who knows? The teacher.
Pay attention to the communication coming home from the teacher. Actually read the website and newsletter, if they exist.
Homework is harder when the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is supposed to be doing.
Parents should communicate with kids and teachers. Teachers should communicate with parents and students. Students should communicate with parents and teachers. I think that pretty much covers it.
10. Find the value:
One key cause of rebellion against homework is that kids (especially our GT kiddos) struggle to find value in the homework. Why should I have to do it? They can have an existential crisis over a single sheet of math facts practice.
Homework has a number of purposes:
- Review and practice: The brain remembers what it thinks it needs to remember, and reviewing what was learned in class is a key strategy to getting information consolidated into long-term memory. Even material that seems simple when learned, can fall out of mind during the cerebral clean-out known as sleep.
- Mastering materials: sometimes homework is not about content, but rather about process – using materials or working with a book or video.
- Going beyond: Sometimes there simply isn’t time in class for a worthwhile activity. It’s hypocritical for a student to say that he/she doesn’t want to listen to people read out loud, and at the same time won’t read at home. Dude. It’s got to be read somewhere. Same for writing. As a teacher, I often found myself mystified by students’ not taking advantage of time given in class for assignments and then complaining that they had too much homework. Pick one, because you can’t have it both ways.
I love John Rosemond‘s beliefs about the “hidden values of homework”
- Responsibility- The ability to assume ‘ownership’ of that which rightly belongs to you.
- Autonomy- To be self-governing, to stand on your own two feet.
- Perseverance – Become “The Little Engine that Could”
- Time Management – “The ability to organize time in an effective, productive manner, to complete tasks on schedule without compromising quality.”
- Initiative- “To be self-motivated and assertive, to be decisive in defining and pursuing personal goals.”
- Self-Reliance – “To have trust and self-confidence in your abilities.”
- Resourcefulness – “The capacity to find, invent, or adapt creative means of solving problems.”
Before homework is begun, have the child figure out what value and purpose is available in the assignment.
11. Do your own homework
Kids shouldn’t be the only ones doing homework. It’s important for kids to see parents working on cognitive practice at home. I don’t mean checking social media. I so don’t mean that.
What I mean is working on learning a world language or some kind of other learning. Calligraphy. Woodworking. A musical instrument. Knitting. Something that takes practice.
Parents can practice when kids are practicing. Pull out your own homework, and send a powerful message that you never outgrow learning.
Ending the Battle
The fighting itself can become a habit, so the first step in ending the homework battle may be some self-reflection about what habits have become entrenched and need to change.
I hope you’ve found these tips helpful, and good luck ending the battle!