A Fine Parent

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Child Not Doing Homework? Read This Before You Try Anything Else

by Tanith Carey . (This article is part of the Be Positive series. Get free article updates here .)

Child Not Doing Homework? Read This Before You Try Anything Else: Introduction

Instead, Lily had just scribbled all over her homework worksheet, thrown her pencil on the floor and was now yelling at the top of her voice: “ I hate Math! I suck at it!”

With my younger daughter to put to bed, Lily in a melt down and me exhausted after a day at work, the tension was rapidly rising.

But even if I could calm ourselves down , there was no end in sight. Even if I could persuade her to finish her math homework, Lily still had the whole book reading to do.

So I was facing two choices –

Should I stand over her and insist that not doing homework was NOT an option?

Or should I tell her to put the books away, write a note to her teacher and just let her unwind and play in the lead up to bedtime?

Have you been there? What choice would you make?

The choice I would make now is very different to what my choice would have been a few years back.

Back then, I’d try to push through with a mixture of cajoling and prompting and assurances that she did know how to do her Math  really .

If that didn’t work then maybe in despair and frustration that she didn’t seem to want to try, I would have gotten angry and tried to explain how serious I was about this.

A Game of One-Upmanship

Child Not Doing Homework? Pushy Parenting May Not Be The Right Choice

After all, what choice did I have? From the very early days in the private nursery she attended, I found myself surrounded by lots of other mothers locked into the same race to make their children the brightest and the best.

As Lily got older, I came to learn how insidiously contagious  pushy parenting is.

If one of the mothers spotted another parent with a Kumon Math folder, we all rushed to sign up too – for fear our children would get left behind.

Neurosis underpinned every conversation at the school gates – particularly as all of us were aiming to get our children into a small handful of selective private schools in the area.

Bit by bit, the parenting journey which had started off being so exciting and rewarding, was turning into a stressful game of one-upmanship .

But children are not products to be developed and put on show to reflect well on us.

son not doing homework

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Depending on what happens on the night, every child is conceived with a unique combination of genes which also maps out their strengths, weaknesses and personality traits before they are even born.

Lily may have been bred into a competitive hotbed. But as an innately modest and sensitive child, she decided she did not want to play.

The alarm bells started ringing in Grade Three when, after I personally made sure she turned in the best Space project, she won the prize. While I applauded uproariously from the sidelines, Lily, then seven, fled the room in tears and refused to accept the book token from the Head.

When she calmed down, she explained she hated us making a fuss. But what is just as likely is that she disliked the fact that her successes had become as much ours as hers. Even at that young age, no doubt she also realized that the more she succeeded, the more pressure she would be under to keep it up.

Over the next few years, the issues only deepened.

The Problem of Not Doing Homework

Child Not Doing Homework? Don't Let it Turn into a Daily Battle

The increasing amounts of homework sent home by the school gradually turned our house into a war zone – with me as the drill sergeant.

Homework is one of the most common flash points between kids and parents – the crossroads at which academic endeavors meet parental expectations at close quarters – and behind closed doors.

Surveys have found that homework is the single biggest source of friction between children and parents. One survey found that forty percent of kids say they have cried during rows over it. Even that figure seems like a dramatic underestimate.

Yet more and more, it is recognized that homework undermines family time and eats into hours that should be spent on play or leisure.

A straightforward piece of work that would take a child twenty minutes at school can easily take four times as long at home with all the distractions and delaying tactics that go with it.

As a result, children get less sleep , go to bed later and feel more stressed .

Homework has even started to take over summer vacations.

Once, the long break was seen as a chance for children to have adventures, discover themselves and explore nature. Now the summer months are viewed as an extension of the academic year – a chance for kids to catch up or get ahead with workbooks and tutoring.

But ultimately homework abides by the law of diminishing returns.

Researchers at Duke University found that after a maximum of two hours of homework, any learning benefits rapidly start to drop off for high school students.

While some children will do everything to avoid doing it, at the extreme others will become perfectionists who have to be persuaded to go to bed. Some moms I spoke to had to bribe their children to do less!

Given the cloud of anxiety hovering over them, no wonder some of these children perceive education as stressful .

Pushed to the Brink


While all of us would say we love our children no matter what, unfortunately that’s not the message our kids hear. Instead, children become angry when they feel we are turning them into passive projects. Rather than feel like they are disappointing us, they disconnect. Early signs may be they become uncommunicative after school, stop looking parents in the eye, become secretive or avoidant.

But we need to remember that unhappy, stressed kids don’t learn.

Over the next few years, Lily’s insistence on not doing homework kept getting worse. To try and get to the bottom of it, my husband Anthony and I took her to see educational psychologist who found strong cognitive scores and no signs of learning difficulties.

But what the report did identify was how profoundly Lily’s self-worth had been affected .  Even though I had never once told her she should be top of the class, she still felt she had to be good at everything. If she couldn’t be, she didn’t think there was any point trying at all.

It was clear despite our best efforts to support her, Lily constantly felt criticized . She was becoming defensive and resentful.

Most serious of all, by claiming she couldn’t do her homework – when she could – she was testing if my love for her was conditional on her success.

I had to face up to the painful truth that unless I took immediate action – and killed off my inner Tiger Mom – my child and I were growing apart.

So for the sake of my daughter, I realized I had to change direction and take my foot off the gas .

When her tutor rang to tell me Lily needed a break, I was delighted to agree. Since then, I have let her focus on the subjects that really matter to her – art and music – and have let her decide what direction to take them in.

I also made a deliberate effort to spend time with Lily – just the two of us – so we can simply “be” together. Now instead of trips to the museums and classical concerts, we go for walks in the park and hot chocolates.

The Difficult Journey Back

girl school tired book

To help her recognize and dismiss the voice that was bringing her down, I took her to see a Neuro-Linguistic Programming coach who teaches children strategies to untangle the persistent negative thoughts that undermine their self-belief – and replace them with positive ones.

Before we began, Jenny explained that Lily’s issues are not uncommon. As a teacher with 30 years’ experience, Jenny believes the growing pressure on children to perform from an early age is contributing to a general rise in learning anxiety. The youngest child she has helped was six .

It’s children like Lily, who don’t relish a contest, who are among the biggest casualties.

At home, some have been made to feel they are not good enough by parents or are intimidated by more academic sisters and brothers. Some may develop an inferiority complex simply because they are born into high-achieving families.

Once established, failure can also become self-reinforcing. Even when they get good marks, children like Lily still dwell on the pupil who got the higher one to support their negative views of their abilities, making it a self-perpetuating downward spiral.

It’s when children start to see this self-criticism as fact that the negative self-talk can start.

As she sat on the sofa, Jenny asked Lily if she had ever heard a nagging voice in her head that put her down. Lily looked surprised but answered that yes, she had. Asked who it was, my daughter replied: “It’s me, but the mean me.”

Asked to draw this character, Lily depicted an angry, disapproving female figure with her hands on her hips, with a mouth spouting the words “blah, blah, blah.” When asked to name her, Lily thought for a moment before coming up with the name Miss Trunch-Lily, so-called because the figure is half herself – and half the hectoring teacher from Roald Dahl’s Matilda.

Now that Miss Trunch-Lily had been nailed, Jenny and Lily agreed an easy way to deal with her would be to talk back and tell her “Stop it, you meanie” one hundred times.

But that would take a long time, so Lily and Jenny came up with a quicker solution; imagining a canon which would instantly send a shower of 60 candies into her mouth so she couldn’t say another word.

Next time Lily heard her nagging voice, all she had to do was press an imaginary button and her nemesis would be silenced.

In the months that followed, Lily seemed to relax. Gradually the procrastination about homework started to vanish – and Lily was much more likely to open her books after school and quietly get on with her homework.

A Fresh New Start

Child Not Doing Homework? Don't Try to Catch Up During Vacations

Instead my husband, my daughters and I went on long walks with our dog. We examined different types of seaweed and examined crabs in rock pools.

Back in the cottage, we sat around and read books that interested us. I let the children play upstairs for hours, not on their phones, but in long elaborate role-plays, without feeling the need to interrupt once.

I would wager that Lily and Clio learnt more about themselves – and what they are capable of – in a single week than in a whole semester at their schools where they hardly get a moment to stop and think.

Taming the Tiger Parent - Tanith Carey

Of course, for the child born with a go-getting personality, teaming up with turbo-charged parents can be a winning combination – to start with at least.

But as adults, we have to start asking – how high we can raise the bar before it’s too high for our children to jump?

After all, a bigger picture is also emerging : a rise in anxiety disorders, depression and self-harm among children who have grown up with this continual pressure – and the emergence of a generation who believe they are losers if they fail, they’ve never done enough if they win.

Even among children who succeed in this environment, educationalists are finding pushy parenting creates a drive towards perfectionism which can turn into self-criticism when these young people can’t live up to such high standards.

I’m happy that in the midst of this arms race to push our kids more and more, there are changes afoot. Around the world, parents and educators are drawing up a blue-print for an alternative.

Whether it’s slow parenting , minimalist parenting , free-range parenting – or the more bluntly named Calm the F*** Down parenting , there is recognition that we need to resist the impulse to constantly push and micro-manage.

As a mother to Lily, as well as my younger daughter, Clio, I’ve decided I don’t want to be a part of all those crushing burdens of expectations. I want to provide a relief from it.

Apart from the fact it makes children happier, it’s also so much more fun.

Now I love the fact that when Lily messes around in the kitchen making cupcakes, I no longer have to fight the urge to tell her to hurry up – and badger her to finish her homework.

Of course, not doing homework is not an option – but these days in our house the aim is to do it as quickly and efficiently as possible. If a concept is not understood, I don’t pull my hair out trying to be the teacher and trying to play ‘catch-up’. If Lily, now 12, genuinely does not understand it, I write a note to the member of the staff to explain that it may need further explanation. It’s a simple system and is working perfectly fine for us.

I like it that when she comes home from school, and I ask her, ‘How are you?’ I really mean it.  It’s no longer code for: ‘What marks did you get today, darling?’ and I’m not thinking ‘Hurry up with your answer, so we can get on with your homework.’

Most of all I love the fact that I can finally appreciate Lily for the person she is now: a 12-year-old girl with an acerbic sense of humor who likes Snoopy, play-dates and kittens – and not for the person I once wanted her to be.

The 2-Minute Action Plan for Fine Parents

For our quick contemplation questions today –

  • Imagine meeting your child in 20 years times. Ask them to describe their childhood. Do they describe it as magical? Or do they look back on it as a race from one after school activity and homework project to the next?
  • Ask yourself what do you want for your children? When you say you want your children to be happy, what has that come to mean to you?  If you really analyze it, has it drifted into being interpreted as professional success and financial acumen? Furthermore, have you come to judge success by a very narrow definition of traditional career achievement and earning power?
  • Now check again. If you look around you, what do the happiest people you know have in common? Is it material goods, high-flying jobs and academic qualifications? Or is it emotional balance? If you approach the question another way, are the wealthiest people you know also the most satisfied with life?

The Ongoing Action Plan for Fine Parents

Spend some time sorting through any conflicts related to your kids not doing homework.

To start with, train your children in good habits and place time limits on how long homework should take from the start.

Ask the school how long a child should spend on each subject at night. Then you can help keep those limits in place by telling kids they can’t spend a minute more – or a minute less – than the allotted time.

Find the time of the day after school that works best for your child – either straight after arriving home or after a short break. Agree a start time every day so that the rule turns into a routine and there is less room for resistance and negotiation.

Don’t finish their homework for kids because you are desperate to get it off the evening’s to-do list. That will just mask the problem and get you dragged into a nightly conflict. Help them instead to take responsibility for their homework, while you provide guidance from the sidelines on an on-need basis.

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About Tanith Carey

Award-winning parenting writer Tanith Carey is a mother-of-two who writes books which aim to address the most pressing issues for modern families – and how to build strong, resilient kids in today’s challenging world. Her latest book Taming the Tiger Parent: How to put your child's well-being first in a competitive world has been called a big picture book to ‘re-orientate our parenting’, ‘highly readable’ ‘well-researched’ and ‘ beautifully written’ by teachers, parents and professionals. The book has received global coverage from outlets ranging from the NBC Today Show to the New York Post to yahooparenting, the Guardian and dailymail.online. Her seventh book 'Girls Uninterrupted - A manual for raising courageous daughters' - will be published in February 2015.

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December 22, 2014 at 9:14 am

This is interesting to me because it doesn’t match our experience at all. We are struggling with my daughter doing homework, but it’s more of an adolescent rebellion/lethargy thing.

My kids attend a Montessori school which generally does not assign homework. What homework they tend to get in the elementary levels is a packet of assorted reading and math that they have an entire week to do at whatever pace works for them. My son’s homework is optional and he always opts out. (He’s very busy at home drawing and playing piano and he’s already reading at a high school level in second grade, so we never worry about academics with him anyway.) But my oldest is in seventh grade and they are trying to transition the kids into what will happen in high school, and my daughter has balked at all the homework.

But we have never approached our kids’ homework as our responsibility. We are always available to help and answer questions, but I explain that I passed whatever grade they are in already, and this is their turn to learn and show what they know. It’s been much harder clamping down on my oldest and making sure she knows what the homework is and has it ready. I explained to her recently that I remember those rebellious feelings, but the only person she’s hurting is herself. She’s limiting her choices later by not doing homework. Her teachers care, but in the end it doesn’t impact them, either. It’s all on her. I also told her the worst case scenario is she ends up at the local high school by default instead of following her friends to better places, but that the local high school is good too, so it’s not the end of the world.

I actually worry when I read about other parents monitoring elements of their kids’ lives so much more closely than I do that I’m not doing enough, but my kids are smart and happy and kind and I think they will do fine in the world, so I suppose we will stick with what we are doing. Because all of us are getting some part of it wrong, regardless.

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December 22, 2014 at 11:07 am

Thanks so much for sharing that perspective, Korinthia. I love your calm and collected approach to everything parenting, so I’m not entirely surprised with the way you approach home work 🙂 That said, in the circles I hang out, very few parents (if any) would be as calm about this as you are! I don’t know if it has anything to do with the fact that most of us are first generation immigrants and are quite fanatic about education…

Even among our friends, we are a bit of an extreme case. Our daughter goes to a private school. She’s had to do daily homework on weekdays (Mon – Thu) since Kinder. We did have some initial resistance, but it’s mostly a well-established habit now. When she comes home, we take a short break, and then she sits down for homework while I get dinner ready.

Most of the days, it happens without any issues. Some days, she tries to change the rules by wanting to play before homework. I understand her want to do that, but having come from a middle class family in a developing country, my perspective on this is very different. We are where we are, quite literally, due to the discipline we had in regards to education. That discipline is a very powerful thing and like many things the earlier you get it instilled the easier it is. I see it as my job to instill that discipline in my daughter. What she wants to do with it when she grows up is up to her. (In my own case, I’ve shelved a Ph.D to be a stay-at-home mom now and pursue what I really want to do. But that’s been possible only because my degree allowed me to get a high-paying job where I was able to save enough that I don’t have to worry about money for a few years. In those years, if I can find a way to earn a modest income from this site without selling my soul, great. If not, I’ll go back to my old job and repeat the cycle. It’s an amazing freedom to have!)

Anyway, so to me, it boils down to this: this is another case of the intricate balance we parents have to strike — we need to nudge our kids to reach their full potential, but without making it stressful and hopefully in a way that they actually enjoy the process. It’s not easy, and like you I wonder sometimes if I’m making the right choice. And here, I’ll defer to your wise words, because I can’t say it any better — my [daughter is] smart and happy and kind and I think will do fine in the world, so I suppose we will stick with what we are doing. Because all of us are getting some part of it wrong, regardless. 🙂

December 22, 2014 at 3:36 pm

I’m endlessly fascinated with how many ways there are to do things as a family. And it’s always interesting to know what others think of as normal.

I guess for us it comes down to the idea that learning is important, but grades are not. I had a horribly unfair incident in college concerning a grade, and I remember my grandmother smiling and saying, “No one ever asks me what my GPA was.” And it’s true. MIT was threatening to withhold my brother’s Master’s Degree over a deadline on a signature he had nothing to do with, and he just shrugged it off and said, “They can’t take back what I learned.” (They did finally give him his degree, but he really didn’t care.) Grades don’t really mean much. A “B” for one student may be a mark of a lot of effort, and evidence of slacking off for another. I’m more interested in what my kids actually know.

I think that’s why Montessori has been such a good fit for us. They teach to the individual, they don’t give letter grades, and there is no sense of competition, only striving to learn more about the world. We know by comparison to other schools around the city that ours is one of the highest performing, so we feel confident that they are getting a good education, but it’s their education, not mine.

Maybe because I grew up in a family of artists? We were always busy, always making things and learning something new. That’s what I want for my kids. I like that they are never bored, and that they LOVE school. They love it. They pretend not to be sick when they have a cold just so they can go. I guess in my mind that’s what school should be. Someplace to be excited about.

December 22, 2014 at 4:54 pm

It is fascinating, isn’t it? I think the way we grow up, and what we have experienced, colors the lens through which we see the world.

I agree with you that at the end of the day, learning, and the love of learning, are more important than everything else.

I think differently about grades though. Grades to me, are a reflection of how well you can apply that learning. Knowledge by itself isn’t enough. You need to be able to apply it in some way – either to earn a living, or help make the world a better place, or whatever. For kids, getting good grades are a way to practice applying/expressing their knowledge… it’s a very narrow and imperfect way to do it, but it’s what we have, nevertheless.

And, I look at absolute grades… not relative ones. In other words, I don’t care how many other kids did better or worse than her in any given test… I’m interested mainly in what she did or didn’t do well.

Just like us, she will sometimes be successful in applying that knowledge. Sometimes, not as much. The question then is, what can I do to help her better retain what she has learnt and apply it more effectively?

Now, if her grades aren’t good because of something outside her control, she is off the hook. If not, we hold her accountable, and work on it together to try and figure out what she can change/improve to do better next time.

So far, this seems to have worked and I haven’t beat the joy of learning out of her, yet 🙂 But, we’re still at the beginning of her learning journey… we’ll have to see what happens as we go along and things get more demanding and more complex…

PS: This is one of the more interesting discussions I’ve had on this blog in a while — Thank you! 🙂

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December 23, 2014 at 4:10 am

Thanks for the very considered and calm discussion of this issue that is happening here. This piece is not about Lily so much as it is about how great it can be when we parents discard our baggage and come to our children afresh. My book Taming the Tiger Parent has been called ‘a book to re-orientate’ parenting – and really it is about one thing: Finding empathy and connection with our children without letting the world (which does not always want the best for our kids) to get in the way. Please share so that we get other parents have the confidence to do the same – and enjoy their parenting more..(and that’s just the adults!)

December 23, 2014 at 12:25 pm

Sumitha, I’m probably biased about grades because my own history with them has been so unrepresentative, and I think people place too much stock in them. In my kids’ school they work on preparing a portfolio of all kinds of work rather than relying on letter grades, and that works better for us. But as far as using grades simply as a barometer of whether a child is taking care of responsibilities that seems completely reasonable.

That’s one of the discussions I’m continually having with my daughter at the moment, that she needs to provide evidence for her teachers that she’s done the work. She feels the magic of a book, for instance, is marred by her picking it apart for an analysis. She’ll read the book, and she’s a good writer, but she resents the type of work assigned about it and sometimes won’t do it. (I used to do the same thing, so I get it.) I tell her she just has to pick her consequence. She can either suck it up and do the work, challenge the work by coming up with a different assignment that maybe meets the same criteria the teachers are interested in, or not do it. The first two improve her report card, and the third hurts it. The report card is a means to more choices about her future. (As her mom, I’m actually just happy she read and loved the book.)

In the end, I’m not worried. For her, bad grades at a good school are probably worth more than good grades at a bad school, and she will still have more choices than the average child. Wherever she ends up she will make it work, but that’s up to her.

I acknowledge we are in a privileged position, because she’s got enough talent and charm and resources and family that she will not starve, she will not be homeless, regardless of grades. I think the real key to success is figuring out your passion if you can, so you know what you’re working toward. As soon as she figures that out I’m convinced she has the skills and discipline to build a good life for herself. I did. (And my report cards would have given you a panic attack!)

December 23, 2014 at 9:24 pm

I have to agree with you and your daughter about the book reports — we did our first one a few weeks back, and it was decidedly much more unpleasant compared to just reading and enjoying the book!

Good luck convincing your daughter to pick one of the first two consequences. But it is clear that even if she picks the third you’ll take it in your stride — which is what I find so admirable about you 🙂

December 25, 2014 at 8:11 am

Such an interesting discussion, thank you!

One more piece to toss in there if you have time for it: http://www.thestrad.com/cpt-latests/bribery-used-motivation-practice/

I know it’s an article about practicing music, but it’s the same idea about grades as a reward, and how that backfires.

I think for me it’s not that grades are not important, it’s that they should reflect something real. If my kids are learning and working hard, the grades will follow. But their focus should always be on their education, not their grades.

December 25, 2014 at 5:04 pm

That is particularly true in music where racing from one music grade to the next, as kids do here, can destroy enjoyment of music for its own sake – and that is a very sad. It just becomes about teaching to the test. In my view children should have music as another language – and another outlet for emotion, not just as a way to build CVs

December 25, 2014 at 11:04 pm

Well said. Couldn’t agree more.

December 26, 2014 at 8:37 am

@Korinthia, sorry for the late reply — busy with the holidays.

Love that article you pointed to. Some time back, I came across several articles by Alfie Kohn and got very confused about this whole rewards thingie. At that point I was just starting to move away from threats, punishment and screaming, and thought I was doing good by using rewards and positive reinforcement instead, and Kohn’s articles turned that notion on it’s head.

Things eventually started to fall in place when I read the “Power of Habits” by Charles Duhigg.

My very unsubstantiated, unproven, non-scientific conclusion (which I wrote about here ) is based on this observation mentioned in that article — Kohn and his colleagues would admit that rewards, bribes and praise do indeed work in the short term — and Chales Duhigg’s observations that once a habit is formed, you can remove the reward completely from the habit loop and the habit will continue.

So in my opinion, if you use rewards as a way to establish a habit and not as the end result, they still have a place.

In the case of grades for instance, grades are a way to get into a consistent study habit which is — pay attention in class, learn what the teacher is teaching, review at home if necessary, let’s talk about it as much as you want or you can look things up in books/Net, apply in a test. At 1st grade it’s very hard to make learning *all* subjects fun, but a habit like this will apply to all subjects universally. Grades are a great way to get that habit started initially — they are tangible and there is recognition. As we go on, we focus the message on the learning — for instance, like me, grammar was not my daughters favorite subject. By looking at the test results and saying “Hey, you did well in your grammar test. You’re learning a lot for a first grader! What is this you’ve done here? Diagramming? We never did that in India. Will you teach me how to diagram a sentence?” implicitly acknowledges the grade on that test, but the grade isn’t the focus. When she draws on her white board and teaches me how to diagram a sentence, there is pride and joy in her and now she is a lot more interested in grammar.

I am not a music person (I know, sorry :)) but I would think that using a reward to get a child to practice until the child’s first performance isn’t a bad idea. Once the child performs in front of an audience, and enjoys that sense of accomplishment, the practice habit will likely carry through, even if you remove whatever temporary reward you used. If the child has an inclination towards music, they will learn to enjoy the practicing part of it too as they go along — it’s just a matter of getting them to do it for long enough to recognize that.

December 26, 2014 at 8:54 am

@Korinthia, I’m still thinking about it 🙂

The latest discussion reminded me about the marble jar experiment you shared on your blog some time back ( here ). At first your kids may have done the chores to earn those marbles to get the screen time or other things (rewards). But once the system (habit) was established, the marbles (or the things they could buy) is not necessarily a motivator to do the chores… it is “just how things are done” — a simple habit/system that removes the need for verbal negotiation, arguing, reminders, cajoling, power struggles etc from the picture and hence makes what needs to be done tolerable/fun for everyone involved.

December 27, 2014 at 3:48 am

To be honest on music, I think you also know your child is playing the right instrument when they do want to practice. I know that sounds idealistic but they will be much drawn towards that instrument if it’s the one that lights their ‘spark.’ Lily and Clio both do play the violin to a very high level – but as I explain in my book, that doesn’t mean I have had been to be an Amy Chau tiger parent to get to them point. Also music has become a way of life in our house, and they play music together, which helps.

January 2, 2015 at 9:19 am

(Sorry to keep this discussion dragging on forever, but it’s the kind of thing I really enjoy!)

Sumitha, I agree about using some rewards for forming habits. When my kids first started violin we got into a routine of combining practice with dessert. We don’t often have dessert, but to get them in a habit of practicing after dinner they would get marshmallows for each little thing they played. Then just at the end of the practicing. Then not at all and they didn’t notice. They were four and six at the time and that helped because it was easier to catch their attention with marshmallows than with some abstract sense of musical improvement, which on violin is painfully slow.

The hardest part about teaching beginning violin is to keep students essentially distracted from the fact that they don’t sound like anything for a long, long time, while they put in the necessary work that will improve how they sound. I used to use small stickers with my students to mark when songs were done, but it wasn’t much of a reward. My kids’ violin teacher uses toys and candy as incentives week to week, and I can see how it backfires. It takes the focus off the work and onto the treat, and not getting the treat feels like punishment. My son’s piano teacher doesn’t even use stickers–just checks things off so he knows not to keep working on them, and that’s working much better, but there is a lot more instant gratification to piano than there is to violin.

In terms of grades, we just view them differently. They tell such an incomplete story that they don’t interest me much. You know a little something if a kid gets all good grades vs. all bad grades, but beyond that, nothing useful. When I was in 7th grade I had a notoriously sexist shop teacher who would NOT give a girl an A in mechanical drawing. I know my first drawing in that class was better than the boy’s sitting next to me, but he got all A’s. I complained to my mom who told me when she was in college absolutely no woman could get an A in her advertising class, and she was far and away the best artist there. (Also, some agencies flat out did not hire women, which still blows my mind.) I got alternating A’s and failing grades in reading in 6th grade based purely on whether I handed in the assignments. The quality of the writing didn’t matter to the teacher. Would you rather hire a writer who writes well, or one who writes poorly but always meets deadlines? Depends on the need.

When I think about grades I always think about the valedictorian from my brothers’ high school class. One of my brothers spent his senior year at USC. He was second in his class because he got a B in one of those college courses. Number one? A girl who spent all of her high school experience striving for perfect grades. Her brother was the valedictorian of my class, and she felt she had to match that. It was expected. So she took courses purely based on what she could get an A in. She did not risk taking physics, or calculus. She avoided English and History classes taught by the more challenging teachers. She wasted her chance at an interesting education so she could say she was valedictorian. For myself as a parent, that would not make me proud at all. If as a family we were disadvantaged and that status would provide important opportunities my child wouldn’t otherwise get, then sure, that would be a worthy (if distorted) goal. It’s all relative, and again, every family is different.

Tanith, I agree that kids have to play an instrument that speaks to them. I wish more parents knew that. I had a sample lesson once with a really hostile boy who had a ton of talent and ability, and his mom was making him play. I asked him what he would rather do, and he wanted to play guitar. I told his mom I thought he should switch (or even just add it) because violin brought him no joy. At it’s core, music should be about joy. His mom had a sense of “violin is better” and it was a status thing for her. She was shocked I suggest he be allowed to play guitar and said, “You think guitar is okay?” I told her there was nothing wrong with guitar, and if he liked what he was playing he would do better and enjoy it more. Glad your children like playing violin! One of my projects for the new year is to start building a full size one for my oldest and have her help. (Not many kids get to play a violin they literally had a hand in making, so that should be fun!)

January 2, 2015 at 11:02 am

I love this discussion, too Korinthia! Thank you so much for it. Both writing about it, and reading your’s and Tanith’s points of view has been great for me for sorting through what I want/stand for, in terms of grades, homework etc. for my daughter. With our choice to send her to a private school, these are a part of our everyday life and being more clear about it sure helps!

Your words “If as a family we were disadvantaged and that status would provide important opportunities my child wouldn’t otherwise get, then sure, that would be a worthy (if distorted) goal.” — this describes my life quite literally. While I can see your perspective on grades and it makes a ton of sense, it is hard for me to actually be that cool about it, simply because I am where I am because of the grades, degrees etc (I had written a guest post a while ago that may provide some background here – on money and happiness ). Even though grades/degrees haven’t brought anything of real substance to my life, they nevertheless are the tickets that opened a lot of doors for us and so I simply can’t bring myself to totally break free from them — but I am happy that through these discussions, I am broadening my perspective a bit and hopefully my daughter will benefit from it!

About music, most Asian kids end up in piano classes by default, but my daughter didn’t quite show any interest in a play keyboard she had as a kid which I took as an indication that it’s not her “thing”. I’ve talked to her a couple of times about guitar classes — while she shows interest in it for the novelty of it, she didn’t pounce on it like when I mentioned art class. A lot of my friends argue that kids can doodle and paint at home and there’s no need to spend on classes, and that money is better spent on music so we can introduce something ‘new’ to our kids. I see that point, but I am a believer of the 10,000 hour rule and if she loves art, and doodling, I’d rather pay for her to just take classes in that and hone that craft. Again, no idea if that is a good choice or if it will come back to bite me in the future… we’ll see 🙂

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December 23, 2014 at 6:54 am

I really like what you have to say. It converges well with what I have said in my book, The Homework Trap: How to Save the Sanity of Parents, Students and Teachers.

December 23, 2014 at 8:41 am

Thanks for sharing that, Dr. Goldberg. Sounds like an interesting book. I will try to grab a copy of it.

December 24, 2014 at 3:51 am

Thanks Dr Goldberg. I will be definitely checking out your book and sharing it. I think it’s so important that writers in this area band together so others can see there there’s a strong movement forming, questioning where the current educational ethos is leading us.

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November 20, 2019 at 7:28 pm

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January 2, 2018 at 10:44 am

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October 17, 2018 at 1:18 pm

So what was the title of this BOOK I didn’t read !?!? Guess I overlooked it !!! Just look for a few good pointers not a book to read !!!

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May 15, 2020 at 9:36 pm

Thank you SO much for these words….

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December 22, 2014 at 10:12 am

Ooh Tanith, excellent article, thank you for sharing this with Sumitha and the rest of us. It was more than I expected. At first I thought, “Well, my kid doesn’t really have issues too much with homework . . . but I’ll look it over.” Very glad I did, it’s much more than homework!

Yes, the delays and distractions, that’s what I have here with my 9 year old. Despite our questions to the school, we never got a complete answer as to how kids were “sorted” each year into what class. Turns out they did it by testing scores and not the “mix-up” of kids to juggle things up from year to year as I was originally told years ago. Of course this created a bit of hurt pride and friction about the subject with my husband and I towards the school as we of course thought our child should be in with the other kids. Even now, with a friend’s child being in the other class, there is a pressure for our own child to do better, push harder, get into that class. Luckily my husband is more level-headed about it than me and this article gave me a good wake-up call. The amount of work they had was more than her class and gave me some concern as to whether she was learning enough. Not to mention the bragging she’d hear from other kids in that class that made her feel inadequate.

Not every child is going to be the next Einstein and we know our daughter is a smart girl but has a stronger pull, like your Lily, toward art and other subjects. We have to enhance their skills and passions and not just push, push, push for the grades and I feel I was like you as well, nervous with the report card. I was proud of her but wanted her to do better but my husband would say, she’s done well, you can’t compare her to so and so and I couldn’t and shouldn’t have. It hit home quickly last year when at the end of the school year, she had two awards and was so happy and I saw a few grades and felt a bit disappointed. I could see it took the wind out of her little sails and I told myself to get my act together and stop it. There was the summer project already spread out on the last day of school, which is a bit discouraging as not all schools do it and it’s a yearly thing for us but we took it in stride.

It also made me wonder about kids that are pushed, some take it out in frustrations and others, it seems to us, do the opposite and just push themselves to the point that they even feel that’s what matters most and I feel sorry for them. I wonder if that bragging isn’t covering up insecurities or worries.

I was worried about her starting to read as a preschooler when I found out one of the teacher’s kids was particularly gifted and rolling along at a very fast rate. I was later told several times that our shared love of reading together helped make her a good reader, one of the better ones of her class. When I took the pressure off of making her read, when often she didn’t feel like it, other than sitting with me while I read, it was more enjoyable and her reading progressed along just fine. Last year it was math that was the issue and now she’s doing very well in math but her language/vocabulary aren’t what they were. A cycle of some kind, who knows but we work on what needs tending to and I try not to push her to where she feels there is nothing else. She still needs that down time, that play time, enough sleep for certain and a chance to be a kid still, she is one, after all.

We have an allotted time for homework and I contact her teacher if something is a problem. I don’t help her like I used to but guide her and she takes pride in her work and getting her corrections done in school with the teacher.

Parenting is an everyday learning course. Obviously this article hit home, thank you. I look forward to more of your work Tanith and thank you as always Sumitha. A blessed holiday season to you both and a break that’s filled with fun and not work!

December 22, 2014 at 12:06 pm

Thank you so much for sharing that, Bernadette. There’s nothing like listening to stories from other parents and finding that common thread to feel normal again 🙂

We have the opposite combination in our house – my husband’s really fanatic about how my daughter does in school, while I am a little more level-headed.

I think the biggest eye opener for me were these words from Tanith – “for the child born with a go-getting personality, teaming up with turbo-charged parents can be a winning combination – to start with at least. But as adults, we have to start asking – how high we can raise the bar before it’s too high for our children to jump?” Our daughter has a very competitive streak, and at first it did look like my husband pushing her to be the best was really a good combination. But then she messed up one test and the fall out was beyond ridiculous. I couldn’t believe my husband’s (over) reaction or that overnight, my daughter was turning into a liar right before our very eyes. Where she thrived on competition before, she started to make excuses and make up stories. I had to put my foot down and set some explicit house rules about what is acceptable and what is not, on both their parts. It took a while but we have a working system now. I’m keeping my fingers crossed and hoping that we can nourish her strong natural tendency to try to be the best and the joy she gets from accomplishing things, without letting it take over or be the only thing! Like Korinthia said above, it is almost guaranteed that we won’t get it all right all the time… the key is to do the best we can, and like you said, keep on learning!

December 23, 2014 at 4:17 am

Dear Bernadette. I think you hit on a very interesting point here. “It also made me wonder about kids that are pushed, some take it out in frustrations and others.” I have been exploring this point because I believe that one of the unacknowledged knock-on effects of competitive parenting is sibling rows and tension. The children don’t just compete to win in the outside world – they do it at home too, leading to many more squabbles and less happy home. My girls Lily and Clio, for example, have never got on better – they collaborate and help each other with music, homework etc Yet I hear other parents proudly trumpet how they have children dead set on beating each other as if they was making them excel further. Instead is sets up a template that I believe can ruin sibling relationships into adulthood Another reason to take the foot of the gas….

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December 22, 2014 at 11:24 pm

Really liked the article. Parenting is like walking on a razor’s edge and very rightly said, ‘all of us are getting parts of it wrong’…. Regardless :)..

Stay happy, keep the kid happy and let them be!

December 23, 2014 at 4:18 am

Thanks Anshu. Please share if you can to give other parents the confidence to take their foot off the gas!

December 23, 2014 at 8:42 am

Thanks Dr. Anshu. Stay happy, keep the kid happy and let them be! — that’s a great mantra to live by 🙂

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February 8, 2016 at 7:38 pm

This could not polbsisy have been more helpful!

February 21, 2016 at 6:54 pm

Great. I am so pleased you found it constructive.

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February 21, 2016 at 6:47 pm

Encourage him to express his opinion, talk about his feelings, and make choices. Show enthusiasm for your child’s interests and encourage her to explore subjects that fascinate her. Provide him with play opportunities that support different kinds of learning styles — from listening and visual learning to sorting and sequencing. Ask about what he’s learning in school, not about his grades or test scores. Thanks!

February 21, 2016 at 6:53 pm

‘Ask about what he’s learning in school, not about his grades or test scores.’ Exactly

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February 23, 2016 at 3:51 pm

Hi Tanith Carey,

I agree with you because it can be hurt child mind. Rest other motivation way very good from Evelyn W. Minnick. Also, I have written a blog for helping kids and it’s related to this article. “Best Ways to Get Your Kids to Do Homework Without All the Drama” To read this article visit at http://universityhomeworkhelp.com/best-ways-to-get-your-kids-to-do-homework-without-all-the-drama/

I hope my answer will help more readers of this article.

Thanks Nancie L Beckett

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February 25, 2016 at 5:05 pm

This is a great article with lots of quality information about handling homework with kids. I’m a Tutor, you don’t believe “My kid Refuses to Do Homework Assignment.” After lots of research I got a solution, but it takes time. So I’m sharing with you.

Here’s How to Stop the Struggle:-

1. Try to stay calm 2. Set clear expectation around homework time and responsibilities. 3. Play the parental role most useful to your child. 4. Keep activities similar with all your kids. 5. Start early and Offer empathy and support. 6. Use positive reinforcement and incentives.

I used those. Meanwhile, I have written a blog about “How to Make Studying Less Stressful and More Fun?” visit at https://www.24x7homeworkhelp.com/blog/how-to-make-studies-less-stressful-and-more-fun/

Let me know if you have questions

Thanks Arlene B. Morgan

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April 14, 2016 at 9:52 am

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August 2, 2016 at 3:46 am

The reality is that every kid is different and what works for one child may not work for another, even with kids in the same family. When our children were small, our goal was to make the actual work process and homework help as pleasant as possible. This was most commonly accomplished by placing a fuzzy, lazy cat on the lap of the student. Very few children (or adults for that matter) will rise from their chairs when there’s a cat sleeping on their lap. The cat also provides company without interfering with the actual thinking process.

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September 21, 2016 at 2:47 pm

Very helpful information, my son who is 7 is not the biggest fan of homework. It does depend on the evening and last night was a doozy! He usually has Math every second day which is a review sheet from what they did in class. He acts out, lack of focus, complains that he is tired etc.

Last school year after Spring Break I had finally had enough, and decided homework would get done on my terms, I wanted my happy go lucky son back, so some nights we did not do homework, knowing that on nights that we did there would be more. That seemed to work.

This year my husband and I are working harder with our son, as he struggles with reading and writing. He is in Grade 2, but not at a Grade 2 level, we have support from his teacher, but last night when he was kicking up a fuss about Math, which he does well with I wondered if the subject he struggles with is the cause of the fuss. He even refused to read last night.

We know he feels like we are always working on learning, and we feel the same, but at the same time want to do what we can to support his learning development. I feel helpless at times, as I know he is aware that he struggles, especially when he says things like “I can’t read Mommy”. I try and keep it positive and that there are things that everyone struggles with, and we have to practice to get better.

I am always searching different ways to aid with his learning that will keep him engaged.

I know I rambled….

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March 31, 2017 at 10:41 am

>>Of course, not doing homework is not an option – but these days in our house the aim is to do it as quickly and efficiently as possible. Well, I have to disagree with you, kids in Finland do not do homework and their schools simply gave up giving their students homeworks and nothing happened, Finland is still on first levels of education ladders. So it’s optional for everyone , however if it is not optional for you child you can always ask other people for math homework help or chemistry homework help.

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April 6, 2017 at 12:09 pm

This article was helpful. While I don’t push my kid to be perfect or ask how other kids did compared to her I constantly get push back from my child with anything she doesn’t want to do. It can be very frustrating. She doesn’t like my input on solving problems at all so I have to just back off or deal with her covering her ears and tuning me out.

She fortunately listens to her teacher, but if she gets tired of something, she loves to tune people out. She is 7 now and has been this way since she was about 4. Example, she got tired of listening to her swim instructor at age 4 and would submerge herself under water so she didn’t have to listen. She is a CHALLENGE and if you give her the option to slack off with work she will do it. Not quite sure how to even go about it. She could care less if she got no credit for missing work. To her, it’s no consequence so it’s been difficult to figure out a workaround with her. She isn’t a spoiled child and if you took the few things she does have away from her, she is fine with that. I don’t like threatening to take things away though. I feel it solves nothing. Challenging!

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November 4, 2017 at 9:59 am

Any advice for people who aren’t wealthy? The amount of time and money required for your solutions are absolutely not available to the vast majority of Americans. Neuro linguistic training and private schools? Impossible for all but a few. Most of us are *not* in some insane competition with other parents to push our kids into Harvard by starting waiting lists for preschool. Most of us just want our kids to be able to take care of themselves someday and be successful enough to be happy. Not doing homework is a problem for most kids, rich or poor, competitive or not, regardless of personality, regardless of parenting. This advice is about your child at all. It’s about what you did to your child and then had to undo. Not all kids have been conditioned to internalize the overbearing voice of their type A parents. Some just don’t want to do homework.

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November 6, 2017 at 2:42 am

Thank you for this article. Wow, I relate so much to this article. I struggle with my 11 yr old to do homework. She’s exactly like Lily, a soon as she starts doing homework she calls for my help that she doesn’t understand. She’s very bright and learns right away, but I do see she’s stressing. She feels that she’s too slow and takes to long to finish her homework. I know is me without realizing I am pressuring her too much. I must change.

I’m going to change our schedule. I just realized that I didn’t make enough quality time. I need to change that and not pressure my princess about homework.

Thank you so much.

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December 23, 2017 at 11:14 pm

Hi folks! My son is older, in 10th grade, and thus it is a very delicate time. That said, up until recently, he was working hard but generally doing well in Honors classes, AP Biology, and AP US History. He is also in band and very intererested in Congressional Debate in Forensics Club. He’s developed a forceful personality, and pursues his goals fearlessly.

Then, it seems a single English research paper broke the camel’s back. It was a walk-thru project: Do basic step A, use A to do 3 days of research in the library, identify a list of relevant quotes, analyze the quotes, develop a rough draft, etc. During the first stages, he always had a reason why it wasn’t done. The grading structure required every step to be completed before the next step started. So, he sat. Supposedly, he had a paper step written in Google Docs…but now he doesn’t remember the “dashed off” name (“stuff2958749.doc”, for example) so he considers that..and the previous steps useless. Why do I need to do this stuff, when I can just write the paper? Why?

My wife is an experienced special educator, and the teacher is engaged and working with us to give our son more options. Still, he pushes back. We’ve done so far as to negotiate him just working on the rough draft, and accepting the zeros on the skipped stages. Somehow, that devolved into him retreating into his room, slamming his door. He has proposed that the teacher “simply” nullify the assignment without a set of grades. If we accept this multiple zero, it will possibly wreck his entire class, possibly causing him to fail 10th grade English. In NJ, that means you don’t move forward to 11th grade.

I’ve had a couple of long discussions with him, away from his mother. He mentions a desire for a more intense structure. He references his stay at an advanced debate camp, where he engaged with other students…who were attending very expensive private schools. “One you see the outside world, you can never be satisfied with being trapped indoors”…he has restated this concept in multiple ways. These schools are beyond our reach financially, and in any case, they aren’t an option in the middle of a school year. And it is unlikely that he’d be accepted, if he wrecks his class grades.

Part of this scenario seems to be a desire to force us to engage with him, in an attempt to work around the school structure. He does have an IEP and 504, which in middle school once allowed him to work independently. Somehow, he thinks that is an option in 10th grade honors English.

Engaging is a real challenge. He’s confident in his ability to argue, and is fully willing to ignore our facts and predictions of fallout. He even discredits his mother’s deep educational knowledge and experience, and then criticizes my perceived lack of business success as ad hominem attacks. (I’m doing fine, but it forces me to defend, and thus is successful distraction.) So far, laying out consequences has been entirely ineffectual. He requires an answer to his “Why?”, but disregards the answers as inadequate. He demands an academic answer to why the teaching technique (the walk-thru research paper) is required or effectual, then derides it as “not a real answer”.

It ends up with a closed door.

The teacher is running out of patience, and we’re running out of ideas. I don’t think the teacher is even allowed to give more that she’s allowing, and might be bending the rules as-is. Our son spent 2 hours with counselors….not guidance counselors…counselors…giving them the same run-around. I think they (2 of them at the same time) gave their best, but they fell back to asking what he wanted: more time maybe?

I’ve read other sources. I see that a full-on psych eval was recommended. At this point, I’m fine with that if it helps. I suspect we’d need to get our son to buy into it. But would that still result in his English grade cratering? Are we risking a cascade failure into other classes?

It’s a very delicate time, and this scenario is not an easy one. I’d like to have simple, pat answer: he’s looking for attention; he’s stressed out over the sheer amount of work; he’s frustrated at the forced slowness of the curriculum; the class is group and can’t move at an accelerated speed (ans: it’s Honors.). But I’m guessing it’s more complex that 1 root-cause.

Given this, I’d not mind some considered advice. Thanks!

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May 28, 2018 at 9:19 pm

O my, I do get this. My son pushes back a lot these days, partly the teen and hormones? Right now we are working with setting boundaries, coping with meltdowns and spending time each day bonding over something other than work. It’s horrible to have to walk on eggshells and think you cannot just talk to your kid and resolve something…so simple. My heart goes out to you. A lot of listening is required, and prayers. And in the end, we let him slow things down by an entire year. Take care!

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March 17, 2018 at 3:48 pm

Oh my land, thank you for this. I found it today when my kid dissolved into tears after she dragged her homework on for 4 hours on a Saturday, while I nagged her and then snapped at her.

I left the room, googled “child won’t do homework”, found this and read it, went back into the room, hugged her and asked her if trying to make her homework perfect was slowing her down. She said yes, then we talked about that, and her inner critic, and what she could do about that awful little critical voice in her head.

Amazing – thank you.

May 28, 2018 at 5:06 pm

Just found your comment. So pleased it helped.

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July 13, 2018 at 8:57 am

I think that if the child does not want to do homework, then everything is fine. I still do not know a single child who would like to do homework. I read the article that homework kills creativity, and I quite agree with that. After all, the child instead of spending time for something really interesting, should do boring homework. When I have a son, I will allow him not to do homework, but in exchange I will tell him that he must be interested in something that really will benefit him in development. Thank you for this article!

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gmail passwords etc.quite sure he’s into many more. You can’t underestimate what he can do for you. You might really wanna consider contacting him today. He’s definitely going to be of great help

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November 12, 2018 at 3:23 am

I am brother of a 12 year old boy studying in seventh grade.I find him not getting interested in studying or doing homework after coming home from school.He is worried more about video games and TV.He get to do his home works only after continuous pressure from parents.He is very attentive,obedient and performs well in school.But at home , he says he need to rest from studies. I hope this tips will help him to get more involved in studies!

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December 7, 2018 at 3:16 pm

The issue is process vs. results. By letting your daughter skimp on her homework, she’s going to pick up bad habits … such as doing what she wants to do instead of taking care of her responsibilities. We teach “Work hard, then play hard” in our home. Our goals are process-oriented, like show up for class and turn in your homework, rather than results-oriented, like why don’t you have an A in this class. By teaching our children to work, even when they don’t feel like it sometimes, they can build a foundation of responsibility that will “result” in a more successful, well-rounded experience. Some kids may be different … they may be given all the freedom you are preaching turn that into tremendous happiness. But I’ll build my foundation on discipline, and my children will earn their self-worth by taking care of their responsibilities … not throwing a fit until an authority finally gives in.

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April 18, 2019 at 6:22 am

This is good

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April 25, 2019 at 3:11 am

Thank you for sharing this article, you are very interesting to write, your blog is really interesting to read!

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June 24, 2019 at 6:44 pm

This is really good and helpful. Thanks for sharing this article. 🙏

August 10, 2019 at 1:57 am

I think that the real reasons why the child does not do their homework can be very many of them all of their parents will never know. The main thing is to be able to find a common language in your child!

October 16, 2019 at 6:37 am

I have to agree with you and your daughter about the book reports — we did our first one a few weeks back, and it was decidedly much more unpleasant compared to just reading and enjoying the book!

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October 20, 2019 at 1:04 pm

Children do not do their homework because they watch a lot of TV shows and play on the phone.

October 23, 2019 at 3:35 am

All parents want their children to be successful, successful and happy. Schooling is one of the important components of a child’s life. The school will be the main part of its reality for 8-10 years. Therefore, the baby needs to help adapt, feel comfortable and learn how to succeed

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February 22, 2020 at 1:00 pm

nice tips, I hope it will help

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February 22, 2020 at 11:50 pm

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April 8, 2020 at 3:15 am

Anaerobic exercise, on the other hand, is where that max effort comes into play. It’s another form of cardio in which you should only be able to sustain activity for about 30 seconds before you need a break. It should feel pretty difficult for you to catch your breath while you’re doing this type of training (anaerobic meaning “the absence of oxygen”). Explosive exercises like plyometrics, sprinting, and even heavy weightlifting are all examples of anaerobic exercise. “The body uses phosphocreatine and carbohydrates as fuel [for anaerobic exercise] because they can be broken down rapidly,” Olson explains. “Fats take too long to break down as an energy source.”

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May 5, 2020 at 2:53 am

Hi, great article. Very interesting to read. Generally I love your website. By the way, I know a great website on which you can find a huge number of useful articles! See for yourself

May 6, 2020 at 1:47 am

Hi, there! Great article! I heard that web design is now one of the most sought-after professions and if your children do not know who they would like to work, then go to the site and they will see how great this profession is!

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October 24, 2020 at 6:16 am

Nice post! I’ve been looking for a site like https://afineparent.com/ , with a lot of useful information about children! thank you for your work, I’m going to read your articles

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November 7, 2020 at 12:07 pm


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January 29, 2021 at 6:04 am

wow, cool good meterial

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February 25, 2021 at 6:06 am

Thank you for the article. This is a really powerful method. I don’t know what I would do without him. Homework and children are created in different universes, I think. Thank you for the blog, I will follow you.

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What to Do When Teens Refuse to Do Homework or Fail a Class

Some teens are naturally motivated and others are not. Some teens are able to succeed at school with ease, and others struggle. But, what is a parent to do when their teen simply refuses to do homework or is suddenly failing a class? Experts recommend parents work to discover the root cause and creatively problem solve with their teen.


Most of the time, parents feel a little shocked when they are confronted with a school problem. Maybe your teen has outright refused to do any work, or maybe you received a notice from the teacher, or maybe you got a disappointing surprise on their interim report. Whatever has brought the problem to your attention, it’s important to take a deep breath and work to understand the issue. The first step is to ask your teen what is going on. Notice the word ask. That means you don’t start the conversation with accusations, yelling, blame, or threats. Instead, enter into the conversation with a sense of curiosity to see if you can help uncover the possible reasons why he or she isn’t getting their homework done or passing the class.

Determine the Root Cause

If your teen refuses to do homework or is failing a class, don’t jump to the conclusion that he is simply acting out of defiance. More than likely, there is some underlying problem(s) contributing to the issue. For example, stress, bullying issues at school, classes that are too advanced, test-taking anxiety, too many absences, learning disabilities, and depression are all possible problems that can contribute to behavior changes. Remember that when high school students fall behind in their classes for any reason (absence, material too difficult, bad test-taking day), catching up can be quite difficult. When grades begin to plummet, many teens give up. Talk to them about their struggles. Ask them: “How is your current situation different from how you would like it to be?”

Separately, parents should talk to the teen’s teacher to obtain their thoughts and perspectives. Again, parents should enter such a conversation with an open mind and a willingness to listen to the teacher’s opinion.

Develop Solutions with Your Teen

Once parents feel like they understand the problem, they should sit down with their teenager and brainstorm a list of possible solutions to the given situation. They can ask their son or daughter what they have already tried before (whether it’s in this situation or in similar situations in the past), and what outcomes they experienced. Ask them to predict likely consequences, both positive and negative, for each possibility. Teens should be encouraged to not limit themselves, but to come up with as many options as possible, even if they seem unrealistic, because this creative process may help generate even better solutions. Once you have made a list of options together, help your teen narrow them down. For each option, consider how realistic it is, how likely the teen would be to implement it, and the potential obstacles.

Sometimes, homework or grade battles simply need a creative solution. For example, some teens are willing to stay after school to complete their homework, so long as they don’t have to do work at home. Other teens need some control over when they are going to do their work, so they may need to unwind for an hour after school and then do their work. Teens who are failing due to a learning disability or missed schoolwork, might be willing to work with a tutor. Parents should offer their own ideas, but MUST be willing to try their teen’s suggestions and ideas. The process of identifying the problem and developing the solution will empower your child, give them a sense of ownership in fixing the problem, and will ultimately give them confidence when they overcome the issue.

Additionally, parents should help their teen establish healthy study habits that will allow him/her to be successful. Some good study habits include: creating a designated homework time and space, removing distractions including electronics, being available to help your teen when they have a problem or get frustrated, teaching them time management skills, and helping them to get organized. You can learn more from our previous blog, Good Study Habits in Teens .

Establish Expectations and Rules

In general, parents should establish rules and expectations about homework based on their individual child. For example, if you have a teen who is fairly responsible with his homework most of the time, it may be appropriate to allow him/her to face the natural consequences of a bad grade or detention when he/she doesn’t do their work.

However, if you have a child who is refusing to do homework or is failing, and you’ve done the previous steps to try to find the problem and have discovered there is no underlying problem, then rules are warranted. Establish appropriate expectations, and more importantly, develop rewards for following them and consequences for not. Then you must follow through on your plan. For example, create small measurable goals. If your teen puts in a lot of effort for 30 minutes, then he gets a 10-minute break. Or consequently, confiscate his electronics each day until he completes his homework. Phones, tablets and other electronics are a privilege, and he cannot earn them if he chooses to not do his work.

Final Thoughts…

Experts say that the best thing parents can do when faced with school problem is stay calm and open-minded. Nagging and lecturing – although tempting parenting techniques – are never effective and usually harm your relationship. Bribing your teen to get work done can sometimes work in the short run, but quickly loses its appeal to your child and can actually instill a “what’s in it for me” attitude. Additionally, threatening a consequence that you will never follow-through on will only reinforce the negative behavior. Instead, follow the tips above to discover the problem and creatively solve it with your teen. Not only will it truly address the problem, it will also teach your teen how to address future challenges.

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son not doing homework

I’m 15 and one problem I have with school is just the way it prevents me from living life. I have so many plans but all of them have to wait so long to accomplish. It just feels like school is holding me back and having to go through it is pointless until I get to the degrees I actually want. I want to get a degree in business and marketing and become an entrepreneur but to do so I’ll have to go through lots of school that, while it may be useful in some way, doesn’t feel useful at all right now. I could just drop out of course since you don’t need a degree to become an entrepreneur, but I want the business knowledge to help me succeed. Not to mention the fact that becoming a dropout can have bad effects on your social life and the way people think of you. I could start it while in school, but finding the time to do that with all the schooling, homework, and extracurricular activities I have would be a nightmare. It causes lots of internal conflict and drains all motivation to do school.

son not doing homework

Im in the same boat for the 2nd year in a row. We did counseling, intervention school program for 6months straight, tutoring and he still fail math and science. Everyone says he’s lazy and has no deficiencies. This year he’s still failing science english and math. Only had an A in PE. He goes to school everyday and nothing is working. At what point do I say oh well you don’t care so I won’t either. There’s only 5 1/2 years left until he’s 18 and I feel time is running out.

son not doing homework

I have a grandson in same situation. The best I can see is a junior carpenter course or business course.

son not doing homework

My 17 year old son is unmotivated, is not doing his homework and as a consequence he is failing his classes, most of the time he don’t want to go to the school. he is taking 5 AP classes as his own decision but is not doing the work that those classes required and refused to drop them. I don’t know what to do, he wants to get a job and i am supporting him in apply, but i want him to finish school but he is not doing anything. I spoke with the school counselor and we are considering drop some of his classes but i don’t want my son feels more depressed if we do it. I trying to be patient and talk to him but he is not motivated about school at all. Please help

son not doing homework

I can say “ditto” to almost everything you’ve mentioned. We have a 17 year old son. He’s also taking AP courses but has refused to do any hw since about October and is failing several classes badly. The last 1.5 years have been out of character in that he normally worked hard and wouldn’t quit on things – over time we’ve seen him slowly quit on one thing after another (and not just in academics). Now it’s piling up.

When his parents ask, a counselor asks, the pastor asks, or his teachers ask “why aren’t you doing hw?” the answer is always “i don’t know…” and then some circular reasoning about things that aren’t really relevant. He does very well on almost all the exams but it’s not enough in highschool if you don’t do any HW (or sometimes fail to turn in quizzes).

It’s quite sad, he has no happiness in anything or desire for anything except to watch youtubers talking about random inconsequential things. If we take away the computer he sits in a dark room with lights off telling us he can waste time in other ways besides watching youtube if needed. When we ask serious questions respectfully he tears up but then quickly puts on a blank face.

We’ve met with professional counselors but so far haven’t identified the root issue. He’s not clinically depressed. Like you we don’t want to demoralize him further by pulling him out of the things he’s doing in school but soon we may have a highly gifted kid who fails a year of highschool and next year will probably not be any better at this rate.

son not doing homework

My brother is the same way! very bright kid, but refuses to do any homework. Would rather play games and watch videos. He is also becoming quite rude to his teachers, we haven’t figure out the root issue. At this point, we are just letting him fail, maybe he needs to learn the hard way..

son not doing homework

Our son is just like yours; has always been considered exceptional, showing great potential, but now completely uncaring about anything and unmotivated to do any schoolwork. Since online learning became mandatory he will log into his classes then do other things. As a result he’s failing 3 classes and barely passing 2 others. This started the second part of his junior year and has continued this year. It’s gone from thinking about what college to try for to blowing off the SAT test, failing classes and now possibly not graduating High School. (This from a kid who took the PSAT’s in 10th grade and scored 1360 without studying). We understand that there may be some underlying issue and reason for his lack of motivation so we approach it in a caring way (most days). He’s not defiant, just completely unmotivated. I think back to the day years ago when the schools all announced they would be switching entirely to computer learning. That essentially means without internet kids cannot due schoolwork. How do you discipline or have structure with school work when kids have all these temptations and distractions right in front of them to click on? If book learning was still in place simply turning off the internet and allowing it for certain times as a reward would be ideal. Instead we have a nation of distracted, unfocused, addicted to electronics young people. We took a step back from expectations and now are focused more on his emotional and physical well being. Just getting him to graduate is the aim, then maybe encouraging him to get a job after graduating. If there was a life course for kids who need a sense of direction in a supportive, encouraging way I would like to know about it.

son not doing homework

I get it. I am in the same position as your son right now. I am in my sophomore year of high school and I can’t really explain it but when second semester started, I was so unmotivated to do anything. Of course, I’ve never been inspired or motivated for school, but I’ve never been a bad student either. Well, at least not until I started completely ignoring my work and letting it pile up so bad that I have begun to lose all hope. I don’t know how to explain it, but I’ve completely lost all motivation and initiative to do my work. Since this quarantine, everything has gotten worse. I have all F’s except for in art class. In art, I believe I still have a B or at least a C. However, I don’t check anymore because I am scared to look at my grades as it reminds me of my constant failure. Of course, I take full responsibility for my wrongful actions. I know what I’m doing right now is not going to get me anywhere but held back in my academics, but for some reason I keep diving head first into this endless black hole of failure and despondency. It started out as procrastination. I’ve never had any enthusiasm about school work and have always been a procrastinator, even in middle school, but since going into high school…it’s gotten MUCH worse. I find myself day-dreaming and fantasizing about this “perfect” productive life and thinking a lot about the future while not taking recognition of the fact that I am so far behind, I may not have a future. Basically, I have a very active imagination and can sometimes channel this habit of mine to idealize my life and future- it’s almost like I’m living in this made up world of assurance and protection for myself where everything is going to work out the way I want it to unlike in reality. I have always been a very sensitive and easily downed child, so when I entered into high school pessimistic thoughts would flood my mind over and over again (more than usual). I don’t claim to have a problem (mentally) nor have I ever been diagnosed with anything (although I’ve never been checked for anything since I don’t normally express my stress and depression to people- not even family, not that they’d take much notice anyway). I also have no solution to this reoccurring problem of mine yet. However, the one thing I’d recommend you do is let your son get a job. As ridiculous as it sounds to let him get a job when he can’t even focus on school (which I do agree that education is more important than a job, in some cases), I think a job might make him less obstinate or noncompliant, as well as teach him some responsibility. It can also help if he is going through something right now like early senioritis/senioritis and/or slight or mild depression and stress. I don’t know exactly how to explain this, but when I think about getting a job I think about being able to provide for myself and getting myself better things and the proper stuff I need to stay motivated and consistent. If you’re son is anything like me, he will feel like this too. He may, however, already have everything he needs (or that you think he needs), but being able to work hard for and earn our own money makes us feel more like we’ve got everything together. Besides, there are some things that kids don’t want to bother their parents for, so we like to take it upon ourselves and try to figure it out for ourselves. This is all a part of growing up. A job may help with this. With a job, he would learn responsibility. Also, since he would be getting an immediate reaction out of a job (i.e. money and with that money comes self-gifting/purchasing something for himself with his hard earned money, which can prove to be quite awarding for a teenager or really anyone), he might appreciate the achievements he makes more rather than if he were getting a reward/reaction in school (i.e. a “good job” or a temporarily good feeling, which may not always be enough if we’re being honest here). I would also recommend getting him a trustworthy guide/ or guidance counselor that can be with him every step of the way to make sure he completes all of his work until he is ready to do that for himself. I know he is in high school and shouldn’t need someone like that but sometimes we need a bit of a push, so having someone to sit there and help him with homework/ monitor or guide him as he finished everything will help. He may be interested in other things as well- things that his school does not provide. So, I would personally recommend getting him more interested in better hobbies (not too much as sports since that can just add to the stress) but finding things that he is passionate in and allowing himself to do those things. However, this can be tricky because if his passion is something like YouTube, gaming, etc., he may confuse this with meaning he should submerse himself in these tricky habits and that will distract him from school/work even more. So, I’d say if he were interested in something like YouTube get him to do things relative to that activity, but also relative to school (e.g. watching videos on self-improvement/educational videos and including YouTube videos daily into his routine to help with his homework or just giving him a temporary break every now and then as a reward). I know this may seem kind of like babying him, but I’m saying to maybe just follow these simple steps as to monitor and guide him and before you know it, he’s developing these better habits on his own w/o help from anyone! Please take my advice because, being in the same situation right now as your son, I would love for my parents to show this much concern and initiative for me! Also, last but not least, let him know that in order to get where he want to be in life (goals or paths they want to follow in order to be truly happy) they have to get it over with and finish high school first. That way when the time comes and they graduate, they can take whatever necessary steps they need in order to get to where they need/want to be and hopefully by then they will have a better mindset for their future! He could also be going through something or experiencing a lot of stress, so please continue to be there for him and talk to him! As well as just let him know that you’re there whenever he needs you and be more approachable by (with all due respect) nagging less and exhibiting/practicing more communication and reasoning/understanding with your child!

p.s. invest in an agenda/journal that they can keep up with! they can write lingering deep and personal thoughts and/or use it as a planner to stay ahead of the game and follow along with school/work better.

son not doing homework

Olivia – THANK YOU!!!! You have no idea how much your post helped me! My son is 13 and just started with the missing assignments this year. At first, I reacted with anger, but then I could see in his eyes that he was hurting, so I changed my tone and started help him instead. According to your post, I am heading in the right direction with him. Today, we sat down together and went through his work to see what he has coming up and he wrote it all in his new planner. He was way more responsive to that than the yelling.

Again, Thank you so much for taking the time to help parents…that is quite noble. Oh, and BTW, your writing is awesome – good grammar and well written. I have never seen such writing from a teenager before. Way to go!

son not doing homework

Hi Olivia thanks for helping us. But my child, she would come home and goes into her room and be on her phone and then lie and says she is doing her homework and that its completed and submited. Then I will get an email from her teachers. Everyday. She is a sophomore and I have try to be good and nice to her but I can’t do it no more.

son not doing homework

Olivia I love your post and just like Lisa said your a great writer and I think you would be great as a writer someday. Keep up the good work with your writing because I see you going places just go with it. Find something you love to do that will help motivate you to succeed in all your classes. Take care my dear!

I have an 11yr old son in his 1st yr of middle school. He’s failing 3 classes and C’s and D’s in the other classes. He’s been in therapy he is in intervention at school and has a whole team working to get him back on track and he’s getting worst. He lies about everything. He doesn’t do his classwork, his h.w., fails test, loses all his school supplies and refuses to go to after school tutoring. Everything has been taken away from him and he doesn’t care. He just started acting up in class and he blamed it on the other kids and the teacher. I don’t know what to do. Professionals tell me there’s no learning disability or ADD or ADHD. I’m doing everything what is left to do!?!?

son not doing homework

You are doing a great job! You have gotten him professional help in therapy and are working with the school. Those are the most important things, and I commend you in taking those important steps. This type of situation is not fixed quickly. The therapy will take time, but don’t stop. In addition, every child is different, so there is no one right or wrong way to help them. I encourage you to read a couple of other articles that might offer you some ideas:

For dealing with an unmotivated teen: https://middleearthnj.wordpress.com/2013/07/15/when-your-teen-lacks-direction/ For dealing with a teen who lies: https://middleearthnj.wordpress.com/2010/07/22/teens-and-lying/

There is a root cause to your son’s behavior, and it will take time to discover it. For example, some teens feel they are protecting themselves from failure by not caring or committing to anything. Other teens are so overwhelmed by stress, they withdraw. Others become so focused on their peers, their only motivation is to enhance their “image.” Your son’s therapist will be vital in discovering the root cause. And if that therapist doesn’t seem to be able to determine the root cause, then don’t hesitate to try another one. Your son and the therapist have to “click” for any progress to be made.

Parenting is such a difficult job, but I encourage you to take one day at a time and look for the positive qualities in your son that you can genuinely praise – that will make both of you feel better. Best of luck!

son not doing homework

Jaz, Please tell me you have found something that has helped. I could have written this word-for-word myself right down to the age, grade and excuses. I am feeling soo helpless and frustrated at this point.

son not doing homework

I have a 14 and a 13 year old they refused to do work for the longest time I’m a step-mom its been difficult we took away everything (even non electronics) all they had was school work and chores. So now they are home schooled and they have finally started doing chores and a little more homework (yes they do fight but a lot less. Our 8 year old does everything she needs to do. The oldest still refuses to do math and the 13 year old has been rude because he doesn’t want to do anything still but he does it. Just put your foot down.

son not doing homework

I have a 17 year old son is getting almost all F in high school. I don’t see him do homework and he doesn’t seem to care. he mention something about joining the marines but nowdoesn’t seem interested. He spent a lot time with friend that are good influence . I cannot force him to do anything . At first I took everything away and still nothing change. He does chores once in awhile. I am alone working two jobs. with six children to raise.

son not doing homework

I have a 15 year old daughter, she has been failing school since 6th grade. By the end of the year the teachers enter a grade just high enough to pass her. I have tried everything that I can think of. Read every thing I can get my hands on and tried it all. Nothing works. She has lost all electronics, been grounded and she is in therapy. I am so stressed out over her that I tend to get a bit mean sometimes ( not a good thing and it makes me feel bad ) I am tired at this point and giving up. SHE JUST DOES NOT CARE!!

This is definitely a difficult issue for many parents! You are not alone! When situations get really tough, and the parents have tried all the traditional approaches, it’s often time to get outside help. A family therapist or a local Family Crisis Intervention Unit can work with both the parents and the teen to find a resolution. There is no easy solution, but with patience and professional guidance, it is possible to get to a better place!

son not doing homework

I am not alone 🙁

son not doing homework

My son is 15 years old. We have enrolled him in the on-campus ROTC program as well as contacted the counselors and all teachers. He is even going to tutoring three times a week after school. He still seems to have no interest in studying or doing his homework. I have addressed all the issues that I think you may have. I have questioned him grounded him and have taken away All Electronics indefinitely. What do you do if this problem has been an ongoing problem since the beginning of school? He has even threatened to quit school. My problem is that I’m the only one that seems to care about his grades. His blatant disregard for his grades is causing me stress and not him. I feel for all parents going through this situation because we can care all day long but until he cares nothing will change

I’m so sorry that you are going through this! Nothing is more difficult than wanting the best for your child, but watching them throw it away. I know you feel helpless, stressed and frustrated. You are not alone – many parents go through this difficulty! Unfortunately, there is no easy solution or perfect answer – every situation and every person is different. However, we highly recommend that you read our previous blog, https://middleearthnj.wordpress.com/2012/02/25/motivating-a-teen-to-change-destructive-behaviors/ because it addresses many of these issues you are talking about. We also always encourage families in these situations to seek out family counseling. Sometimes an outside observer can offer ideas that we never think of ourselves! We wish you the very best of luck!

son not doing homework

I am going through the same exact thing. My son is almost 13. The feeling of hopelessness is setting in so fast for me. Like your situation, he doesn’t seem to care whatsoever about failing. I almost wish there was a root cause i can identify with other than “I hate school work”, like a bullying problem, or depression, etc.

We have done all of the above. no results. Its so heart-breaking. The last and only thing he LOVES to do and looks forward to is hockey and we finally took that away last night.

He isn’t a disrespectful kid, he doesn’t act out, he loves to hang out with the family and enjoys having conversations on politics, history and current events. Just hates school work.

Since you posted this, have you tried something different that has given you results? Any suggestion would be so welcomed.

son not doing homework

my daugther is the same. Instead of hockey is ballet. I am at my wits end. She is a bright xhild who had all As in the first quarter, then started lowering her grades anf I realized it was because she was not doing her homework. She got 3 Ds in the 3rd quarter on the 3 subjects that she does not like: math and office productivity and the one that she needs to put a little effort. As in the rest because ahe like it. I have taken electronics and let her therapist know. We do have screaming matches and eventually she calms down and understands that she os not doing her work but in 1 or 2 weeks she is at it again. She is a good child, kind and very smart. I have asked during lenghty sensivle conversations why she is not doing her homework and her response is always ‘I don’t know’. She also lies about having finished her homework to get to do something fun and I don’t find out until later. I really don’t kbow what else to do but I don’t want next year to be like this one so I have already told her there will be no extracurricular classes next year if her 4th quarter is like her 3rd but we are 3 weeks into it and she is still not doing her homework.

son not doing homework

Your son sounds like my son. He is not disrespectful and a joy to be around. All he cares about his soccer. He is a freshman in high school with low grades (failing algebra..I got him a tutor). He doesn’t care about failing. His attitude is “I’ll take it next year.” What did you do with your son? Please help me help my son.

son not doing homework

My step son 13 and a freshman in high school. He just will not do him homework at all… He doesnt miss school but he is failing all classes. Terrible test scores and is down right disrespectful to his teachers peers and to his little brothers too. Tried everything… He doesnt seem to want to anything to help. Any advise?

son not doing homework

Our son was adopted, lost his adoptive parents and we are the fourth set of parents he has known. he is partially sighted, has ADHD, and severe Reactive Attachment Disorder. Follow the above… It does work… We moved all his electronic devices into different rooms: some rooms give him privacy, some rooms makE sure he has time with us so we keep up with who we are dealing with and we are building a good study pattern for his main exams and we are all getting to know each other much better. The important thing was to take the additive habit of electronic gadgets away. He now does more activities with us and opening up more. We worked together on a ladder chart that you climb as he accomplishes main milestones. If he is unsuccessful we have built in backup options or ways to get there. It has all the things he needs to do to get what he wants and the consequences if he misses a step or two he has backup steps. we got the school involved too and the college we hope he goes to for his choice in his career.

son not doing homework

OMG I am living all of these nightmare with my 15 and 12 year old. Just got an email today that my 12 year old had 30 minutes to do an assignment and turned it in blank. WTH

son not doing homework

I have the same problem with one of my son’s he just doesn’t care. The last 2 years of middle school he flunked a couple of classes during one semester then turned around a little bit and passed the next semester by a narrow margin. Went to summer school for the flunked classes and since the summer school is all online he completed both classes in a week and a half. This year he is a freshman in high school and he is failing all his classes, except 2 English and ROTC. His dad and I are at our wits end.

son not doing homework

I think we should pray for them and encourage ,lets talk to them what they would like to become ,give them time to think and show love to them.

son not doing homework

I have the same exact situation as Cat and Pete. My daughter is 14 years old. She has ALWAYS has a problem with homework. And its not just getting it done, its turning it in too. She just doesn’t seem to care. I know its not because she is having issues with the work itself because some of her missing work is for a Health class. This is easy stuff! She loves to read and is very good at it. She scores at a college level. She has to complete a reading log for her English class and she failed it last month because she didn’t complete any of it. And this is something that she IS actually completing. In my eyes, its pure laziness. I have taken away everything you can imagine. Phone, video games, TV privileges and nothing seems to “get to her”. The other day she sat at the kitchen table and literally refused to do any homework. She just sat there and scribbled on a notepad. I don’t know what to do. Im at a loss. Im exhausted from getting emails from all her teachers saying how bad she is doing. I tired of talking with her about it and getting yelled at for it. Any suggestions would be MUCH appreciated.

son not doing homework

Maybe homeschooling her. Or an online school.

son not doing homework

I feel the same. Sometimes I just feel like I’m the bad parent. My son is the same. I have so many talks to him and explain to the best of my ability how important it is and I am here to help him. But all he does is continue with what his doing or roll his eyes. Feeling frustrated.

son not doing homework

Look like you are just describing my 11 year old daughter, and she is not just refusing to do her homework, but she also refuses to clean her room or help with anything in the house!! she is also very good reader and i´m always pointing on that as a very positive thing!, the teachers wont stop email me at least once at week by 5 teachers its to much to handle for me!! I´m about to be on strikes as a mom.. it´s being more than a year when you write here, did you find the solution?? did your daughter got any better?

Hey Fabs! No unfortunately I have still not found a solution. She is now 15 and a Freshman in high school. She has been failing both Math and Science since the beginning of the school year. She NEVER brings homework home to work on. She never even brings a backpack to school! I am seriously at a loss with her. I just keep telling her now that she is in High School and her grades are more important than ever. If she fails a class, she has to make it up either in the summer or next school year but that doesn’t really seem to faze her. She simply just doesn’t care. She just keeps telling me that its her life and I shouldn’t care. She never does anything around the house and when we do ask her to do something simple, she gets so angry right away. I hate to say it, but she’s just selfish. She doesn’t care about anyone but herself and is only nice to us when she wants something. People just keep telling me this is typical teenage behavior but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating to deal with.

son not doing homework

The comment made by Cat could have been written by me. Our son is exactly this and the same age. The article is good. However, we are not looking at a ‘change’ in behaviour, my son has NEVER done any homework. He just flatly refuses. He gets more and more referrals and then detentions. He just doesn’t seem to care! People say, ‘start with communication’ but he just won’t talk about it. All he says is, ‘I don’t care.’ We have tried homework club where he attends for one hour each week. This worked for a while but then he forgets and then is behind and gets another detention. He ended last year with 180 negative referral points. We were shocked when his 3yrs elder sister received just one. Little did we know what was coming! We have met with his teachers on my occasions. They have been very supportive, but still no result. They don’t have a school councillor as such. We have absolutely no idea how to connect with this child. Any help, from anyone, would be very, very most welcome.

son not doing homework

We have a 14 year old 8th grader and nothing seems to work. He starts off each year with a “this year will be different” and then it goes downhill from there with him barely passing. We have tried reward. Didn’t work. This year we have slowly removed electronics until now he’s facing a summer with no electronics of any sort. It doesn’t seem to be working. His teachers complain that he’s not turning in work and spending most of his days staring at the walls. He just says he hates the teachers and the school work but loves seeing his friends at school. At this point in the year he has a B, a C, a D and 3 F’s. Once again, if his grades don’t change he will pass with about a quarter of a grade clearance. My husband contends that just getting harder on him will work. I’m not so sure. I think he’s at the age where he knows what to do, he’s just refusing to do it. He is a good kid otherwise. He’s been offered rewards for doing work but that isn’t working. He enters High School next year and we are not sure what to do. If we spend a lot of money to hire a tutor, which we don’t have the money to do, then there is no way to be sure he’ll even do the work with a tutor and it could be money down the drain. Do we just let him fail while keeping any privileges here at a minimum? At some point he will figure out that the person he is harming is himself, right? I read your article. We have no school counselor to consult. His teachers give homework but short of walking into each classroom with him each day I have no way of making sure he brings it home. I also can’t sit with him in class to make sure he pays any attention or does his work. It’s like he doesn’t believe us when we, or anyone else, tell him that this is harming his future life. Please help if you can.

son not doing homework

Hi Cat, This could have been written by me! Has the situation improved one year on? I am at wits end. Like you I’ve tried everything. Please help.

son not doing homework

I think this is often a good time to seek advice of a school guidance counselor. fortunately, if you don’t have that option, there are a number of excellent reading resources from well qualified professionals. By far the best I have found is Parents in Highschooland by Karyn Rashoff. http://highschooland.com/ The advice and ideas offered in this book really opened my eyes to a lot of ways that I could get involved to encourage and support my kids though high school. A must-read for parents of high school teens in my eyes.

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Dear ADDitude: My Teen Won’t Do His Homework!

“My 13-year-old rushes through his homework and often forgets to hand it in. He also has ODD, so he is so stubborn and doesn’t want to study or accept help. He is smart, but his attitude and lack of motivation are holding him back. What can I do?”

son not doing homework

Defiant Over Homework: Reader Question

Defiant over homework: additude answers.

ADHD, ODD, and puberty are a tough combination. Work on one challenge at a time. First, handle the missing assignments. Set up a meeting with your son’s teachers to find out which assignments are missing, and come up with a schedule for getting him caught up. Choose to work on a few assignments per night until he is caught up. I would suggest not allowing any screen time until that day’s assignments are complete. Follow up with his teachers to make sure they received the completed assignments. If it is possible to e-mail assignments, once they are completed, that would be ideal.

Now you can focus on the quality of the work and his motivation to do it. Many 13-year-old boys are not motivated to do schoolwork. This may be a sign of his age, his ADHD , his ODD, or a combination. If you find less screen time helps, keep this policy up until schoolwork is completed for the evening. Although teens with ODD often resent and argue with rules, you should keep certain rules in place. Clearly explain to your son the consequences and rewards. Be consistent with your approach, and focus on what he is doing right, rather than what he is doing wrong.

Posted by Eileen Bailey Freelance writer, author specializing in ADHD, anxiety, and autism

My son is 13, in 7th grade, and also rushes through all work and homework. He has a gifted IQ but currently has two low D’s in two classes.

The reason my son does so poorly in school is mostly due to his executive functioning deficits  and the fact that teachers won’t provide the support he needs in that area.

[ Take This Test If You Think Your Child Has Oppositional Defiant Disorder ]

Ask for a parent-teacher meeting to address missing assignments, and ask the teacher to accommodate your son by reminding him to turn things in. Read this: ADHD in Middle School Survival Guide .

As for rushing through, I don’t know what to do. Individuals with ADHD are only motivated when something is of interest — it’s the way their brains work. I keep reminding myself that grades aren’t everything, but it does hurt his self-esteem.

Posted by Penny ADDitude community moderator, author on ADHD parenting, mom to teen boy with ADHD, LDs, and autism

Rushing through homework is so common and kids with ADHD. One thing that I really love for these students is called “designated homework time.” It’s basically based on the premise that kids should have about 10 minutes of homework per grade level. So a third grader should have about 30 minutes of homework, a 6th grader about 60 minutes of homework, and so on.

[ Smart Homework Strategies for Teachers & Parents: A Free Handout ]

If your child is miraculously doing homework for, say, a third grader in three minutes, even though you know they have a lot more, you can set the time expectation and say, “All right, Jimmy, you’re going to have 30 minutes to do your homework each day even if you say you have none at all.” Then, set the timer and make sure that Jimmy has this designated homework time. Even if he says he’s done, he still has to read for pleasure, or practice his math facts. That set period of time really reduces rushing because kids know that they’re not going to get up and be able to play XBox after three minutes.

Also keep in mind that sometimes when kids rush, they have a hard time paying attention to detail. It’s not just that they want to make us upset or that they ignore when you say, “Go back and check your work.” Instead what you want to say is, “As you’re doing your homework and you come to one that’s hard for you, circle that one so then you can go back at the end and work through that with a little bit more time.”

I also encourage younger kids to make a game out of it and I’ll say, “Okay, let’s say that you’re going to review five questions that were hard for you. Put a little box on the upper right hand corner of your worksheet and every time you go back and you check one of those hard questions, give yourself a tally mark.” For every set number of tally marks, kids can earn a reward.

Posted by Ann Dolin, M.Ed. Founder of Educational Connections, and author of Homework Made Simple

Defiant Over Homework: A Reader Answers

My daughter is 15 years old, and has struggled with homework all through school. Each night, my wife or I checked all homework and made her fix errors or rewrite things that were rushed or poorly done.

She eventually figured out we were not going to let her get away with a rush job. There were no video games, TV shows, or other activities until we said the evening’s assignments were complete. Our kids loved to read so we even took away books.

Eventually, we got an IEP. For one accommodation, the teacher checked and initialed her assignment book at the end of the day and asked if everything was turned in at the same time. The school had a computerized system so we could track missing work.

Part of the problem is her backpack and binders looked like an explosion went off. Our new system seems to be working. Straight A’s this last report card.

Take it one step at a time and teach the behavior you want your son to follow. Give yourself kudos for caring so much.

Posted by Augie

My daughter rushes through homework, too! I’ve been diligently checking it and making her correct where needed. But she recently had her first big “project” that I knew was going to drive me crazy, requiring hours of research and typing.

I made a couple of attempts to start her working on it. She hurried through, doing sloppy work, continually asking, “Can I stop now?” Then, I hit upon a solution that worked for us. I told her she had to work for 30 minutes before a break, and even if she “finished,” she’d have to read in a text book.

This eliminated her desire to hurry-up-and-finish because there was nothing to look forward to. She kept a close eye on the count-down timer, but actually slowed down with her work. It took quite a few 30 minute sessions, with nice-sized breaks in-between, but she got it done, and nicely, too. And as an added bonus, there was a lot less whining.

She doesn’t know it yet, but I’m going to make the 30-minute rule apply to daily homework, too!

Posted by Fair Hope

We found that using an “ADHD watch,” which vibrates every 5 minutes has helped our son refocus when doing homework (and at school) while on the computer. Since he doesn’t seem to be able to judge the passing of time, this lets him know it has been 5 minutes and he needs to refocus. He could easily “go down a rabbit hole” for hours following links without realizing it.

We also instituted a reward system where I pay him if he completes an assignment correctly within “x” amount of time and he pays me if he doesn’t. Homework got done very quickly after the first time he paid me!

Posted by kfwellman

My son gets a half hour of “down time” after school and before starting homework, but , he doesn’t get to start video games until after the work is done. If he gets into that game mindset, he won’t want to stop and then it becomes a battle to get him off it. So, he can play, watch a little TV, or whatever for a half hour, and then it’s homework time. When the homework is done, he is rewarded with a half hour of video game time.

I’ve also read many times that, in addition to making them feel successful, the video games make them feel like this is the ONE area of their lives over which they have some control, which actually helps his behavior and defiance. I mean, think about it: They struggle all day and have difficulties with peers, teachers and their own feeling of self-worth, but, when it comes to video games, they are the ones in control for a change. It also has to do with the instant gratification they get from the games. That’s why they are so addictive. So, the games do a number of things for them.

I don’t like taking the games away as punishment because I know that the games do all these things for my son, but I try to make it clear where the games fall on the hierarchy of priorities, and sometimes I do have to use them to get my son to do what he needs to do.

Posted by JAMurphy

My son is 15 and I don’t believe he’s too motivated either. Fortunately, the grades have been okay, but he hates to do homework and he did not study for his final exams. It seems that school just taxes him and when he gets home, the thought of having to concentrate just does him in behaviorally.

I try not to overreact to all of this (It’s hard sometimes!), and I’ve pretty much come to terms with the fact that he probably never will like school. It’s just not an ADHD-friendly place, unfortunately. Each semester, I meet with teachers to explain his challenges. Organization is a huge one for my son. I tell them that these are brain issues, not attitude issues. I don’t want to baby my son, but it is hard to find the balance between helping and being over-involved. I tell him he needs to fulfill his responsibilities and that I am always available to help him if needed.

I try to remind my son that his schoolwork is for himself , not me or his father. I told him that when he doesn’t do well or chooses not to do something, he’s not letting me down. Then I ask him who he’s letting down and he always knows the answer. “Me,” he says. I try to tell him that making the effort is like giving himself a gift. Sometimes he buys this, sometimes not.

So my mindset these days is to try and get through with the least abount of damage possible. At the same time, I try to find and use my son’s gifts and talents outside of school so he has things to feel good about. I don’t take away sports as a consequence because he needs it, for example.

Also, if you haven’t read Chris Dendy’s book on teenagers and ADHD, it is an absolute must-read. It helped me a lot. One of her best pieces of advice was, “Give yourself permission to be more involved with your child that you normally would.” These kids need someone who loves them no matter what.

Posted by momto3kids

[ Free Resource: Proven Homework Help for Kids with ADHD ]

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Blog Post > “My Child Refuses to Do Homework” Here’s How to Stop the Struggle

  • “My Child Refuses to Do Homework” Here’s How to Stop the Struggle

son not doing homework

Over the past few weeks I have had many frustrated parents in my office discussing issues that they were having with their child refusing to do homework. Most of the parents I talked to described homework taking hours and ending with everyone frustrated and upset. This is a nightly occurrence and both the child and parent struggle with a solution. The following article from www.empoweringparents.com by Janet Lehman, MSW has some helpful hints that might just end this nightly struggle. — Megan Yaraschuk, M.Ed., PCC

“My Child Refuses to Do Homework” Here’s How to Stop the Struggle by Janet Lehman, MSW

Do you get sucked into a fight over homework with your child every night? So many parents tell me that this is one of their top struggles with their kids. If you’re dealing with this now, you probably dread saying the words, “Okay, time to do your homework,” because you know what’s coming next — screaming, stomping, book-throwing and slammed doors. Or it might simply be hours of dealing with your complaining, whining or non-compliant child or teen who just hates to do the work. Even though you reason, lecture, nag and yell, nothing seems to change — and each night turns into a battle with no victors.

Trust me, I get it. I have to admit that dealing with my son’s homework was one of my least favorite experiences as a parent. It felt overwhelming to me; often, I just wasn’t equipped to offer the help he needed. Our son struggled with a learning disability, which made the work and the amount of time required feel unending at times — both to him and to us. My husband James was much better at helping him, so he took on this responsibility — but even with this division of labor, we had to make adjustments to our schedules, our lives and our expectations to make sure our son turned it in on time.

They Don’t Call It “Homework” for Nothing

Here’s something I learned along the way: homework is work, and there’s no getting around that fact. It’s a chore for both the child and parent. It’s important to understand that schoolwork is often the most difficult part of your child’s busy schedule. Helping your kids manage it despite all the other activities they would rather be doing can be challenging at best. Remember that it’s your child’s job to go to school and learn (including getting homework completed) and your job to provide for your kids, run the house and offer love and guidance to your children.

I know from experience how easy it is to get caught up in power struggles over homework. These struggles begin for several reasons, but the most common one is because your child would rather be relaxing, playing, texting with friends, or doing almost anything else. Know that if you deal with their frustration by losing it and getting mad out of your own frustration, it will be a losing battle. Some kids are even able to manipulate parents this way, because they know the battle over homework may result in your giving up on expectations to get it done.

Here’s the truth: letting your child off the hook for their work will ultimately create problems in their lives. Instead, focus on the fact that as a parent, you need to teach your child how to follow through on expectations and be accountable. All the more reason to take control and make homework just another part of your child’s daily responsibilities.

Here’s my advice for reducing homework hassles in your home:

  • Try to stay calm : Try to avoid losing your cool and yelling and screaming, arguing about the right answer for the math problem or the right way to do the geography quiz, ignoring the homework altogether or being inconsistent with what you expect, being overly critical, or giving up and just doing the work for your child. The first step is to try to stay as calm as you can. If you get frustrated and start yelling and screaming at your child, this sets a negative tone and is likely not going to help them get the work done.
  • Set clear expectation around homework time and responsibilities. Let your children know that you expect them to get the work done on time and to the best of their abilities; the most important thing is that they try their best. Set aside the same time each afternoon or evening for them to do their work. Understand that kids are all different in how they feel about and approach homework. Some may find English easy, but get really frustrated with math. Another may be a science whiz, but have no patience when it comes to writing. It’s important to know your child: their strengths and struggles, and how they learn. Some kids need small breaks throughout a session, while others may need the task to be broken down into smaller pieces and then varied. While there are some children and teens who are self-directed and able to complete homework without assistance, most require some type of guidance and/or monitoring, depending on their age. This makes it especially challenging for parents, because it means you need to perform different functions with each child you have, depending on their needs.
  • Have a relationship with your child’s teacher. Try your best to build a good relationship with your child’s teacher. Start off at the beginning of the school year and stay in touch as the year progresses. Your relationship with your child’s teachers will pay off during the good times as well as the challenging times.
  • Play the parental role most useful to your child. Some kids need a coach; others need a “monitor,” while others need more hands-on guidance to complete tasks. Try to match your help with what is most needed. Remember also that your child is doing the homework as a school assignment. The teacher will ultimately be the judge of how good or bad, correct or incorrect the work is. You’re not responsible for the work itself, your responsibility is to guide your child. You can always make suggestions, but ultimately it’s your child’s responsibility to do his or her assignments, and the teacher’s job to grade them.
  • Keep activities similar with all your kids. If you have several kids, have them all do similar activities during homework time. Even if one child has less homework or finishes more quickly, they need to be respectful of their siblings by doing quiet, non-disruptive activities.
  • Set up a structured time and place for homework. Choose a time and place and stick to a routine as much as possible. Consider adding in break times for kids with shorter attention spans. They might work on their spelling words for 15 minutes, and then take a 5 minute break, for example. Offer snacks to keep kids “fueled” for the work. Keep the house generally quiet for everyone during homework time—turn off the TV (or at least keep the volume down). Make sure your kids have a “space” for doing their work. For some kids this will mean a large work space like a kitchen table to spread out their papers and books, and for others it may mean a small quiet area in their room.
  • Start early: Start early with your young children setting up “homework” time, even if it’s just some quiet reading time each night. This helps get them used to the expectation of doing some “homework” each night and will pay off as the actual work gets harder and more time-consuming.
  • Offer “Hurdle Help”: Some kids need what we call “hurdle help.” Let’s say your child has big test to study for, but can’t seem to get started. You can help out by running through the first few problems, for example, until he gets the hang of it. Or you might brainstorm with your teen to help her choose a topic for the big paper she has to write. You’re not doing the work for them, rather, you’re helping them get going so the task doesn’t seem so daunting.
  • Choose the best person for the job: If you are part of a couple, consider that one of you might be better at “teaching” and then let that person take on the homework monitoring responsibilities. It will likely help the routine become more consistent and effective for your child. If you are a single parent, you might have a friend or family member (an older cousin who’s good at math, or a neighbor who’s a writer, for example) who would consider helping your child from time to time.
  • Offer empathy and support. If your child is really struggling, give them some support and guidance and show some empathy. Kids are expected to do some difficult work, and your child may sincerely be struggling with it. If you have a child who is really having a hard time, it’s important to have communication with the teacher to see if this is typical for all kids, or if it’s unique to your child. If your child also has these problems in class, know that there are different approaches to helping them learn that can be useful. The teacher may recommend some testing to see if there are learning problems. While this can be hard to hear as a parent – as if something is wrong with your child – it’s important to find out how your child learns best and what your teacher and you can do to support their learning style.
  • Use positive reinforcement and incentives: It’s always important to reinforce positive behavior, and that may mean offering some kind of incentive for completing homework or getting good grades. Most kids get personal satisfaction out of getting good grades and completing their work, and that’s what we’re aiming for. But, it’s also helpful to offer some incentives to encourage them. Rather than money, I would recommend offering rewarding activities for your child’s academic successes. This could include going shopping for some “goodie” the child has really wanted, renting their favorite movie and having “movie night” at home, or other ways of spending special time with a parent. These things can become more meaningful than money for most kids and they get to experience their parent in a loving, supportive and reinforcing role.

Most kids will never really “enjoy” homework, and for some it will always be a struggle. Our children all have different strengths and abilities, and while some may never be excellent students, they might be great workers, talented artists, or thoughtful builders. While it would be easier if all children were self-motivated students who came home, sat down and dug into their homework, this just isn’t going to be the case with most kids. As James often said to parents, “We need to learn to parent the child we have – not the child we’d like them to be.” Our role is to guide our children, support them through the challenging tasks, and teach them about personal responsibility.

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Defiant children who refuse to do homework: 30 tips for parents.

son not doing homework

  • 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.
  • 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
  • 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? 
  • 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.

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My bright teen is skipping homework and failing classes, and I don’t know what to do

son not doing homework

Q: My 15-year-old son, a high school sophomore, has stopped doing his homework when he doesn't like the subject or the teacher, or when he thinks it's stupid, and he's now failing two classes. He has also lied to me about it; he got away with the lies until the school sent notices, so he has all but destroyed my trust in him. This has been going on since grammar school, but it's getting worse as he gets older. I've tried everything I can think of: therapy, taking away the Xbox, using the Xbox or other things as rewards he can earn, letting him handle it on his own, partial involvement, hovering, crying and screaming — and I feel awful about those last two. I'm trying to take your advice to be careful not to damage our relationship over things, but I don't know what else to do. Failing major subjects in high school seems like a problem. Am I wrong to be so concerned? He won't work with a tutor anymore, either. He's a smart kid, so it's not a lack of ability. Please help.

A: I am going to be honest with you: I relate to your son. I started to check out of school around sixth grade and stayed checked out well through high school. I was bright but had stopped caring about most of my classes, and nothing changed my mind. Paid for good grades? Nope. Punishments? Nah. Rewards? Didn’t care. Threats? Didn’t matter. I was only affected by a handful of people, and otherwise, I couldn’t be reached. And this wasn’t even in a pandemic; this was just the ’90s.

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As I see it, your son is a puzzle (as we all are), and we have a couple of the puzzle pieces in front of us. He is bright (a word that doesn’t carry much meaning), he doesn’t do his homework when he is disinterested in the subject and/or teacher, he lies about it, this behavior has been happening since grammar school, every manner of behavior modification has been attempted (and failed), you have tried therapy, and he refuses a tutor. There are many other things I don’t know about your son, including his health, any transitions or traumas for him or the family, possible learning disabilities or differences (yes, you can be bright and have a whole host of learning issues that prohibit learning in a “typical” way) and family structure. I could go on and on!

The big question is why. Why did your son begin to disconnect from school?

Although I can do little to help you in this note, I do want to keep guiding you to the “why” instead of the “what.” Of course we don’t want your son failing courses — no one wants that for their children — but our parenting goal is not getting him to pass classes. It is to understand him, so he can understand and help himself. At 15, he is well on his way to becoming a young man, and whatever is causing his disconnect from school is what needs your attention.

As you discover the “why,” you need to understand why rewards and punishments don’t seem to work with some children, especially when it comes to schoolwork. There is a time and place for typical behavioral techniques. Take something away that children love, they stop the unwanted behavior. Give them something they love, they repeat wanted behavior. Fine. But this only really works when children already care about school, their teachers and, yes, maybe the work. Caring about your integrity, what you produce and how your teacher feels about you is the primary driver of working hard, not rewards or punishments. If you have a teen who is accustomed to not caring about what his teachers or you think, then he is immune to your punishments and rewards. “Not caring” runs both ways; you don’t feel the “bad stuff,” and you also don’t feel the “good stuff.” As a person who didn’t care about a lot of things for a long time, I can say that it is a horrible way to live. I was wretched to parent and educate.

Let’s pause all the behavior-modification shenanigans. Let’s pause the fear of all this failing and what it means for his future. Let’s pause shoving him into therapy or tutoring. Let’s. Just. Stop. Repeat after me: “My son is not a project. He is a fully human young man, and he needs my support and love.” Repeat this over and over and over, then start getting curious. Invite him to eat with you, go on a hike with you, learn a video game with you, anything, and try to get to know him without an agenda. Every single class he is failing can be made up. Every single thing he hasn’t learned can eventually be learned, and I want you to tell him that. I also want you to highlight and discuss what he does well. He is passing classes! He is (maybe) doing chores! These failed classes are not the sum of his person, so stop treating them as if they are.

10 ways to take the struggle out of homework

I also want you to tell him that it’s typical to not want to do well for people to whom we don’t feel connected. My spidey sense is that something (or things) happened in grammar school that caused him to armor up, and the armor has grown thicker. And of course he’s lying to you. When people feel ashamed of their actions (not doing homework and failing), they lie, then they get in trouble for the lie (adding on more shame), which adds to more lying. Let’s just assume he isn’t going to do the homework for some of these classes. We can take out the extra shame layer.

I can hear you having a panic attack, and I know I have not told you what to do to fix this situation, but it is not going to get fixed. Your son is not broken; he just needs support. Please call your pediatrician for a good work-up, and peek around at possible learning issues. (Giftedness is on the table, too.) Please personally reach out to a teacher whom your son loves and respects, and ask for support. What got me through high school? A choir teacher, an AP English teacher, my Mom Mom, my aunt, and the fact that my parents didn’t give up and send me out of the house. That’s it. Find someone your son cares about, and have them start talking, hanging out, checking in, etc. As a former teacher, I did this and was never burdened by it; it is called community, and we all need it.

The most encouraging part about your note is that you know this is a relationship-first issue. Keep that as your North Star, and as your son begins to thaw, you can add other strategies, such as rewards and punishments. Check out Cara Natterson’s “ Decoding Boys ” and think about seeing your own parent coach or therapist. You are doing hard parenting work, and you need a safe place for your fears and big emotions.

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Homework Help for Reluctant Children

  • Posted October 15, 2018
  • By Heather Miller

mother and two daughters doing homework at kitchen table

It’s hard to fault the child who resists doing homework. After all, she has already put in a long day at school, probably been involved in afterschool activities, and, as the late afternoon spills into evening, now faces a pile of assignments. Parents feel it, too — it’s no one’s favorite time of day.

But despite its bad rap, homework plays an important role in ensuring that students can execute tasks independently. When it’s thoughtfully assigned, homework provides deeper engagement with material introduced in class. And even when it’s “just” worksheets, homework can build the automatic habits and the basic skills required to tackle more interesting endeavors. Finally, homework is a nightly test of grit. Adult life brings its share of tasks that are both compulsory and unenjoyable. Developing the discipline to fulfill our responsibilities, regardless of whether they thrill us, begins in middle childhood.

So how to help the avoidant child embrace the challenge, rather than resist it?

The first step, especially with kids 13 and under, is to have them do their homework at a communal space, like a dining room or kitchen table. If other children are in the home, they can all do their homework at the same table, and the parent can sit nearby to support the work effort. This alleviates some of the loneliness a reluctant child might associate with assignments. The alternative — doing homework at a bedroom desk — can result in the child guiltily avoiding the work for as long as possible. Like all forms of procrastination, this has the effect of making the entire process take much longer than it needs to.  

When parents turn the homework ritual into a series of conversations about what needs to be done, how, and for how long, children feel less “alone” with their nightly work, they relish the company and support of their parent, and they work better and more efficiently.

Many parents are under the impression that they shouldn’t have anything to do with their children's homework. This comes from schools emphasizing that homework is a child's responsibility, not the parents'. While it is absolutely true that parents should not do their children's homework, there is a role for parents — one that's perhaps best described as “homework project manager.” Parents can be monitoring, organizing, motivating, and praising the homework effort as it gets done. And yes, that means sitting with your child to help them stay focused and on task. Your presence sends the message that homework is important business, not to be taken lightly.

Once you’re sitting down with your child, ask him to unload his school bag and talk you through his various assignments. Maybe he has a school planner with all his homework listed, or a printout from school, or perhaps his work is listed on the classroom website. Many children attend an afterschool program where, in theory, they are doing homework. They’ll often claim that they’ve done all their homework, even though they’ve only done some. Together, make a quick and easy “Done/To Do” list. Writing down what she has finished will give her a sense of satisfaction. Identifying what she still needs to do will help her to focus on the remaining assignments. Over time, this practice will help your child build an understanding that large tasks are completed incrementally.

Next, ask your child to put the assignments in the order he’d like to do them. Encourage him to explain his thinking. Doing this helps a child feel in control of the evening’s tasks and prompts him to reflect on his work style. Discuss the first task of the night together. Ask your child to think about the supplies he is likely to need, and ensure they’re at the ready. This “pre-work” work helps a child think through a task, understand it, and prepare to execute it with gusto.

Last but not least, introduce a timer to the evening’s proceedings. Challenge your child to estimate how long the first assignment will take. Then ask, “Do you want me to set the timer for the full amount of time you think you’ll need, or a smaller amount?” Then, set the timer with the understanding that the child must work without interruption until the timer goes off. Even questions are verboten while the timer runs. The goal here is to enable the child to solve problems independently, through concentration. This not only builds concentration powers, it builds creativity, critical thinking, resilience, and resourcefulness. In my experience, the theatricality of being timed helps relax children who would otherwise feel daunted by a mountain of homework.

As each piece of work gets done, parents can add meaningful positive reinforcement. Exclaiming, “Another assignment done! And done well!” helps your child feel like what they are doing matters.

By turning the homework ritual into a series of conversations about what needs to be done, how, and for how long, children feel less “alone” with their nightly work, they relish the company and support of their parent, and they complete the work much more efficiently and at a higher standard than they might otherwise.

Helping the Homework Resisters

  • Have children do their work at a communal table. Stay nearby, to alleviate the loneliness that some kids feel — and to prevent procrastination.
  • Ask your child to unload her backpack and talk through assignments.
  • Help your child make a "Done/To Do" list.
  • Ask your child to put the assignments in the order he’d like to do them. Encourage him to explain his thinking — fostering a sense of control.
  • Use a timer. Challenge your child to estimate how long an assignment will take, and ask if she wants to set the timer for that full amount of time, or less. 
  • Your role: To monitor, organize, motivate, and praise the homework effort as each piece is done. 

Additional Resource

  • More about Heather Miller's work to help parents create healthy routines on weeknights

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son not doing homework

Because differences are our greatest strength

What to do when your teen resists your help

son not doing homework

By Victoria Scanlan Stefanakos

Expert reviewed by Jenn Osen-Foss, MAT

son not doing homework

It’s normal for teens to want to assert their independence. So even when they’re struggling with schoolwork because of learning differences, they might not be open to help. Find out why your teen might resist your help, and what you can do.

Why teens might resist help

By the time kids enter high school, they often want to exercise some new independence. But teens who learn and think differently can feel school frustration in ways other kids don’t. And they may feel torn between wanting to be independent and still needing to rely on others.

A child who feels powerless may avoid doing homework or asking for help. Your child may see refusing as the only way to gain control over the situation. Some kids use anger to try to break away from the people they depend on the most. They may not be open to help from a parent or caregiver.

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What you can do when your teen resists help.

A teenager who seems unmotivated to get help from a parent is actually motivated — motivated to resist. The more energy you put into arguing with a resistant teen, the more resistance you’ll get back.

Try to focus on not arguing. Start by taking a step back and asking your child, “What do you think?” Some teenagers have good plans and ideas for high school and beyond.

You also can try to encourage your teen to take action. Can you work together to draft a contract that lays out goals and responsibilities for the semester? Have your child lay out consequences, too: What happens if the contract is broken? This approach provides the independence your teen craves. And it may motivate your teen to work toward the desired outcome.

“Reassure your child that asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness but of maturity.”

If your teen wants to do well but still resists asking for help, you can work together to build self-advocacy skills. Reassure your child that asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness but of maturity.

Getting outside help for your teen

When your child doesn’t want your help, peers who are a bit older may be good resources. Teens are often more likely to listen to suggestions from someone closer to their own age. Your child may be able to connect with an older student at the same school who also has learning differences.

Tutors can also help your child study and see an improved grade in a specific subject. Fees can vary. Educational therapists, adults trained to work with kids who learn and think differently, could also help. Both groups usually have training to help them teach advanced subjects.

Ask your teen to think of a teacher or counselor from school who can be supportive. Help from counselors and teachers is usually free, though they may not be able to give your child as much time as tutors and educational therapists can.

It’s hard to watch your teen resist help when you know what a difference it would make. But you don’t have to take all the responsibility for your teen’s learning. Kids experience a boost in confidence when parents point them toward resources they can use on their own.

About the author

Victoria Scanlan Stefanakos is a writer and editor for many national publications.

Reviewed by

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Jenn Osen-Foss, MAT is an instructional coach, supporting teachers in using differentiated instruction, interventions, and co-planning.

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The child does not want to study or to do their homework: what should parents do?

son not doing homework

The school year is now starting again and with that, the Internet is blowing up with parents’ search engine inputs: “my child doesn’t want to study”, “how to make my child do their homework?”, “what to do if the child is bored with their studies?”. Every parent is willing to see a studious child in their son or daughter, the one who is running to school with joy and carefully doing their homework. However, what needs to be done if the child is now lacking the willingness to study? Is it worth forcing them or are there any alternative options? You will find the answers to these questions in this article.

Stop having an overly caring approach for your child and give their developing personality an opportunity for freedom. At the same time, do not worry about your child, always know where they are, which path they take to get somewhere and what is happening around them with the “Findmykids” app that can be downloaded from AppStore and GooglePlay .

Finding out the underlying reason

The correct approach of the parents.

  • The tips of a psychologist 

8 effective ways to motivate for good study

Does the homework need to be done together with parents.

How to Deal With Out-Of-Control Teen Behaviors


In order to find out why did the urge to acquire new knowledge at school disappears suddenly, the reason for such behavior needs to be found out. This may mean the following:

1. Lack of motivation

The child does not understand the importance and the need of the learning process. In the classroom, they are bored, they do not listen to the teacher, and they prefer to go about their business or chat with classmates.

Prostock-studio/Shutterstock.com Prostock-studio/Shutterstock.com[/caption] Prostock-studio/Shutterstock.com[/caption] Why don’t kids want to do homework? The answer is very simple. They are not interested in it.Unfortunately, the school allows only for little practical experience for life and success, together with having plenty of gadgets and “distractions”. Therefore, children at school often do not understand why . Why do they need it? How is it useful in life? It is important to talk with children and to provide answers to these questions. To show and explain things to them through the example of famous “young” people. To try to apply the knowledge gained at school, in life, together. Praise the child’s actions. For example, you can gather your child’s friends and arrange the quest “Why do we need mathematics?” The team that finds more practical examples, gets a pizza.

2. Issues in the relationship between the teacher and the student

⠀ Even one careless word from a teacher can offend a child and affect their attitude towards learning, not to mention obvious conflicts. This is especially true for anxious and vulnerable children.

3. Conflicts with classmates, teasing, bullying

son not doing homework

⠀ It is important for parents to pay attention to all sudden changes in the behavior of their son or daughter and to be able to help their child in time if they become the victim of bullying .

4. The unfavorable situation within the family

When parents constantly quarrel, it is difficult for the child to concentrate on educational activities. Well, how can you solve a problem in physics when dad shouts that he will leave the family, and mom replies by saying that she wasted her life on a worthless person?

5. Excessive parental control

son not doing homework

There are parents (these are mainly mothers) who are interested in controlling everything that happens within the family, including the school life of the child. This omnipresent control stretches out even to backpacks and birthday presents for classmates. What motivation can we be demanding from a child, if in those situations, mom always knows better, and mom decides on everything?

6. Low self-esteem and a lack of self-confidence

It is difficult for such children to prove themselves at school. Raising a hand to answer a teacher’s question, calling a classmate and asking them about homework proves itself to be very problematic for them. If at the same time parents also have excessive expectations for the child and criticize them for the smallest mistakes, the son or daughter starts being anti-social and acts according to the principle of “choosing something with the smallest negative impact”. The child starts skipping lessons, stops doing homework and starts getting bad grades. Why bother if their efforts will still not be appreciated?

7. Excessive workload of the child after school

son not doing homework

Swimming classes on Monday and Thursday, dance on Wednesday and Tuesday, art school on other days. Sounds familiar? Many parents strive to oversaturate the schedule of their child. As a result, the psyche turns on defense mechanisms, protecting their brain from the excessive effort. The child begins to be lazy and to postpone their homework until late at night.

8. Physiological reasons

Hyperactivity , weak self-control, somatic diseases – here is an incomplete list of what can also affect a child’s lack of desire to sit at a desk and to do their homework.

A combination of reasons

The next example is exactly about that.

As it can be seen, a child may have several reasons not to be willing to study. Most often, it is not one single reason, but rather a whole set, with which parents need to get familiar.

son not doing homework

Dear mums and dads! If you would be actually forcing the child to study, it would be unlikely that something good will turn out from this. Anything that is done when being forced or under pain of punishment will not be beneficial. So let’s not force children to learn, but rather encourage them to do so. The competent stance of the parent will help them with this.

Prostock-studio/Shutterstock.com Prostock-studio/Shutterstock.com[/caption] Prostock-studio/Shutterstock.com[/caption] It is surely possible to force the child to study. However, this will need to be done throughout the entire 9 to 11 years.When we force children, we assume our responsibility for them. On the other hand, we also really want the children to be independent and to do their homework. Therefore, should this be possible, we need to establish the rules for learning right from primary school. There is no need to do homework with a first grader – the parent’s function is to help them not to get distracted from this activity. If the student is older, the issue needs to be solved through motivation and encouragement.

Realistic perception of the situation

What do most parents do if their child doesn’t want to learn? That’s right, they turn to drastic measures, such as physical punishment. It is very likely that your parents did this, and that you also often do this.

Let’s leave the screaming, the abuse and the punishment out of the picture. They won’t do help in any way. “Horror stories” about becoming a janitor without the willingness to do study, will not be of any help either.

Parents need to understand that a child’s reluctance to learn always stems from a specific reason.

Learn how to react correctly to the child misbehaving in the article about the 10 ways to punish your child without screaming, hitting and humiliation .

son not doing homework

In order for the child to start dealing with their problems in autonomy, it is important for them to hear the following from their parents:

  • “I believe in you”;
  • “Everything will work out”;
  • “We will sort out this problem together”;
  • “There are no unresolvable problems”.

Parents can do the following:

  • explain what has not been understood on their own;
  • hire a tutor;
  • talk to the teacher;
  • alter the position of the parent;
  • go to the neurologist together;
  • find a solution to problems at school collectively with your son or daughter.

Find out whether your child is being bullied at school and whether they are being treated well by their teachers, in order to solve the problem in a timely manner. Listen to the sounds around them and monitor their location in real-life conditions with the “Findmykids” app.

Prostock-studio/Shutterstock.com Prostock-studio/Shutterstock.com[/caption] Prostock-studio/Shutterstock.com[/caption] Sign an agreement with the child, an actual written one. Clearly outline what they are entitled to for “voluntary” completion of the lessons and what is the “punishment” for not completing a task. Incentive schemes work well with older children, for example, if the child was doing their homework all week, on the weekend the whole family goes where the child chooses to go. Stickers with “well done” on them, work great with younger students.

How to help your child?

son not doing homework

The tips of a psychologist

From generation to generation, we have passed on an unwillingness to learn. Children start being scared of learning right from kindergarten: “When you go to school, the teacher will not take your tantrums into consideration, they will immediately give you a bad grade”, “if you behave badly, you will be taken to the headmaster’s office”. The child is prepared for the fact that it will be difficult, uninteresting, and painful to study, in advance.

  • Try to talk positively about the school and the teachers. The school is the foundation and base of the child’s entire future life.

When a child’s feelings are denied, they quickly lose interest in any activity, including studying. The child says, “This is a very difficult task. I will never complete it, and receives in response: “You are just very lazy, everything seems difficult for you”.

  • Let the children share their fears and concerns with you, even if they seem like they are blown out of proportion to you.
  • In a family, a child can find everything they need. Listen more and judge less, and then the children themselves will want to share their problems with you.

The desire to raise a genius out of a child with excellent grades in all subjects leads to nervous breakdowns and low self-esteem, because a son or daughter cannot always reach the standard set by their parents. The same applies to unfulfilled parental expectations, when, for instance, a mother dreamed of becoming a ballet dancer so much, that she decided that her daughter must make her dream come true.

The issue of all parents is to be comparing them with other children. “You see, Pete always gets straight As, and you only get Cs and Ds”, “you see, Lara has been doing the homework on her own for a while now, and you are still asking for my help”. The child starts silently hating Pete and other kids, thinking of themselves as the biggest loser.

  • If you are comparing the child with someone, compare them only with themselves: “You see, last year it was hard for you to learn the rules of multiplication, and this year it is super easy for you!”
  • Praise your children more often for their achievements, even for small ones.
  • Explain why it is so important to go to school and what it will give your child in the future.
  • Do not scold them for poor grades, the child is already upset with this. Try to figure out the reason for them in the first place.
  • Don’t “reimburse” good grades with gadgets, fashionable items or other purchases.
  • Talk to the child more often about their dreams and plans for the future.
  • It is important to teach the child the time management skills for their time after school, so that there is enough time for both rest and homework.
  • The stance that “grades are not important, however, the acquired knowledge is”, is a useful one for both parents and children.
  • Do homework with your child only if they ask for help.

son not doing homework

Now let’s address the question that worries many parents. Should I help my child with homework? If you do not help, they will make a bunch of mistakes, or forget to learn the poem or will not even turn in the DIY airplane model for their arts & crafts project.

According to the “biggest-ever” study on parents and children carried out in 2018 by the Varkey Foundation on a sample of 27 000 people from 29 countries, suggests that overall, only 25% of parents spend on average 7 or more hours a week helping their children with homework. Moreover, nearly 30% of all parents feel that they need to help their children more and to be more responsive to their needs.

Here is what today’s mums and dads recall about their childhood:

1. “I always had problems with math at school. Well, I did not understand all these sin and cos, integrals and functions! In the 6th grade, my father took over my education. And since he was not a very good teacher, he explained all the topics to me in a raised voice, got angry when I did not understand something. As a result, we quarreled, he called me stupid and said that nothing good would turn out from me. Maybe some mathematical knowledge remained in my head, but my relationship with my father got fully ruined”.

2. “My mother took the matter of my homework into her own hands from my first grade. We sat down with her and did it for hours until she was happy with the result. Sometimes my mother was annoyed that I was doing it very slowly, and she did some of the tasks instead of me. When she was not at home, I never did the homework myself. What for? She wouldn’t be happy about something in it anyway, and I’ll have to redo it”.

As we can see, the parental attempts to control the process of performing the tasks may not always be beneficial for the child.

What is recommended by professionals:

  • in the first grade, parents need to do their homework with their child, but only in order to organize the whole process. Teach your son or daughter some easy tricks, for example, starting off with doing written tasks followed by oral tasks, that a complex math problem is to be firstly done on a draft and that a test or an exam requires some preparation in advance;
  • allocate a special time for homework with your child, for example, from 5 pm to 7 pm. Help them organize their workplace and space, ensure they have good lighting;
  • do not refuse to help if the child asks you for it. However, don’t try to do it instead of them, but rather do it together with them;
  • homework is the workload of a child, and only they should be responsible for it, not mom or dad, as they have completed all of their homework a long time ago.

Dear parents, remember: your goal is not to force the son or the daughter to study, but to create such an atmosphere within the family where the child would have an opportunity to share any of their problems, where they are recognized and appreciated not through their grades and where they will be able to acquire the knowledge for their future adult life.

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Home / Expert Articles / Parenting Strategies & Techniques / Consequences & Rewards

“Why Don’t Consequences Work for My Teen?” Here’s Why…and How to Fix It

By megan devine, lcpc.

Teenager contemplating consequences

If you’re having trouble giving effective consequences to your teen, know that you are not alone. Many parents tell me that nothing seems to work and that coming up with the right thing for their child can seem like an impossible task.

If you’re the parent of an adolescent, you may have grounded your child, taken away their video games, or suspended their driving privileges for months on end. But as James Lehman says, you can’t punish kids into acceptable behavior—it just doesn’t work that way.

“You can’t punish kids into acceptable behavior.”

Rather, an effective consequence should encourage your child to change their behavior — whether that is abiding by the house rules or treating people respectfully. So first, you need to identify the behavior you want to change.

For example, if your child swears when they don’t get their way, you want them to behave more appropriately. Instead of grounding or punishing , or even reasoning with your child when they get angry and lash out, an effective consequence here would require your child to practice better behavior – and improve their self-control – for a period of time before their normal privileges are restored.

Let’s break this down according to The Total Transformation Program :

  • Effective consequences are connected to the original behavior and are both task- and time-specific.
  • “Connected to the original behavior” means that your consequence needs to be related to the behavior you want to see your child change or improve.
  • “Task-specific” means that there is something your child needs to accomplish or practice related to the original problem. This is a concrete behavior, like washing the dishes, meeting curfew, or not swearing.
  • “Time specific” means there is a specific amount of time in which they needs to demonstrate that behavior.

So, when your child swears, they might lose access to their electronics until they can go without swearing for two hours. The consequence is tied to the behavior. They swore, so they have to practice not swearing. This consequence is task-specific – it requires them to exercise the part of their brain that governs self-control. If they want their stuff back, they have to practice better behavior. And it’s time-specific – they need to demonstrate self-control for two hours. Only then are they free to have their privileges back.

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It’s important to understand that you can’t get your child not to feel angry or frustrated. That’s just part of being human. But you can require that they change the way they deal with those feelings. You can expect them to practice some self-control. Your goal is to require that your child practice the better behavior for a certain amount of time before they get their privileges back. So practice and behavioral improvement equals the restoration of privileges.

If they yell about their consequence, or how unfair it is, you can say:

“I understand that you’re angry. Yelling is not going to get you what you want. Once you’ve been able to deal with your anger appropriately for two hours, you will get your electronics back.”

Do not continue to explain your consequences or justify your decisions. They may mumble to themselves or text their friends about how awful you are, and it may take some time, but eventually, your child will decide to practice those skills that earn back their electronics.

How to Choose a Consequence

Think of it this way: a privilege is a motivator. The withdrawal or granting of a privilege should give your child an incentive to follow the rules of your house, even when they don’t agree with those rules.

An effective consequence is a privilege your child is interested in. For some kids, video games are a powerful motivator, while other kids could care less about them. Taking away a cell phone for two hours works for some kids while others would just find another way to communicate.

In order to choose the right privilege to use as a consequence, you have to know your child. What are their interests? What would really impact them if they lost it for a short period of time? Some parents tell us that using the blanket term “all electronics” works better than just saying “no video games,” which can make kids turn to YouTube as a distraction.

Remember, the right privilege should be an activity that your child will actually miss. Withhold that privilege until your child completes the task you’ve set for them.

James Lehman suggests that you sit down with your child and come up with a list of privileges and consequences together. The advantage here is that you are working as a team to solve the problem. It can help you identify things or activities your child truly values. It also clarifies what the consequences will be for certain infractions—for everyone involved. Not only will your child know what will happen if they break a certain rule, but the parents don’t have to spend time coming up with something in the heat of the moment.

What If Your Child Doesn’t Seem to Care What You Use as a Consequence?

Many parents call the Empowering Parents parent coaching team , saying that their kid doesn’t seem to care what they take away. One dad said to me in exasperation,

“Even though my daughter lives to text, she acts like she could care less when her phone is taken away. Nothing works with her!”

Some kids appear not to care what activity you restrict; they pretend they didn’t want to do it anyway.

But look at it this way: would your child really want you to know that they care about the consequence you’re giving them? Would they reveal their reaction to you and let you know you got to them? That would make it seem like you have power over them, and they aren’t about to concede on that one.

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So some kids, like the teenage girl above, feign indifference when you remove a privilege. If you’ve watched your child and know that what you’re taking away really does impact them, don’t worry about whether or not they seem suitably upset at the loss of it. Give the consequence time to work.

What If the Consequences Still Aren’t Working?

So what if you know you’ve chosen a valuable privilege and your consequences still aren’t working? The key here is to take a look at the length of time privileges are removed. Is it too long? Does your child lose interest in what you’ve taken away (the “out of sight, out of mind” dilemma)? Is the time frame so long that your child can’t possibly be successful (no swearing for a whole month)?

Remember, your goal is to create better behavior in your child, and the consequence/privilege needs to encourage that improvement by being time-specific. If you truly want your child to improve their behavior, you need to create an environment in which your child can succeed. The time span of your consequence is important – it should be long enough that your child has to stretch their skills and short enough that you have a good chance of seeing improvement.

In summary, to be effective, a consequence needs to be short-term, task-specific, and involve a privilege your child values. Your goal here is to produce a child who can respond to limits, meet responsibilities, and demonstrate age-appropriate behavior. Your consequences and privileges help get them there.

Be Persistent and Consistent

One last word of advice: parents often want to see their child’s behavior improve overnight. If you are faced with a child who behaves inappropriately under stress, your consequences should require them to practice and get better. Don’t expect perfection immediately. Like any new skill, better behavior takes practice.

When implementing a new consequence, you can expect some failure. You can expect that you may need to restart a couple of times. In the beginning, you may find that your child behaves inappropriately every day and has their privileges removed often. That doesn’t mean you’ve chosen the wrong consequence. It simply means your child needs time to practice better skills. And they need you to be consistent and to keep them practicing.

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About Megan Devine, LCPC

Megan Devine is a licensed clinical therapist, former Empowering Parents Parent Coach, speaker and writer. She is also the bonus-parent to a successfully launched young man. You can find more of her work at refugeingrief.com , where she advocates for new ways to live with grief.

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son not doing homework

Thank you for reaching to Empowering Parents and sharing your story. I can hear how distressed you are with your teen daughter's behavior and choices. It can be tough to know how to hold your child accountable when it seems like they don't care about anything and their behavior keeps getting worse. Janet Lehman wrote an excellent article about how to get control back in these types of situations. You can find that article here: https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/scared-of-your-defiant-child-learn-how-to-get-back-your-parental-control/. Another article you may find helpful is https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/kids-who-ignore-consequences-10-ways-to-make-them-stick/.

We appreciate you being part of our Empowering Parents community and wish you all the best moving forward. Take care.

My son is 13 years old and resides in My Home primarily, but I spend time at his other parents house on a regular basis. He spends the night there every Thursday & also on alternating weekends (Thursday after school thru Monday drop off at school).

Both households have very different expectations and rules - and, the other parent refuses to communicate about anything whatsoever.

He rarely touches his homework while he is at his other parent’s house, and spends most of his time, playing video games and messing around online. When he returns home, he constantly has a ton of make up work and it negatively impacts our whole household because he is constantly doing homework here. He plays the Xbox, watches, YouTube, and messes around online pretty much the entire time he is there, and neglects the things that he knows he needs to do.

How do I hold him accountable? The other challenge is that when a punishment is necessary that the other parent will not enforce anything at the other home. So if we take away the Xbox or Internet privileges, I don’t think it really bothers him when he knows he gets to go spend several days away doing what he would like to do online.

Do you have any advice on how to implement effective consequences for his behavior that cannot be undermined by the reprieves that he spends away? Quite frankly, I feel like I am being punished for him not behaving over there because he’s constantly doing everything to make up here and it’s just unpleasant.

If I didn’t bother helping him to catch up when he returns home after each visit, he’s likely be failing all of his classes. I want to teach him that it’s important to finish the tasks that he is assigned, regardless of who’s house he is at, & that he’s capable of doing what he knows he should. Do you have any advice?

My daughter is doing things like stealing my car, sneaking out in the middle of the night, having sex, has d’s and f’s on her report card, lying, manipulating, fighting with family members constantly, it is just always something with her. i just planned a beach trip for just she and i because i have other kids and don’t get much one on one time with her that she craves so we went. while there, she was constantly disrespecting my 75 year old grandmother and grandfather, my cousin and the friend. i decided leaving was best so that everyone’s vacation wouldn’t be ruined and instead of just packing and getting in the car, she damaged the hotel, starting screaming and throwing things and took off running screaming at the top of her lungs to call the police and acted like i was abusing her. the police came and almost took me to jail(i was in handcuffs in the cop car) until they got the story from everyone and realized that this is a repeat thing she does to try and get her way.

when we got home i took all electronics like phone, ipad, mac book, apple watch/pencil, etc. only to find out she found where i hid them & got her phone back herself. she has no respect for anyone!!!

what do i do?

Thank you for reaching out to Empowering Parents. It sounds like you have a lot going on with your daughter right now. I can understand both your concern and your frustration. It will be most productive to focus on one behavior or area of concern at a time. Because it can be difficult sometimes to figure out what behavior to start with, I often suggest parents make a list of all the behaviors they are seeing and focus on the most difficult behavior first. Carole Banks discusses this in her article, "My Child's Behavior Is So Bad, Where Do I Begin?" How To Coach Your Child Forward as well. This will help you to start developing a culture of accountability in your home.

We appreciate you being part of our Empowering Parents Community. Be sure to check back and let us know how things are going. Take care.

Our 21 year old lives with us at home, and he makes promises and does not keep them. He needed to send his resume to us and some other paperwork and promises to do it but doesn't follow through.

We have talked to him and nothing changes, he has social anxiety and it takes him a while to adjust to new situations. We don't understand how to help him? Please advise.

CUL4 Thank you , all for sharing. I have a Teenager daughter who nothing works for. She won't attend school, therapy and punishment of any kind doesn't work.she just leaves. I block her path and she jumps out the window. Nothing works.. but reading your questions helps me not feel More alone. Thank you

My 11 years old daughter has anger issue lately. when she can't get what she wants especially electronics talks loud and with too much pressure.

i also don't know what activity to substitute if I limit the electronic time. She is not interested in reading books, playing her instrument ....

please advise me

I am so sorry for your loss. I can understand how upsetting your son's behaviors are and can hear how distressing it is for you. I'm glad to hear both of your children are in therapy. Loss of a parent can be be especially hard on adolescents and teens, even if their outward behavior may not show that. I encourage you to check in with your son's therapist about this and follow his recommendations on consequences.

Thank you for checking on and sharing your story.

Mother of a teenage boy My 15yr old son in the last 3 months has done some concerning things such as take my mother’s car to the shop (no license), and got caught bunking school and also vaping. I’m at a loss what to do I have taken his phone from him and the next More thing is touch rugby which he loves. My question is touch rugby has given him confidence will I be making the situation worse if I take it away from him ?

It's just not possible for a parent to take a cellphone or laptop or computer from a child, who is taller/bigger than parent. I was following the advice in this article (several times) and we always end up "wrestling". A teen kid will not just hand you his cellphone, he will not let you easily pick up his laptop, etc. What to do then?

How to make them do their schoolwork/homework also not clear to me, because they just will not do it.I tried to convince him, I tried to offer extra time on computer,I was promissing to buy something,etc ,he still will not do it. Please advise.

You bring up an excellent point. WE would not recommend getting into any sort of physical power struggle with your child trying to make them hand over the device. You might instead turn off service to the device or turn off the Wi-Fi. You may find this article on fail proof consequences helpful: https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/odd-kids-consequences-that-work-on-oppositional-defiant-rebellious-children/

Thank you for reaching out.

Consequences-You day to take something away for a short time and have them work towards it.

My son is the size of a man.

My son has gone into depression and laid on his bed for days without anything.

My son has ran away for days at a time.

My son would prefer to be kicked out of school.

I have called the police about my son. They have done NOTHING and the advice given was get into therapy and a parenting program.

My son won’t attend therapy.

Parenting programs say “have consequences, follow through, take things away!”

Help please.

Deb W. I try taking away phones, videos game, tv etc for my not listening or being angry nothing seems to help. they don't care about things being taken away from them. Do you have another consequence I can try? I try sending them to their rooms. It did nothing. More I try making them sitting on timeout chair nothing seems to bother them. Help!

Lisa my Daughter when she is very upset and we take away something sometimes she physically trys to keep that object(usually some type of electronics) like making us grab for it; or just flat out refusing to hand it over? I have found myself wrestling with her(to her outward amusement) for More the device..how do I proceed here?

Our son was a straight A child. Never had trouble in school. Seemed effortless. He started 6 grade middle school in August, he almost failed 3 classes. The rest are A’s. At first I thought he was just overwhelmed with all of the teachers and assignments. Having to be accountable but now I feel like no matter how much we try to help, and how much we take away. He just zones out, like it’s no big deal that he is failing. He isn’t doing his homework. We ask him right after school daily, he looks you’d traight in the eyes and says “no homework”

So we can actually see 2 of his class assignments online but the rest you can’t. So we got 2 of the grades up but he isn’t taking notes and again, his work isn’t getting done. I have tried so many things. I feel lost and helpless. Any ideas?

son not doing homework

Passedmylimit I have 18 year old daughter.very good hearted goes to school with good grades and works. Downfall..even though she was warned she sneaks out the house takes grandpa's car ..thinks she can come and go as she pleases and smokes pot..she doesn't even deny it or try to cover up More the smell.after the last warning of curfew I was out at 4 am looking for her ..argumnents with my husband over this behavior when she finally answered her phone I made her return home pack her belongings and find a place to live where she can do what she wanted. She found a friend that came and got her and has been out since.i feel so awful and empty for this but she was warned multiple times that this would happen. I have taken her off our phone plan and she will be paying that herself. She was not paying rent and chores where done half way. I also have an 11 year old that sees this.i will not have her believe that this behavior is ok. Did i do the right thing? Or did I do more damage.please help!

That you don't want to punish your child.

But apply consequences from a power point of view by withholding things that they prefer sounds to me liking punishing.

Sitting together to think about working consequences doesn't seems to sounds to me liking working like a team.

If your child doesn't come up or agree with a consequence what do you do than.

Let it go our use your hierarchical advances to force them in choosing.

I think for testing if your way of parenting is reasonable you can do the following. If your team lead at work will do the same things to do as you do to your child would you like that, would you agree, would you stay or would you do differently. If you say you would to differently then you may need to rethink your parenting style at home.

Jens My wife does exactly what you recommend with our teenage son, who has been diagnosed with both ADHD and autism, and the only result is escalation, threats of violence, or violent behavior. As a stepfather, my wife does not allow me to interfere.

Rebecca Wolfenden, Parent Coach Thank you for your question. This is a common scenario we hear from many parents, so you are not alone in experiencing this. We do not recommend trying to physically wrestle away devices from kids, mainly because it causes things to escalate even more and increases the chances More that someone might get hurt as you described. Instead, it tends to be more effective to set a clear limit (such as, “Your phone needs to be on the kitchen table in 2 minutes. If not, there will be additional consequences”), and walk away to allow things to cool down. If your child refuses to hand over electronics, it’s going to be more effective to focus on where you have control, which is over yourself and your own responses. Sara Bean outlines some options in her article, 4 Steps to Managing Your Child’s Screen Time . Please be sure to let us know if you have additional questions. Take care.

Rebecca Wolfenden, Parent Coach I’m sorry to hear about the challenges you have faced with your son, and I’m glad that you are here reaching out for support. Many parents feel frustrated with their child’s attitude, so you are not alone. The truth is, trying to make your son “care” or improve More his attitude is likely to be frustrating, because he is ultimately the one in charge of how he feels about a given situation. It’s going to be more effective to focus on meeting his responsibilities and following the rules, regardless of how he might feel about a given situation. In addition, I recommend starting with one concrete behavior, such as following directions the first time, rather than a broad concept like respect. You can find more information and tips in “My Child’s Behavior Is So Bad, Where Do I Begin?” How to Coach Your Child Forward . I hope that you will write back and let us know how things are going for you and your son. Take care.

Rebecca Wolfenden, Parent Coach We appreciate you writing in to Empowering Parents and sharing your story. I hear how concerned you are about your niece’s behavior. Because we are a website aimed at helping people become more effective parents, we are limited in the advice and suggestions we can give to those outside More of a direct parenting role. It may be helpful to look into local resources to help you develop a plan for addressing your particular issues. The 211 National Helpline is a referral service available 24 hours a day, nationwide. They can give you information on the types of support services available in your area such as counselors, support groups, kinship services as well as various other resources. You can reach the Helpline by calling 1-800-273-6222. We wish you the best going forward. Take care.

RebeccaW_ParentalSupport Suzie Perth It's been months since my last post. 

Our 16 year old daughter's life has been turned upside down since she left home in September last year. She is now staying with the older boyfriend and his father. (both the boy and his father have a mental illness). They have isolated her from her family. 

The school had believed what my daughter had told them and that's why they helped her, however as soon as she was supposedly classified as an independent adult and started receiving benefits from the government (Up to $650 a fortnight), she stopped going to school. The school refused to tell us anything. Whether she was attending school. How she was doing. This drove our family into despair. Once the school psychologist came back from long service leave, he straightened everything out with the school staff as we had been in contact with him for years and knew how we were struggling with her. Then we learnt that she hadn't been attending school so we tried getting her to go back. My husband went around to where she was staying and she promised to go back and she never did. He was going there almost daily as she doesn't want to give us her mobile phone number. 

We've tried stopping the payments she is receiving because she does not qualify to receive the payments. You need to be attending school or working in order to receive the payments, however the government youth worker decided not to stop the payments which we felt is not teaching our daughter to be honest and it certainly wont encourage her to go back to school. She did badly in the last exams. 

She admitted before she left home that her friends were drinking and taking drugs. The father of the boy wont answer our calls as he said he's not responsible for her. He did advertise to the school and other people that she had lost her virginity in his home. We have limited contact with her via skype. 

She has been an aggressive person and asked us if she had always been like that at home as other people are telling her she is aggressive. Yes, we had to put up with a lot. Our 11 year old twins are much happier now that she is gone and are reluctant to have her back home as she was always mean to them. 

Last week we found some very suggestive photos she placed on the internet and I asked her immediately to remove them as she is not allowed to post that on the internet due to child protection laws. She hasn't removed them. She has gone right down and lost all self respect. She sees me as being the person to blame for everything that's gone wrong in her life as she cannot accept responsibility for what she has done. The rudeness we get from her has just slowly pushed us all away from her as she has nothing nice to say. We were told by many people and professionals to stop all contact, as it is not of any benefit. We were having 1 skype message every week sometimes every 2 weeks. We are to wait till she hits rock bottom and she asks for help. 

We NEVER realised that parenting would be as emotionally challenging and as difficult as this as my husband and I were not rebellious. 

On a good note, our 11 year old twins are learning from this and said they will not behave as she has, when they get to that age. We have to focus on our twins and try and move on, which is not easy as I think of her ALL the time, which is wrong as I should be more focused on our children at home.. Our marriage is stronger than before, as we've worked together on trying to parent our troubled daughter. She will hopefully learn from her mistakes and we know it's going to take a very long time to mend our relationship with her. Unfortunately things will never go back to what they were before mixing with the wrong group of people. The desire for her to be accepted by her peers outweighed the values she once had.

It has been good reading and knowing, we are not alone and that so many people are having problems with their children. We have felt really embarrassed, ashamed, very hurt, by what our daughter has done but we've had  to put that behind us and move on or else we'll always be unhappy. This is just a point in ones life and this is our turning point, to move on and let her get on with her life knowing that we've done the best we could.

Jamid1 This has been a huge help for me. I read the suggested article along with some others on this website. I have learned to be firm but not argumentative with my son. I try to give him a minute to spout out all his frustrations verbally without interrupting and when More hes done simply remind him that I asked him to do whatever discipline and that's it. If he continues to be combative I simply tell him to go to his room and cool off and then I walk away. I also had a candid conversation with him after the above incident. I told him that I would not hesitate to call the police in order to protect myself as well as protect him from doing something he would regret. Though he was initially very upset that I would "call the cops" I think it helped him realize how unruly his behavior really was. We agreed that we would both try to be less combative and that if I asked him to go to his room he would simply do so to take a few minutes to cool off before we continue our conversation. Thank you so much!

Poppy234 ADHD parent I try saying OK its your choice, you can give up your phone now for 15 minutes or when you are asleep I will take it and you lose it for 2 hours tomorrow. Or similar. They still get mad though. Also when you have the phone for More 2 hours, they can shorten that time by doing chores. I have to keep stressing that it is HER choice not mine, it is within her power to get her phone back more quickly. She may still have kept the phone on this occasion but eventually may make the choice to give it up as its less hassle in the long run.

Poppy234 @Family With our daughter more sleep helps so much with temper outbursts. Try tracking how cross he is and matching with how much sleep he has. So we lie with her and rub her back, it helps to make sure she gets to sleep not too late.

RebeccaW_ParentalSupport Frustrated mom2017 I hear you.  It can be so frustrating when your child not only refuses to follow directions, but also lies about it.  Although it’s normal to feel angry and upset upon discovering this, I encourage you to do your besthttps://www.empoweringparents.com/article/disrespectful-child-behavior-dont-take-it-personally/.  Chances are that her choices are not directed More at you, but are instead a reflection of poor problem-solving skills.  It sounds like your daughter is already receiving a natural consequence at school of a poor grades for the performance on her math test, as well as refusing to do the corrections.  It could be useful at this point to have a conversation with her about what happened, and what she will do differently moving forward in her math class as outlined in https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/why-you-should-let-your-child-fail-the-benefits-of-natural-consequences/.  Please be sure to write back and let us know how things are going for you and your family.  Take care.

Poppy234 Frustrated mom2017 This is hard. So there is the maths grade and the lying. I would ask her why she didn't want to do the corrections. Is she struggling? Does she need extra help outside school? Can you sit with her while she does them? If she is being lazy, More then either try keeping the iPod only until she does the corrections. If she is overworked forget punishment but take her out somewhere after she does them, perhaps she thinks she works too hard, perhaps she is stressed and has too much on her plate. The lying I would be concerned about and would make sure I had time with her each night to chat. See what worries her. Rub her feet or whatever she likes to get close to her. Find out what annoys her about you and don't stand up for yourself. Try a conversation journal where you talk to each other, nothing negative in it from you, ask her questions in it. I think all kids lie from time to time and we need to minimise it by staying close.

My daughter is 9 (so pre-teen) but I still need help with a consequence. Around 5:15am this morning she took my Iphone off my nightstand and brought it in her room to look at her friend's parent's profile pages on my Facebook app. She broke multiple rules by doing this! According to this article what would a good consequence be? No tv or electronics (which she does care about) until she learns not to steal or invade my privacy? I need help. Something more specific. Thanks to all

-preteen mom

Poppy234 Preteen mom In addition to consequences I would put a password on the phone or fingerprint ID, it could be too big a temptation for her ongoing and it would be kinder to take it off the agenda.

RebeccaW_ParentalSupport Preteen mom Many parents struggle with effective consequences, regardless of the age of their child, so you are not alone.  I’m glad that you’re here, reaching out for support.  Part of addressing this with your daughter will be discussing what happened, and https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/the-surprising-reason-for-bad-child-behavior-i-cant-solve-problems/about what she could have done differently instead More of taking your phone without permission.  Instead of taking away TV or electronics until she learns to respect boundaries or refrain from stealing, it could be more effective in this situation to talk about how she can make it up to you, and “right the wrong” she committed by not respecting your boundaries.  You can suspend electronics until this amends is complete.  Janet Lehman offers more tips in her article, https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/i-caught-my-child-lying-how-to-manage-sneaky-behavior-in-kids/.  Please be sure to write back and let us know how things are going for you and your daughter.  Take care.

RebeccaW_ParentalSupport Krist4711 We appreciate you writing in to Empowering Parents and sharing your story.  I’m sorry to hear about the struggles you and your family are facing with your niece. Because we are a website aimed at helping people become more effective parents, we are limited in the advice and suggestions More we can give to those outside of a direct parenting role. It may be helpful to look into local resources to help you develop a plan for addressing your particular issues.  The http://www.211.org is a referral service available 24 hours a day, nationwide. They can give you information on the types of support services available in your area such as counselors, support groups as well as various other resources. You can reach the Helpline by calling 1-800-273-6222. We wish you the best going forward. Take care.

SLParker @Stephan  We all want what's best for our kids and as adults we have the life experience and wisdom to know what we could or should have done different. At 17 its time to start picking and choosing your battles with the understanding that your son has to fail from More time to time to learn the lesson for himself. His test scores can not be more important to you than they are him that is a recipe for disaster. If two hours is all he wants to contribute to his future well being then explain to him what comes along with that choice. Let him make the choice its time.

I’m so sorry to hear about the situation with your daughter, and I hope

that she returns home safely soon.We

hear from many parents who describe similar frustration that, despite punishing

a child over and over again, the child’s behavior does not improve, or might

even get worse. You are not alone in this situation.Something to keep in mind is that

consequences by themselves do not change behavior, because continuing to take

things away from your daughter is not teaching her what to do differently.You might find some alternate strategies in

our article series https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/why-consequences-arent-enough-part-1-how-to-coach-your-child-to-better-behavior/

and https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/why-consequences-arent-enough-part-2-making-child-behavior-changes-that-last/.Please be sure to write back and let us know

how things are going for you and your family.Take care.

It’s not uncommon for parents and teens to disagree on the appropriate

amount of studying and preparation required to do well, so you are not

alone.I also want to point out that

learning how to negotiate and advocate for himself appropriately are valuable

life skills for your son to possess, and it’s normal at this stage in his

development to desire more autonomy and independence when making decisions like

this.As pointed out in https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/parenting-rules-and-expectations-but-everyone-else-is-doing-it/, it might be more

effective at this point to help your son learn how to manage his time more

independently.Please be sure to write

back and let us know how things are going with you and your son.Take care.

Thank you for the article. Taking my daughters phone off her for a day when she misbehaves has not been working at all, it makes her even more angry, but I think your ideas make perfect sense and a day is too long. I am going to try this later as there are bound to be insults or pushing about of poor Mum later today! Plenty of scope for trial and error!!! 

It seems to me that as children get older they want to be listened to and loved but not to be given any advice on anything unless specifically asked! And some children don't half dish it out. Even quiet chewing with my mouth closed drives my daughter to distraction. I'm bored with the negativity.

cuddles84 tryed all that the way you said  still does not work.


You bring up an excellent question, what can a parent do

when a child refuses to comply with consequences? I think it can help to know

that it’s not uncommon for kids, especially teens, to push back when given a

consequence. They can refuse to hand over devices, go out with friends even

when they’ve been grounded, and  refuse to do extra chores. For that

reason, it’s important to make sure that the consequences you use are fail

proof consequences – consequences you can follow through with even when

your child refuses to comply. Kim Abraham and Marney Studaker-Cordner discuss

how to give fail proof consequences in their article https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/parenting-odd-children-and-teens-how-to-make-consequences-work/. I hope

you find this article helpful. Be sure to check back if you have any further

questions. Take care.

I have been through something simular on and off for years. After serious soul seaching and time. I found I had to let go. It was painful, but instead of trying to control my kids,and ex I focused on what is in my control and my response. I used techniques from the "secret". I used my time differently when I am with my kids and they always know what they mean to me. We have a much better relationship and I get all the hard and personal issues they are afriad to share with anyone else.

I would support what your 13 year old wants, but let them know bashing is not ok and you refuse to lower yourself to thst level. than have a great time with your young one, but invite your older child when possible. Even if your oldest never joins you she will know the door is not closed and she has the choice.

Kids know what is going on and they see all the crap, and odds are they will come around especially if. They know they are loved and forgiven. Maturity has had a huge impact.

You establish your boundries and stick to them. She is 18.... welcome to being an adult. She will grow up and learn she has a strong mum that wont take her disrespect.

Poppy234 still learningmom I think you give really good advice. It seems to me that a lot of parenting of a particularly control adverse child consists of letting go of control. Sometimes boundaries come down to what is legal and safe. Smoking pot and stealing would not be allowed therefore, but More perhaps getting her to abstain from smoking in your house until the birthday party would have been an option. Or getting her to replace missing items before the party? Goodness it's a hard line to walk, we need enormous patience. I would go the line of apologising but when a quiet moment arrives ask her to talk about it, asking her many questions about the situation and refraining from adding much opinion at all.

Dee The same thing happened to me , me ex was also a total narcissist in the clinical sense. I took him to court, representing myself & made a clear plea to the judge to let him know what was going on. He gave me everything I asked for. Good luck

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Battles Over Homework: Advice For Parents

Guidelines for helping children develop self-discipline with their homework..

Posted September 5, 2012 | Reviewed by Lybi Ma

I would like to offer some advice about one of the most frequent problems presented to me in over 30 years of clinical practice: battles over homework. I have half-jokingly told many parents that if the schools of New York State no longer required homework, our children’s education would suffer (slightly). But, as a child psychologist, I would be out of business.

Many parents accept this conflict with their children as an unavoidable consequence of responsible parenting . These battles, however, rarely result in improved learning or performance in school. More often than not, battles over homework lead to vicious cycles of nagging by parents and avoidance or refusal by children, with no improvement in a child’s school performance. And certainly no progress toward what should be our ultimate goals : helping children enjoy learning and develop age-appropriate discipline and independence with respect to their schoolwork.

Before I present a plan for reducing battles over homework, it is important to begin with this essential reminder:

The solution to the problem of homework always begins with an accurate diagnosis and a recognition of the demands placed on your child. Parents should never assume that a child who resists doing homework is “lazy.”

Every child whose parents or teachers report ongoing resistance to completing schoolwork or homework; every child whose performance in school is below expectations based on his parents’ or teachers’ intuitive assessment of his intellectual potential; and every child who, over an extended period of time, complains that he “hates school” or “hates reading,” should be evaluated for the presence of an attention or learning disorder.

These children are not lazy. Your child may be anxious, frustrated, discouraged, distracted, or angry—but this is not laziness. I frequently explain to parents that, as a psychologist, the word lazy is not in my dictionary. Lazy, at best, is a description, not an explanation.

For children with learning difficulties, doing their homework is like running with a sprained ankle: It is possible, although painful, and he will look for ways to avoid or postpone this painful and discouraging task.

A Homework Plan

Homework, like any constructive activity, involves moments of frustration, discouragement, and anxiety . If you begin with some appreciation of your child’s frustration and discouragement, you will be better able to put in place a structure that helps him learn to work through his frustration—to develop increments of frustration tolerance and self-discipline.

I offer families who struggle with this problem a Homework Plan:

  • Set aside a specified, and limited, time for homework. Establish, early in the evening, a homework hour.
  • For most children, immediately after school is not the best time for homework. This is a time for sports, for music and drama, and free play.
  • During the homework hour, all electronics are turned off—for the entire family.
  • Work is done in a communal place, at the kitchen or dining room table. Contrary to older conventional wisdom , most elementary school children are able to work more much effectively in a common area, with an adult and even other children present, than in the “quiet” of their rooms.
  • Parents may do their own ”homework” during this time, but they are present and continually available to help, to offer encouragement, and to answer children’s questions. Your goal is to create, to the extent possible, a library atmosphere in your home, again, for a specified and limited period of time. Ideally, therefore, parents should not make or receive telephone calls during this hour. And when homework is done, there is time for play.
  • Begin with a reasonable, a doable, amount of time set aside for homework. If your child is unable to work for 20 minutes, begin with 10 minutes. Then try 15 minutes in the next week. Acknowledge every increment of effort, however small.
  • Be positive and give frequent encouragement. Make note of every improvement, not every mistake.
  • Be generous with your praise. Praise their effort, not their innate ability. But do not be afraid of praise.
  • Anticipate setbacks. After a difficult day, reset for the following day.
  • Give them time. A child’s difficulty completing homework begins as a problem of frustration and discouragement, but it is then complicated by defiant attitudes and feelings of unfairness. A homework plan will begin to reduce these defiant attitudes, but this will not happen overnight.

Most families have found these suggestions helpful, especially for elementary school children. Establishing a homework hour allows parents to move away from a language of threats (“If you don’t__ you won’t be able to__”) to a language of opportunities (“When” or “As soon as” you have finished__ we’ll have a chance to__”).

Of course, for many hurried families, there are complications and potential glitches in implementing any homework plan. It is often difficult, with children’s many activities, to find a consistent time for homework. Some flexibility, some amendments to the plan, may be required. But we should not use the complications of scheduling or other competing demands as an excuse, a reason not to establish the structure of a reasonable homework routine.

son not doing homework

Copyright Ken Barish, Ph.D.

See Pride and Joy: A Guide to Understanding Your Child’s Emotions and Solving Family Problems .

Kenneth Barish Ph.D.

Kenneth Barish, Ph.D. , is a clinical associate professor of Psychology at Weill Medical College, Cornell University.

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Parenting For Brain

How To Motivate Child To Do Homework (7 Practical Tips)

By: Author Pamela Li Pamela Li is an author, Founder, and Editor-in-Chief of Parenting For Brain. Her educational background is in Electrical Engineering (MS, Stanford University) and Business Management (MBA, Harvard University). Learn more

Posted on Last updated: Sep 2, 2023 Evidence Based

“How to motivate a child to do homework” is on almost every parent’s mind right now. Getting kids to do homework is not always painful. In fact, it can be outright fun!

In this article, I will share the secret on motivating your child to not only do homework but also love homework. Yes, you read it right. It is possible to love doing school work. No yelling, screaming, threatening or crying required.

A grumpy girl surrounded by schoolbooks.

Why Do Kids Hate Homework

Let’s start with kindergarteners.

For many children, kindergarten is their first formal experience in school.

Kindergarten has changed a lot over the last decade.

Once a place for socialization and play, kindergartens now emphasize the importance of learning to read, to count, to sit still and to listen to the teachers.

Going from playing all day at home to behaving or sitting still in a structured environment for hours at a time is a tough transition.

To add to that, many kindergartens also assign homework to these little children, further reducing their available play time.

It’s no wonder that some kindergarteners are not motivated to do homework.

Woman happily watches girl do homework. She gets 4 year old to do kids homework.

Homework Motivation

Remember when your child was still a toddler, he/she would get into anything and everything?

They were curious and they were eager to learn about everything around them.

They were passionate learners .

Toddler crawl on the floor happily. He is curious and explores on his own. toddler homework is not hard to motivate. how to get your child to do homework without a fight

Children naturally love learning, if we provide the right environment and motivate them appropriately.

Here’s the problem…

When you hear the word “motivate”, what do you think of it?

If you’re thinking about toys, money, iPad time, points, stickers, etc., you’re not alone.

Rewards (and sometimes punishments) are many parents’ go-to motivators.

Parents love them because they work almost instantly.

You present the prize and the child complies to get it. Problem solved.

Simple and effective.

But very soon, you will notice some unintended results.

Here is an example.

Some years ago, after a lecture, Professor Mark Lepper was approached by a couple who told him about a system of rewards they had set up for their son, which had produced much improved behavior at the dinner table. “He sits up straight and eats his peas and the Brussels sprouts and he is really very well behaved,” they reported. Until, that is, the first time the family dined at a nice restaurant. The child looked around, picked up a crystal glass from the table and asked, “How many points not to drop this?” A fine example, says Dr. Lepper, of the detrimental effects of over-reliance on rewards to shape children’s behavior. Mark Lepper: Intrinsic Motivation, Extrinsic Motivation and the Process of Learning By Christine VanDeVelde Luskin, Bing Nursery School at Stanford University

This example is far from rare.

In fact, it is very common when a child is motivated purely by an external reward.

Once the reward is removed, the child will no longer be interested in continuing the behavior.

What’s the right way to motivate our children?

The answer is intrinsic motivation .

Intrinsic motivation refers to engaging in an activity for its pure enjoyment.

This enjoyment comes from within an individual and is a psychological satisfaction derived from performing the task, not from an extrinsic outcome.

In other words, to get your kid to do homework, first help them enjoy doing it .

It is not as crazy as it sounds.

It’s unfortunate that homework is called “work”.

We like to separate work from play.

So naturally, we feel that homework is drudgery.

But it doesn’t have to be.

Homework is a tool for children to learn and get familiar with the knowledge taught in class.

To enjoy homework, the child has to enjoy learning .

Self-motivated learner

How To Motivate a Child To Do Homework

To motivate kids , we first change our mindset, from a working mindset to a learning mindset .

The goal of going to school is not about getting into college, finding a good job, earning a stable income, etc.

Of course, all of those are wonderful, but that’s a working mindset – you’re doing all that work for reasons other than enjoying the learning itself.

Going to school is about learning , acquiring knowledge, exploring new subjects and growing as a person.

In the US, the average expected years of schooling is 16.7 years ​1​ .

If a child doesn’t like school, that will be 16.7 years of misery.

You don’t want that for your child.

But here’s the good news.

If you can intervene early, like in kindergarten or even before kindergarten, your child will be getting off to a good start.

So, convince yourself to change from the working mindset to the learning mindset.

It sounds abstract, but here are 7 tangible steps for moving toward that goal.

1. Stop referring to kid doing homework as your child’s “job”

When you call it a “job”, you are implying that it will be all work and no fun.

Doing that is setting up a child to feel bad even when it’s not.

2. Don’t tell your child, “you cannot play until you finish your homework”

Again, by putting homework in a category separate from play, you are saying that it cannot be enjoyable.

The importance of play cannot be overstated. So make it count ​2​ .

Tell your child that they can do both (of course, only healthy physical play like basketball or biking, but not watching iPad).

They can decide the order of doing them as long as they do both by the end of the day.

You’d be surprised – giving a child autonomy over their homework schedule is one of the biggest motivators.

3. Don’t use “no homework” as rewards

I once heard that some teachers would give students with good behavior “no homework tonight” as a reward.

I was horrified.

Homework is for practicing what we’ve learned in school.

It helps us understand and remember better.

It’s not a punishment or torture that you need a “break” to feel better.

Don’t give your child the impression that homework is something you want to get away from.

4. Do not nag, bribe or force

Do not nag and do not force your kid to do homework, whether through rewards or punishment.

“But then, how to make kids do homework?” parents wonder.

Don’t make your child do homework. Period.

Forcing or bribing will only backfire and reduce your child’s intrinsic motivation ​3​ .

The motivation to do homework needs to come from within the child themselves.

5. Let your child face the natural consequences

“But what to do when my child refuses to do homework?” many frustrated parents ask.

When your child refuses to do school work, let them… after you explain why doing homework is important for learning and what may happen in school if they don’t.

Walk them through the natural consequences for not doing homework – they won’t retain the information well and they will need to accept whatever natural consequences in school. They will have to explain to the teacher why the homework was not done and they may lose some recess time, etc (but first confirm that the school doesn’t use corporal or other types of cruel punishment).

Wait… What?!

You think I should let my child fail?

Well, not doing homework in lower grades is not the end of your child’s academic career.

Think about this, you cannot force or bribe your child through college.

Help them understand the purpose of learning and doing homework now .

You’re helping them make the right decision by letting them understand and face the natural consequences sooner rather than later.

6. Do homework with your child

Don’t tell your kid that homework is important, show them through your action.

Do the homework with them.

You are telling your child you value this so much that you are willing to take the time to do it together. Besides, parental involvement is associated with better school performance ​4​ .

Woman watches girl count her fingers. She motivates the girl to do math homework by making it fun. Kinder homework can be fun, too.

7. Make doing homework fun and positive

There are many ways to make homework for kids fun.

Let’s take a look at two methods I’ve used and the results.

You can try them or invent your own.

Method 1: Use doing homework as a “reward” (younger kids like kindergarteners)

Wait, you said that using rewards wasn’t good a moment ago.

Now you say, “use homework as a reward”?

Well, I said rewards were bad because you would be implying the activity you’re trying to motivate your child to do was not as good as the reward.

But here, I am using homework as a reward.

I am signaling to my child that doing homework is so good that she needs to “earn it”.

How to earn it?

You can try different things.

We used “If you behave, you can do homework with me. If you don’t behave, you can’t do homework.”

We started at preschool and it worked very well.

Parents who have tried this report good results in motivating their children to do homework, too.

But some of them have concerns…

Some parents are uncomfortable with this idea because it feels manipulative.

That’s because these parents do not believe in the idea that homework can be fun.

So they feel like they’re lying to the child.

But I genuinely like homework! (Yes, I’m officially a nerd)

So I have no problem helping my child learn to love homework like me.

If you are not convinced yourself, you may not want to try this method. Or if your child is older and already hates homework, it won’t work.

However, although I don’t agree with using manipulative measures in general, I don’t see this particular one harmful to children even if the parents do not like homework themselves.

Method 2: Turn doing homework into a game and a bonding activity

When my daughter was in preschool, I bought colorful homework books and we did them together.

Sometimes we took turns – she did one problem and I did the next and so on.

Sometimes we raced to see who would finish the page faster.

Sometimes I did them wrong intentionally so that my daughter could point out the wrong answers.

It was actually very empowering and satisfying for her to be able to catch Mom’s mistakes!

We celebrated when we both finished or got the right answers.

It was a lot of fun and my kid enjoyed doing that so much.

By the time she started kindergarten, she already loved homework.

In kindergarten, I couldn’t do her homework because, well, that’s her homework.

So I bought homework books that were similar to the ones she brought from school. Then I did problems alongside her as she did hers.

We still raced, celebrated, and had fun doing it.

The result?

At the beginning of her kindergarten year, my daughter was given two homework books to take home. The teacher would assign homework from the books every week. They were supposed to be used for the entire school year. But my kindergartener liked doing homework so much that she finished them all in one month! No yelling, screaming, threatening, or crying is required.

Also See: How To Stop Yelling At Your Kids

A boy being high-fived at his desk.

Need Help Motivating Kids?

If you are looking for additional tips and an actual step-by-step plan, this online course How To Motivate Kids is a great place to start.

It gives you the steps you need to identify motivation issues in your child and the strategy you can apply to help your child build self-motivation and become passionate about learning.

Once you know this science-based strategy, motivating your child becomes easy and stress-free.

Also See: How to Motivate Older Kids to Do Homework Using Reverse Psychology

A mother bringing her daughter a drink while she does her homework.

Final Word On Motivating Your Kid To Do Homework

Getting your kid to do homework is only the first step in building a good learning habit. Finishing homework or getting good grades is not the purpose of going to school. Instill the love of learning in your child early on and your child will benefit for life.

School kids working together.

  • 1. et al. xpected duration of education for all students: Countries Compared. NationMaster. https://www.nationmaster.com/country-info/stats/Education/Expected-duration-of-education-for-all-students
  • 2. Ginsburg KR. The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds. PEDIATRICS . Published online January 1, 2007:182-191. doi: 10.1542/peds.2006-2697
  • 3. Lepper MR, Greene D. Turning play into work: Effects of adult surveillance and extrinsic rewards on children’s intrinsic motivation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology . Published online 1975:479-486. doi: 10.1037/h0076484
  • 4. Nye C, Turner H, Schwartz J. Approaches to Parent Involvement for Improving the Academic Performance of Elementary School Age Children. Campbell Systematic Reviews . Published online 2006:1-49. doi: 10.4073/csr.2006.4

* All information on parentingforbrain.com is for educational purposes only. Parenting For Brain does not provide medical advice. If you suspect medical problems or need professional advice, please consult a physician. *

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What to Do If Your Teen Has Failing Grades in High School

Blend Images / Getty Images

Finding out your teen has failing grades can be frustrating and scary. After all, failed classes could mean a lower GPA, difficulty getting into college, and perhaps even trouble graduating from high school on time. When high school students fall behind in their classes, catching up can be quite difficult. When grades begin to plummet, many teens give up.

If your teen is failing a class—or they're already failed the entire semester—take action. There are several things you can do to address the issue.

Identify the Problem

If your teen has a failing grade or is in danger of not passing, sit down and discuss the problem. Ask your teen for help uncovering the reasons they are not passing. Sometimes students who start out strong get sidetracked, while other students just aren’t motivated to stay on track.

Talk to your teen and examine whether or not any of these issues have contributed to a failing grade.

  • Are the classes too hard? Sometimes teens sign up for classes that are just too difficult and they become overwhelmed.
  • Is your child not doing the homework? If your teen isn’t doing homework, it will be extremely difficult to pass a class. Find out if homework isn’t completed, not turned in on time, or if your child doesn’t understand how to do it.
  • Are low test scores a problem? Some students struggle with test anxiety or aren’t sure how to study for tests.
  • Has your child had a lot of absences? If your child has missed school due to illness or other issues, it can severely interfere with grades.
  • Is your child under a lot of stress? If your teen is stressed out, they may have difficulty concentrating and completing his work.
  • Could a mental health issue be part of the problem? Mental health problems , such as depression or anxiety often contribute to failing grades. Substance abuse issues can also be a factor in declining grades. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and learning disabilities can impact concentration, motivation, comprehension, and memory.

Talk to the Teachers

Although your teen may not want you to talk to their teachers, it’s important to speak with them to help determine the problem. Your teen may not be aware that they're not paying attention in class or that they're missing a lot of work. Ask for teachers’ opinions about what your child needs to do differently to pass the class.

Consider whether your child may have a learning disability as well. Sometimes learning disabilities or ADHD go undiagnosed until the high school years. Inquire about whether or not educational or psychological testing could be helpful.  

Problem-Solve With Your Teen

Once you have a better idea of why they're failing, sit down and problem-solve with your teen . Discuss they're ideas about how they can improve their grade. Sometimes, simple yet creative solutions can make a big difference.

  • Do they need more structure with homework? Some teens just can’t handle having too much freedom about when and where to do their work. Establishing a scheduled homework time can help.
  • Do they have difficulty remembering what they have for homework? Teens who are disorganized often misplace their papers or forget to bring their work home. Identify strategies to help your teen get more organized.
  • Do they forget to write down their assignments? Some teens try to remember all of their assignments without an assignment book. Other teens forget to write their assignments down. Having your teen write down their work and asking the teacher to initial it after each class can ensure that their assignments are written down.
  • Do they need extra help? Many teens are afraid to ask for help because they are embarrassed or they just don’t understand, even when the teacher tries to explain the concepts again. Staying after school for extra help, meeting with a tutor, or joining a homework club can be helpful strategies for many students.
  • Are they just not motivated to do their work? Sometimes teens just aren’t all that motivated to complete their work. They may have lost interest or are just bored with a particular subject. Discuss strategies that will help motivate your teen to get their work done.

A Word From Verywell

Work together to develop a plan to address failing grades. Discuss possible strategies to help them improve their grade, such as arranging for tutoring. If they're not able to pass the class, talk to the school about alternative options such as summer school or adult education classes.

Steinmayr R, Crede J, McElvany N, Wirthwein L. Subjective well-being, test anxiety, academic achievement: Testing for reciprocal effects .  Front Psychol . 2016;6:1994. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01994

Pascoe MC, Hetrick SE, Parker AG. The impact of stress on students in secondary school and higher education .  Int J Adolesc Youth . 2020;25(1):104-112. doi:10.1080/02673843.2019.1596823

Schulte-Körne G. Mental health problems in a school setting in children and adolescents .  Dtsch Arztebl Int . 2016;113(11):183-190. doi:10.3238/arztebl.2016.0183

Patte KA, Qian W, Leatherdale ST. Binge drinking and academic performance, engagement, aspirations, and expectations: A longitudinal analysis among secondary school students in the COMPASS study .  Health Promot Chronic Dis Prev Can . 2017;37(11):376–385. doi:10.24095/hpcdp.37.11.02

Kent KM, Pelham WE Jr, Molina BS, et al. The academic experience of male high school students with ADHD .  J Abnorm Child Psychol . 2011;39(3):451–462. doi:10.1007/s10802-010-9472-4

American Academy of Pediatrics. What to do if your child is falling behind in school .

By Amy Morin, LCSW Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a psychotherapist, an international bestselling author of books on mental strength and host of The Verywell Mind Podcast. She delivered one of the most popular TEDx talks of all time.

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My Teen Won’t Do Homework. How Can I Fix This?

close up of high schooler doing homework

Meet Jake, a 15-year-old ninth grader, who rarely, if ever, does his homework. Jake’s teachers report that he is inconsistent. He enjoys learning about topics that interest him but seems unfocused during class and fails to complete necessary schoolwork, both in class and at home. Although his grades are suffering , Jake makes no effort to improve his circumstances. His frustrated parents find that their only recourse is nagging and con­stant supervision.

Teen doing homework with mom at kitchen table

Sound familiar? When a teen won’t do homework , we call this behavior work inhibition. Here are some common characteris­tics of work inhibited students:

  • Disorganization
  • Lack of follow-through
  • Inability to work indepen­dently; more likely to do work when a teacher or par­ent hovers close by
  • Lack of focus
  • Avoidance of work
  • Lack of passion about school, despite ability and intelligence
  • Negative attitude; self-conscious and easily discouraged

How can a parent help when a teen refuses to do school homework? First, try to uncover the root of the problem and then devise solutions based on that reason.

3 Reasons Why Teens Don’t Complete Homework and What to Do:

1. missing skills.

The most common rea­son for lack of motivation is a gap in skills. Unplanned absences or a heavy extracurricular load can contribute to skill gaps, even in otherwise bright teens. If you suspect a skill gap, act quickly to have your teen assessed. Your school guidance counselor can recommend the right resources.

2. Poor habits

Poor work habits can also contribute to work inhibition. Try to focus on a work system rather than the work itself with your teen. Set small goals to­gether and teach your teen to set small goals for him or herself. Try to take frequent notice of your teen’s effort and progress.

3. Lack of confidence

Often, students who are work inhibited fear being wrong and won’t ask questions when they need help. Teach your teen that everyone makes mistakes. Help them see these mistakes as another opportunity for learning.

What Parents Can Do to Promote Self-Sufficiency

1. offer limited help with homework.

Parents can offer limited help with homework.  Try to avoid micromanaging the process. When you micromanage, the mes­sage you send is that your teen will fail if you aren’t involved. When you show confidence in your teen’s ability to complete the task with­out you, your teen’s motivation and self-esteem will increase.

3. Resist lecturing

Ask your teen for ways you can help, but don’t lec­ture. Lectures about poor work habits and constant reminders about the negative consequences of unfinished homework can cre­ate more dependency.

3. Empower your teenager

Chores are a great way to empower teens . Delegating demonstrates your confidence in their ability. Try assigning tasks related to an area of interest. If your teen en­joys trying new foods, delegate the preparation and cooking of dinner one night each week.

4. Focus on strengths

Focus on strengths rath­er than pointing out your teen’s faults. When your teen succeeds, give genuine, specific praise. When you need to discuss expectations or problems use a matter-of-fact tone instead of an emotional tone.

Overstuffed organized Backpack with homework spilling out

Once you and your teen agree on the underlying problem, then the two of you can develop a plan to help create a self-sufficient student.

Martina McIsaac is executive director of Huntington Learning Centers.

4 High School Parenting Mistakes I Made—That You Can Avoid

My son won’t do his schoolwork at home

“My son is 8. As soon as ‘home schooling’ was mentioned I knew this would be trouble for me. Just like homework, he does not want to do it and if I offer rewards nothing makes a difference, any further conversation about it results in upset and tears.”

So, what’s the answer?

son not doing homework

Dear Elizabeth I wonder if you could please give me some advice with home schooling. My daughter is 7 years old and she enjoys doing most schoolwork and really is no problem at all. My son is 8. Homework has always been a battle. As soon as ‘home schooling’ was mentioned I knew this would be trouble for me. Just like homework, he does not want to do it and if I offer rewards nothing makes a difference,  any further conversation about it results in upset and tears. I don’t want to him to hate me for making him do this every day and I don’t want the battle everyday – but I’m also aware that other parents are being very proactive with their teaching and I’m really worried that my son is going to be really behind when they eventually go back to school. I would be really grateful for your advice! Liz

Dear Liz Firstly, thank you for writing. I’m sure tens of thousands of parents are experiencing the same issue. Particularly with children are sensitive, anxious or who are more likely to struggle if they feel ‘controlled.’

Your son is probably feeling bad about himself for behaving like this. You’ll know from the upset and anger that he’s not having fun, and neither are you.

Just quickly though, try not to offer rewards for doing schoolwork. When you do that, it makes your son think that schoolwork is unpleasant, and he needs to be rewarded for doing it. Eventually the satisfaction will come from learning new things, and the sense of pride when he completes a piece of work.

There are so many ways you can help your son. I’ll go through five particularly useful ways that should help.

1. Set up a good routine.

When children (and adults) are anxious, they need security and stability and certainty. Setting up a routine can help them achieve that. So, they know what will happen and when. It may be useful to show your son how to create a weekly chart for Monday to Sunday. With all the hours from the time he gets up, to the time he goes to bed, listed like this:

You might like to print the chart off on A4 paper and get your son to fill in the chart. Then get him to write in pencil when he’ll have meals, get dressed and ready, exercise, have downtime, do schoolwork, have screen time, have a shower/bath, get ready for bed, etc. Make a list of things he can do during quiet time and down time.

There is a saying, ‘no involvement, no commitment.’ It means if your son feels you are trying to control him, he’ll rail against it. So, get your son to create the chart and explain he is in charge of it. If he can tell the time, great, if not, you may need to remind him of the time, and say, it’s 8 am, what’s on your chart?

Set a timer. Many children find schoolwork overwhelming. It seems to stretch out forever! So, when your son does schoolwork, set a timer for the amount of time he should work. Start the timer as soon as he is sitting down, ready to work, and understands what he needs to do. As soon as the timer goes off, your son should be able to stop. Change the activity then and preferably do something active or fun.

2. Change how you speak to your son

When children are anxious, upset, or angry, they become more irritable and more likely to be triggered. So, the way you talk to your son needs to be calm, measured and more likely to get the behaviour you want.

  • ‘It looks like you’re finding it hard. You’re missing your friends and your grandparents.’
  • ‘It sounds like you don’t want to do your schoolwork right now. It looks like you’re struggling to concentrate.’
  • ‘It looks like you feel that sometimes the work your teacher has set is too hard. I wonder if you’re worried you’ll struggle, so you’d prefer not to start it at all, than discover you can’t do it.’
  • Yes, you can have a biscuit when you’ve had your dinner.
  • When you’ve cleared up, then we can go to the park.
  • Why do you think I can’t agree to that?
  • What else could you do instead?
  • Use Problem Solving: Ask your son to help work out a solution the problem. Write the problem at the top of the page in a neutral way, that doesn’t imply blame. Something like ‘How to complete the schoolwork set by the teacher.’ Ask your son for 10 to 15 possible solutions. Write down all his answers, even the silly or funny ones. If you have any ideas, ask if you can add them at the end. Then ask your son to choose which idea or ideas he would like to try first. If his chosen solution doesn’t work, come back to the list, and try different ideas, until you find what works. It is possible your son will help you find a solution you hadn’t thought of, that will be the key to him doing schoolwork at home.
  • ‘There are 3 hours of schoolwork to be done today. I wonder where we should schedule that in?’
  • ‘Do you want to do your English schoolwork before your maths or after?’
  • Be playful: Laughter is a great way to dispel anxious thoughts. Try to have friendly banter and fun, to counterbalance the worries and fears.

3. Help your son cope with his anxiety

Helping children deal with anxiety is such a big topic, there is a separate blog on this which you can read.

4. Reduce sibling rivalry.

One of the things I picked up from your letter is that you also have a daughter, who is doing schoolwork without a fuss. Many parents will notice the same thing. That they have one child who is always the ‘difficult one’ and one who is the ‘easy one.’ Interestingly, your daughter’s compliance may be part of the problem.

Siblings often ‘polarise.’ If one sibling is ‘good’ the other sibling (subconsciously) thinks, ‘I can’t be good at being good, so I’m going to be great at being bad! I don’t want to be like her, so I’m going to be the opposite!’   This is not a conscious decision, but it often result in one child being the ‘angel’ child, and one the ‘devil’ child. Then parents tend to treat them like that, and the behaviour persists. More on how to stop sibling rivalry .

So, what can you do to reduce it?

  • ‘Hey, you got dressed without me having to tell you. That showed a lot of self-discipline.’
  • ‘You remembered to turn the TV off and start reading. Good self-control!’
  • ‘Even though you were really annoyed with your sister, you just shouted her name, but you didn’t try to hurt her. That showed a lot of restraint.’
  • ‘You don’t have to be good to deserve love, I love you all the time, even when you’re being naughty or difficult. Nothing will ever change that.’
  • ‘Sometimes, when I’m angry, you might be thinking that I don’t love you anymore. But that’s not true. I always love you. You don’t earn love, you’re my son, so I always love you.’
  • 15 minutes special time a day: Try to give both your son and daughter 15 minutes a day, when you focus totally on playing, talking, and tuning into their world. A time when you are at your best – fun, attentive and loving. Make sure you son knows what time his special time will be, so he can look forward to it. Don’t ever cancel special time. Even if your son has been misbehaving. This should be protected and predictable, so your son knows, no matter what, he will get a happy, fun mum, for 15 minutes every day.

5. Remember your relationship is more important than schoolwork

Having talked about all the ways you can help your son do his schoolwork, remember your relationship with your son is more important.

If your son is kicking off or pushing against you, take a step back from the work. Although you may feel that he will get behind with his work, your mother/son relationship will last the rest of his life. This is a time for staying connected, loving, and supportive.

It is great if you can get him to do his schoolwork. However, the messages of unconditional love you give your son, the acceptance you show for his behaviour, even when it’s challenging, and love you give will be way more important than the schoolwork he completes. The life lessons of resilience, self-acceptance and coping with anxiety will help him in his teenage years and into his adult life.

If your son receives love, support and acceptance, even when he is struggling, he may feel more ready to get on with his schoolwork. Often it melts away the resistance, and because he feels close to you, he is more willing to do what you ask. If he doesn’t, it’s OK. Maintaining a close bond with him, and helping him through the challenges of the Coronavirus pandemic is still more important than his schoolwork.

Good luck, and I hope that you can help your son through this, so when social isolation comes to an end, he can start again at school, with some new coping skills and more resilience than before.

child behavioural expert

The author: Elizabeth O’Shea

Elizabeth O’Shea is a parenting specialist child behaviour expert and one of the leading parenting experts in the UK.

Need help now? Ready to explore whether investing in some tailor-made parenting sessions would be right for you and your family? Book your FREE 20-minute call with Elizabeth here

4 Ways to Help Your Child with Anxiety

How to help your child deal with anxieties and fears during the Coronavirus pandemic. So they learn vital skills that will help them stay calm.

Coronavirus – Dealing with Conflict at home

Coronavirus-forced isolation can lead to a lot of conflict at home. Learn how to deal with parent/child conflict, help siblings sort out their own arguments, and sort out arguments with your teenager (or partner!) without conflict

10 ways to stop your child swearing

Learn the 10 best strategies to use if your child swears. From not overreacting, explaining the meaning of words or even ‘wear out the word.’

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Unmotivated High Schoolers

Parent q&a.

Select any title to view the full question and replies.

Bright HS junior with low motivation for school-what to do?

My son is a junior at Berkeley High taking a full load of IB and AP classes.  In the past, he has been able to get A's and B's doing very little work--relying on his strong memory and good testing skills.  His grades are dropping this year, (mostly Cs, Ds, and Fs)  not because he struggles with the content, but because he doesn't want to work at his school work. He agrees that he isn't working hard enough but he isn't motivated to do more.  He is participating in the college search process, taking SAT, visiting colleges, but isn't particularly engaged. 

He has always been very good at living in the moment, focused on the present. In many ways this is an asset for an overall healthy life, but it isn't working at this phase where he needs to engaged in some longer-term planning.  The two passions he has are role playing games and video games.  These seem to be the only activities that he LIKES to do.   

In the past our approach was largely hands off--giving our kids opportunities to learn for themselves how to manage their time and schoolwork.  Recently, I've switched to a much more hands-on approach (he might say micro-managing) that leaves neither of us happy.  Punishments seem to work only for very short periods and create more tension.  I've thought about bribes, but he isn't a kid who has a lot of unmet needs or desires.  There is nothing he seems to want to earn. He's pleasant and cooperative at home, has a couple of good friends and causes very little trouble at home or at school. 

We've thought about tutors, mental health professionals, college counselors etc...what I'd like to find is a neutral adult who would talk with him about his choices, his motivation and help him think/see clearly what he wants.  We are open to supporting him with various options, working, gap year, college when he is ready, but we don't want to keep struggling with him about school performance.  Any recommendations for a counselor or other professional that could help my bright, sweet, smart, but not very motivated kid find some motivation?

We have a similar teenager. We decided to have him test out of high school and get a job, because he was wasting everyone's time, especially his teachers, by not doing his schoolwork. He took the CHSPE in March of his junior year, and left high school at the end of that year. He worked at two part-time jobs for what would have been his senior year, he's now on a gap-year program overseas. He learned so much from working, lessons they don't teach in school - responsibility for showing up every day, the rewards of doing a good job, and the motivation of getting a paycheck. High school isn't for everyone. Think outside the box. Good luck.

I am wondering how well he does on the SAT since some kids do well even if their grades aren't very good.  Still, in order to get into a good college, he would also need an essay explaining his low grades and what has changed about his motivation.   Some boys, mine included, take longer to mature.  We encouraged our son to take a gap year which he did and I encouraged him to think about taking another year off if he wanted to, before starting college. [with a lot of pushing, micro-managing and tutoring he did well junior year in IB and got into a 2nd rank college and was able to defer it for a year].   I would suggest that your son take off some time and get a job.   When he realizes that he can only get dead-end jobs, he might be motivated to study in which case BCC might be a good place to start.  He can transfer to Cal after 2 years and get a Cal degree.   I am a professor as well and find that many students are just too young and immature to be at a university; it can be a waste of money if they're not motivated.  I know first-hand that it's easier said than done, but I'd encourage him to get a job and figure things out.   It's likely that many of his friends will go away to college and he'll be left in Berkeley which may not be as fun.   If he's not motivated, there's not much you can do but they do eventually mature and figure it out.  If he doesn't after awhile,  I'd just insist that he move out which means he'll have to earn enough to pay rent.  He's a smart kid and will get there.  It is very hard to watch this stuff and you have my full empathy.  good luck!

My son started community college classes at Foothill and DeAnza Colleges in 11th grade.  Those colleges are far from Berkeley, but they do have online classes.  He learned a lot and has very good experiences with his professors and counselors.  He is on the Dean's List and I think that helped him get into one of the UCs' Honors Program.  Summer is here soon and that may be a good time to start with just one class ... 

A child and adolescent psychologist, as I read your post, I was quite certain you were going to say the one interest your son shows is gaming. This is true of an much of an entire generation of boys, as video games are built by psychologists and other brain experts to do just what they are doing to your son. This is a major factor as to why only 43% of college admissions are boys and why leading economists are saying the reason young men aren't working is because of their gaming. I understand it's really hard to set limits on gaming once it has its teeth into a kid, however, I would do your best with your son to limit his habit. My article published today will help explain more:  https://medium.com/@richardnfreed/the-tech-industrys-psychological-war-o...

Best to you,

Richard Freed, author of Wired Child: Reclaiming Childhood in a Digital Age  

I would try the book, He's Not Lazy, by Adam Price. It describes my son to a T, and it sounds like it would be helpful for you, too. The book provides suggestions for how to parent kids like ours without nagging or micromanaging. It has definitely brought some balance to our household.

I have a senior in IB and we all regret that a lot.  She is getting As, but is unhappy with the overwhelming amount of work she's done over the past three years. She is planning to take a gap year.  So you are not alone!

His strong memory, good testing skills, and intelligence could have been masking a learning difference or other deficits until recently. It could be that they're no longer enough to get by on because of new expectations at his current grade level. Please consider having him assessed by a learning specialist or, preferably, a neuropsychologist. There have been recommendations on this site in the past as well as suggestions about how to get a reduced-cost assessment. Although it may seem that it's behavior or emotions, that he's "not motivated," it's also possible that it's become too difficult for him to continue compensating. Perhaps the workload has increased or maybe the work requires more maturity, judgement, or organization and he is now lagging further behind his peers. If a learning difference or some other condition is making school harder for him, don't expect him to recognize it because it's all he's ever known. I've known several students who were able to get by for years on their strengths until their weaknesses got in the way; for my son, the collapse happened in 4th grade, and for others not until college. It depends on the nature of the difficulty and their strengths.

Almost 15 (young sophomore) all about speed and not effort - media distraction

Older parent having battles with Teenage Boy over effort, media and honesty with parents!

Our son is almost 15 - a young sophomore, with little internal motivation regarding school and no enthusiasm for anything outside of media (movie, gaming, social media). He has demonstrated, with our oversight and guidance on studying, that he is  capable of getting very good grades (high Bs and low As). When given an opportunity to be fully in charge of his own learning, his grades yo-yoed (some math tests went as far down as F) and he struggled to get a C in 9th grade English no thanks to a totally unmotivational 26+ year long career teacher.  We had to step in as "tutors" to structure his study time and provide mini-lessons. It was a LOT of work. He has no vision for a possible career path to explore, no goal for what direction he will go in his next 2 years of high school.  He is a Boy Scout on the Eagle track. Enjoys scouting but not the work that can be associated with achieving Eagle. Like with homework, it requires something between encouraging and pushing on our part.   We are fairly strict about media (generally no video gaming on school nights) and we require (although he most often bucks the rule which is where our battles largely derive) that all mobile devices be placed out of his reach and out of the room where he is doing school work. He sneaks it where it should not be more often than not. He also isn't honest about what school work he does have to do. I get it that he wants to be independent, but he has not shown he is able to make smart choices with that so we expect a daily update on school work. If we can't see it on line he withholds the information. He can't seem to comprehend that this is only hurting himself more and his privileges than helping get what he wants. I don't even want to ask about whether we should get him a smart phone (parental controls on carrier's tie are useless if he has access to wifi) which will allow him to fit in with his peer group. He is generally honest with us about other things we ask him about (where he is going when with friends, etc.) We do not believe that ADD is an issue here as he managed to earn a first degree black belt at a rigorous studio between 3rd and 6th grades. Any ideas who we can work with to help light his fire AND get him to full heartedly treat his academics as his job on the path to get him to where he may really want to be some day. He doesnt have much respect for the knowledgeable organizational coach we have used (I guess because she is an advocate of banning all media on school nights). Colleges look for not just grades, but depth, breadth of life experiences as well as ability to take on rigor. I worry about the rigor part. Many students in our district take AP classes very young and I wonder if he will be ready any time in high school even for just one AP class. We hope that the lifeguard training he has taken will lead to a pool job next summer - a chance to gain confidence and independence. We are open to Jr. college as an option (if it is a best fit since he will only be 17) but are hoping for him to attend a small 4 year college as we'd like to retire then (we are open to temp moving to affordable college community to help make this  happen)

As a parent of a 15 year old who is very similar to your son, I wanted to share with you my perspective. I had to learn to accept my son was not a clone of me, and as a result, has different hopes and dreams for himself than I do. While getting good grades and looking good on a college application was important to me at his age, my son does the bare minimum and races to get things done with little interest in doing high quality work. Here's what has been working for us.

1. Pick your battles. When I was pregnant with my son, I imagined him growing up and getting good grades and doing well in school. But, that's not important to him at all. So, now instead of his letter grades, I focus on the learning. He does well on tests, but gets low grades due to his lack of effort on projects and homework. Rather than battle with him every night/school year about his homework, I emphasize that he needs to learn. If he can show me he is learning, then I let go that it disappoints me that he opts out of extra credit or gets C's in classes he should be getting A's in.

2. Identify your worries. I've said, "I'm worried that you don't care about school now and that it will limit your choices/opportunities as you get older." We talk about life beyond school and what challenges might come up as a result of his academic indifference. He knows that he may not take the traditional path. But, that isn't important to him. That worries me as his parent, but it's my worry. He's a bright, resourceful person. He'll be fine. He definitely won't go to Harvard, and he may struggle at times to find his path, but I've learned to be ok with that. I trust that he will find his place in this world.

3. Give him opportunities outside of school. If school doesn't excite him, then what else will? I used to sign my son up for all kinds of activities, hoping he would get excited about one of them. All that came out of it was him not wanting to do it, and life was much harder for the instructor trying to manage a kid that had no interest in participating. Once he started high school I changed my approach. I said, "You must participate in two activities - one physical to keep your healthy and active, and one extracurricular at school. I don't care what they are, but you must pick something." Once I stopped trying to excite him and put it on him to find things to do, he was easily able to find things that he enjoyed. 

4. Appreciate his strengths. Rather than focus on what he's not doing well, celebrate what he is good at. My son is an amazingly empathetic person. He's a great friend and strong communicator. He's a wonderful traveler and enjoys seeing the world. He doesn't get A's in school, but if they gave grades for his other skills, he'd be getting high honors. School is just one part of his childhood and just one way to measure success. It's such a bummer to always focus on the negatives. Once I stopped always prioritizing what he wasn't good, it was amazing how much happier we all were.

5 Set clear and realistic expectations. My kid is never going to stay up all night doing a school project. That's just his personality. But, there are certain things he must do - He must do chores, go to school and be a good person. 

6. Natural consequences and earn extras. If he doesn't go above and beyond, neither do I!

If my child was not making a strong effort at schoolwork, was defying device-related rules, and the behavior was resulting in grades as poor as what you describe, he would not have ANY time with video games and only school-related time with devices (e.g., writing a paper on a Chromebook) until he corrected those problems.  His social life, and "fitting in," should be prioritized  below adequate academic effort and progress.   Once he has developed a better work ethic and is getting decent grades, or at least grades you are convinced reflect his best work, then you can  think about things like whether he has the right devices to "fit in."  He is not ready to manage his time or organize his work independently yet and expecting it of him will just lead to failure.  You'll need to help him until he's ready, and part of that help means creating strong incentives and removing distractions.  I would hold out the possibility of earning back some weekend video game time, etc., with sustained effort at schoolwork.  He really does not yet have the executive function to handle it alone; he still needs your guidance and active support.  That said, he can be expected to comply with the structure and rules you set and do his best to pay attention and try to improve, and the right incentives should help.  Be clear and unemotional about expectations and consequences and stick to your guns.  

BTDT - been there, done that.  I have three boys and two of them are like that. Very smart, but couldn't or didn't do the work. It is heartbreaking!  Yes, you do need to limit screen time. But honestly, I would say, in retrospect, they really couldn't do what we hoped for them because of the ADD. I didn't realize this until the second one came along. If your son is not already on meds, please attend to that first. Second, if you can, change him to a school that understands ADD kids. It is so defeating for you and your kid to be constantly dealing with a school that is unable to understand the unique needs of a kid with ADD. If you must stay in public school, get him a 504 plan and email/visit constantly to make sure they are accommodating him. Exhausting but worth it. Third, figure out what he's good at and support him in that even if it means other areas suffer. This may mean he's really good at some stupid video game that you can't stand, but it provides him with a little status among his peers. Important for an ADD kid. Also, ADD kids have a lot of focus for exciting fantasy whereas boring topic like algebra and American history (admit it, they are probably boring to you, too) require an extraordinary amount of attention that is difficult for a kid with ADD. Finally, things that have worked for us:  Adderall, movies and TV and performances, Bayhill High School, Kevin Arnold the tutor, 3rd, 4th, and 5th chances, Adderall, a sense of humor, Adderall. Try not to worry too much. It all does work out.

Feeling your pain.

The way you describe your son---that sounds like depression to me. The fact that he was a high achiever until middle school then suddenly no enthusiasm for anything (except media) and loss of hope or plan for the future sets my alarm bells ringing 

As the guardian of a 17-year-old who has suffered from similar problems, I agree with the parent who stated that you need to take action now .  You write that you are "fairly strict about media (generally no video gaming on school nights)".  I'm afraid that that is not nearly strict enough!  Your son should not be allowed  any  media on school nights, but on the other hand he should be given the "carrot" of earning the right to a (very specific) number of hours of gaming on weekends.

The same parent mentioned that your son's executive function skills are still in development.  She or he is quite right, and so  you need to step in  to model good executive function.

You also remark that your son "isn't honest about what school work he does have to do."  You should make appointments to see  all  his teachers (with him present) and learn what their assignments will be in the near future.  Then explain that you will "supervise" his homework until he has earned the right to do it on his own.  That means, when he gets home from school, you ask him what his assignments are, and when he is done with them, you actually look to see that they are finished (and put in their binder, so that he will be sure to turn them in.)

You might also ascertain each teacher's willingness to be in touch with you fairly regularly in the weeks ahead.  

This will involve a lot of work on your part, but the time is really now, while he is still relatively young.  Since he will resent the "helicoptering," he should soon realize that his best strategy would be to pull his grades up to the point that he has earned the right for you to back off a bit.

Finally, give your son a lot of praise for any, even baby steps on his part.  One therapist we saw stated that children need to hear four words of praise to every criticism.  That is obviously impossible, but I keep it in mind to remind myself to praise our kid fulsomely for her every accomplishment... no matter how small.

Tough love works.

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Unmotivated, unfocused bright 16 yr old boy who hates cookie-cutter school.

My son says he hates school. He doesn't like being around all the other students and hates the routine. He has been complaining about this for at least a year now. He is a junior. The first quarter he got straight A's and now I wouldn't be surprised if he ends the semester with a couple D's (or worse) because he just has so little interest in doing any homework. I have gone from prodding him to do his homework, yelling at him, grounding him, taking his phone away.... I just can't do it anymore.

I told him I would support him if he wants to look at alternatives to schooling. I told him about the CHSPE and surprisingly he expressed very little interest. He seems to think that's the easy way out or something, like he needs to still do some schooling. He talk to his counselor who told him about an independent study program where he can take all or some of his classes at home. He and I both are wondering if this would even work for him considering he's so unmotivated and seems to have such a problem doing the work. He thinks instruction would be better for him.

I just don't know how help him. He's been to the Doctor and he's also in therapy. There may be some depression issues which we are trying to determine, but frankly I'm wondering if this is an ADD issue. I'm waiting for a callback from his doctor on the subject. In the meantime I have a kid who is so stressed out about school. He is unhappy a lot - he says mostly about school. And yet even though he so stressed out, I see him doing very little to remedy the situation. He just keeps slipping lower into the grade-hole he dug for himself and his spirit and happiness drops right along with it.

He feels that he can't move on to college because of how his grades may end up, even if they're passing. He seems to think straight A's are required to get into a four-year college, and he doesn't understand that 's just not the case. Maybe if he were trying to get into an elite school or trying to get in on a scholarship... I'm not even sure why he so worried about college, because at the rate he's going, he's barely going to get through high school. If he can't study now, how will he for college?

It's hard for me to just step back and let the cards fall where they may, but I think that's what I have to do at this point. Even if he chooses to not go to school at all, I just don't know what I'm supposed to do about it. Anyone else in this position, or have been in this position, and if so, what did you do/not do, and how did things turn out? Bee

Hi, have you considered alternative schools? In particular, Mentoring academy is great for bright intense kids. Very warm environment, engaged teachers and students. My son desperately wanted to go there (we didn't send him there because we thought he should try a more standard school--however, Mentoring works at teaching students to thrive in standard schools as well, so maybe we were wrong about that!). We love the school. Maybe go to an open house, if they are still having any, and see if your son likes it? I had to drag my son to the open house and then I couldn't get him to leave....it's a wonderful place. My impression is that people either find it a good match or not rather quickly. He could likely start right away too as they have the kids working at their own speeds (which is why some of the kids are working well into college level). I hope it works out for you!! another parent of a different sort of kid

If you can afford it, the solution is Tilden Preparatory Academy! There is a campus in Albany and one in Walnut Creek. It is a one-on-one teacher to student format. It practices mastery learning which means they will go at your child's pace and keep teaching until your child has learned the material! The teachers will also adapt the material to your child's interests so the kids develop a love of learning. The classes are all UC approved, including an abundance of AP offerings. My son is exceptionally gifted and was very unhappy in the ''cookie-cutter'' public school. He was miserable so we enrolled him in Tilden and he is a totally different person. He is happy as a clam, loves his school, loves learning, and is eager to prepare for college. Because of self-pacing, he will graduate early. As for the social aspects, they have lunch clubs everyday, activities, movie night, and he has a lot of friends he enjoys hanging out with in the student lounge where he hangs out all day doing his homework. You can also do concurrent enrollment, taking some college courses and receiving both high school and college credit. Big fan of one-on-one learning

Bee, After two years at a very stressful public high school where our son was putting in decent effort but not succeeding, we moved him to the Mentoring Academy in Rockridge. He loves it - It’s ''200% better'' according to him. It is a game changer and is inspiring him in many areas of learning. They have a longer school day and mostly zero homework as a tradeoff for the longer day. The no homework policy was something my family needed in our life as the homework battle was damaging our relationships. He has only been there a few months, and it may not be as academic as where he was, but we feel thankful to have found him a school that is the right fit for him. Kim

I had several thoughts about your post. First, I wondered if there was something going on with your son that really might not have anything to do with the ''cookie-cutter'' school. I saw a red flag because it sounds like this attitude is new, so what has changed?  An embarrassing incident? Drug or alcohol use?  The other thought I had was that if the issue IS truly about the ''cookie-cutter'' school, there are some alternative private high schools that might be a better fit due to small class size and innovation. I hesitate to recommend any in particular, as you don't really describe your son in a way that conjures up a specific program. It's all about the match. If you can afford the private school route, it might be worth checking out. Best of luck to you! Mom of a struggling learner

It is hard to find he right path for kids. As a parent I've seen it close-up.  My 16 yr old hated school, so we tried to let her pick her own path, with our help. You may be on the right track with the CHSPE since high school is not for everyone.  Consider community college. Both my kids took this path, have thrived, and transferred to top UCs.  Anyone interested in this path, feel free to contact me for further information at pickyourownpaths [at] gmail.com Pick Your Own Path

I would encourage you to contact Tilden Preparatory High School on Solano in Berkeley/Albany.  Talk to them about focusing on the CA high school requirements for graduation.  My son had the most amazing teacher that to this day he and I are so grateful for. Grateful

You don't mention what your financial situation is, but he might be a good candidate for Tilden Prep. It's essentially a tutoring school -- either one on one with the teacher or a tiny class. Our brilliant  ADHD son was starting to check out in large classes with lots of rote learning. Doing his senior year at Tilden got him straight A's and he never complained about going because of 1) the individual attention from good teachers, 2) the lack of social pressure -- there is really very little school community, except at lunch. (Our son is an introvert.)

On the subject of ''college despair'' -- boy, did he have it! That sense that you were going to be a homeless person in the gutter if you didn't get straight A's! Perhaps a college counselor needs to look him in the eye and tell it ain't so.

We took all the pressure off our son by telling him he was going to have a gap year -- although with an internship. That gave us an entire year to really visit, scrutinize and think about colleges, rather than make a hasty decision while he was still in high school.

Finally, tell your son that only the high pressure Ivys require all that perfect grade and test score crap. He can get in a lot of great places. And because our kid had demonstrated a passion for science and had straight A's in that subject -- despite his other grades being erratic -- he was actually offered a partial scholarship at a terrific college. With -- are you ready? -- ZERO extracurricular activities.

There are colleges for non cookie cutter kids. Even colleges who want those kids.

Finally, it might be worth finding out if your son really does have ADHD. I'm a fan of meds, at least for high pressure academic situations -- SATs, tests, papers. He doesn't have to take them all the time.

And even more finally, what is he passionate about? He may find out that college suits him more than high school because he can start to hone his education towards the things he loves.

''It gets better.'' Been There

Disliking school is another question but in terms of getting into college, he would be ok.

In general, a student like you son with a B/C average is definitely eligible for a Cal State, and many of them provide a very good education. 

Here's the general info: http://www.csumentor.edu/planning/high_school/cal_residents.asp

For example: Cal State Northridge -- a total of 2900.    SAT (scores in mathematics and critical reading) + (800 x high school grade point average)     (10 x ACT composite score without the writing score) + (200 x high school grade point average)  

So if a student had a 2.5 GPA (which in most high schools is just a matter of turning in work), they would only need a score of 900 combined on the math and critical reading portion of the SAT.

It sounds like your son's perfectionism is getting in the way of his achievement, and also finding a balance. Given that he had such good grades first quarter, it sounds like counseling is in order. anon

Have hope! There are many, many options out there...some which look like school and

some which don't. Have you considered online schooling, or concurrent enrollment at community college, or maybe something like Kalo Academy or Tilden Prep? Or an adventure semester through Unschool Adventures or a semester abroad, or an internship in his area of passion/ interest? Or maybe just reading the Teenage Liberation Handbook? I'm sure there are more opportunities out there...especially if you both become open to alternate routes and the road less traveled by -unschoolly by nature

-There are many, many kids who feel the way your son does. Rebelling against a system which is not a good fit for him is healthy and can be an exciting step towards a better future. -That said, switching away from what most others are doing, i.e. school, can be a tumultuous time for both the young person and the parents involved. I commend you for seeking advice and support. -Self-directed learning skills can be learned and supported in their own right. Just because your son doesn't have them now, doesn't mean he can't develop them. At the same time, I agree with your concern that traditional independent study programs often depend on existing school requirements and therefore are not the best fit for everybody. -Many high school aged learners in the alternative education world take classes at local community colleges. Not only does this provide them with a more flexible way to receive instruction and meet other young people, it also provides college experience and looks very good on college applications.  -It's great that you are pursuing therapy to find out whether depression is a factor for your son, or not. Nothing that you say about your son in your letter sounds like ADD, but that is certainly another question you can pursue. -College (and more importantly, a renewal of the love for learning that all humans start out with) is more likely to happen with an educational plan that feels meaningful and engaging to your son, as well as healthy for you and your family. I'm so glad to see you asking the questions you are asking!

Warmly, Alanya S

I feel for you and your son; I speak from over a decade of very similar stories - my daughter is currently enrolled in her senior year at Holden, and two years ago my son graduated from Holden as well. This is not a cookie-cutter school; the outstanding staff continue to amaze me: they make an indisputable difference in the life of each student that attends. Equally as impressive is the peer group; the kids are able to connect in a profound way that enables them not only to become self-motivated, but vastly more important, the relationships enable each student to experience a feeling of belonging in this truly unique community. I wish that every child was given this same opportunity to learn, to succeed, and to mature; what a different world we would create! Kim W

16 year old does the bare minimum

My 16 year old son seems to refuse to put any real effort into anything he does. He has a 3.4 GPA, but without trying to do more than the bare minimum, and in fact seems to consciously avoid a 4.0 in order to not raise expectations. He is really fast, but we got a note from his track coach today that they are re-evaluating his membership on the team, as he doesn't really seem to care that much, and other kids are noticing. He is a good guitar player, but doesn't seem to want to do anything with it, dropped out of a band b/c it is not ''my kind of music.'' I am far from a ''tiger parent,'' although his mother can edge towards that, but I am getting frustrated. At this point if I could just understand his unwillingness to engage that would help. Any thoughts?

I feel for you. You really can't motivate someone else, and it's hard to sit there and watch someone cruise and do their minimum when you believe that life demands more.

Maybe he's depressed. Maybe he's acting out. Maybe he just doesn't care that much about these things. You can sit him down and say you've noticed this pattern, and you're concerned that it will affect his ability to have fun and succeed, now and in the future. But that ultimately...these things are his decision and his responsibility and you're not going to nag or discuss it with him again. And keep your word.

I was always worried that my daughter would be anxious and high-strung like me. Happily, she's a really mellow person. But so mellow that I began wishing she cared a bit more. She was definitely a ''not going to do the extra credit,'' ''the amount of work I've put into this assignment/activity is fine with me'' kind of person. But with her B-ish average in a small charter school, she got into UC Santa Cruz. There she basically behaved the same, and got through just fine. She graduated in four years despite losing a quarter to illness. She got out of college and got a solid job in a nonprofit where she's doing just what she wanted. She never does any of these things with the passion and intensity that would make me more comfortable, but man, she's a lot happier than I was and has a good head on her shoulders.

So...you may have to let this all go. Unless your son is being held back by depression or illness (you can check those things out), then maybe he just doesn't care that much about music or track. So be it. Bite your tongue. I know it's hard. I'll always worry about my daughter, who is fine

HS Junior Not Caring/Unmotivated

This school year has seen our high school junior turn into a sullen, more angry 16-year old. His grades have plummeted and 2 girls ''dumped'' him and his friendship overtures. One called him a ''nerd''. We have weekend tutoring for 2 hours to no avail with his grades. He does not do homework in courses(some are difficult for him), tells us that all is ok at school but grades are proving otherwise even in his favorite courses. 2 D's for semester grades for the first time in his life. We have taken away his phone & I-touch and his dad is threatening to kick him out if his grades don't improve. Bad threat. Nothing seems to get through to him. He can get angry easily. His friends and our family friendships seem positive and college has always been emphasized in our home. Any suggestions for a therapist that can motivate a floundering boy? He doesn't seem to have any goals or directions and dislikes school this year. And - his dad and I are disagreeing about everything these days. Suggestions? Anon

I feel for you. We have a son the same age and are finding a lot of help in a Kaiser parenting class . (We are both education professionals and had to admit we needed help!) If you are not a Kaiser member, you can still purchase the workbook at Kaiser (health education dept)--it has a wonderful step-by-step (Parenting Project) curriculum to deal with difficult teenage behavior. It's a behavioral system and the consequences are kept simple and short term (TEASPOT: take everything away for a short period of time); otherwise kids feel they are on death row and will give up more. Also, it's crucial to tell our kids (verbally or in writing) the words ''I love you'' every day and give physical affection every day, because they don't necessarily pick that up unless it's stated explicitly. It's also imperative that parents act as a team. If not, some kids feel unsafe, some will work it to their advantage, and some may act out in order to get their parents to work together. In any case, I recommend you and your husband see a therapist the two of you respect to help you work together. Good luck! mom of two teen boys

Daughter is struggling to stay motivated w/heavy academic load

Can you please recommend a female therapist to work with a high school junior who is struggling and needs help? She is taking a heavy academic load, and the homework seems to paralyze her. In good times she does well in school and is motivated. At other times she procrastinates, spends hours watching movies, etc. on her computer or just goes to sleep and doesn't do her homework AT ALL. At those times she is unable to motivate herself, feels out of control, and falls behind in her classes. Then she is glum and quiet/withdrawn. (Depressed?)

She says she doesn't need/want academic tutors for classes. She says she doesn't feel depressed but just needs help staying motivated, and she is open to therapy. She wants me (mom) to butt out, and I'm at a loss. What to do? Can you recommend a compassionate but effective therapist, preferably who accepts United Behavioral Health insurance, who can help? flummoxed mom

We have been very pleased with MFT Betty Tharpe. She is insightful, caring, AND able to do commonsense problem solving in ways that result in good communication with my son, me, even a recalcitrant algebra teacher at BHS. Her phone number is (510) 549-2092. My best wishes for you and your family. surviving the teen years...?

There are many people who can recommend a therapist. But I want to point out a few things before you go to this level.

Junior year in high school is the most stressful year. The student usually has advanced / AP / IB courses (often for the first time). SATs and SAT2 exams must be planned for and taken (often several times). College tours and discussions about ''what you want to do with your life'' dominate the dinner table and the water fountain. Social stratification becomes particularly acute (athletes, stoners, geeks, and so forth) and young people are ruthless in their narrow-minded categorizations of others.

So it's a really difficult time for someone who may be trying to move into the low-end of the ''smart AP kids'' group or the good-but-not-great athlete hanging around the top dogs or the loner artist in a ''gotta hang with the right people'' age.

If she's struggling, don't ask if she wants help. Just get her a tutor and let the tutor assess her abilities and structure a solution. It may not be so bad - she may just be missing some concepts. Or she may really be far behind and have to drop some of the load. This is a hard thing to admit - she'd see it as a failure - but sometimes things are just too much.

You need fair assessment of her workload, classes and capabilities at this time. Get it. And remind her that this is not a moral judgment on her intellect or virtue - it is merely getting a specialist for a short time, just as you would get a mechanic to fix the brakes on the car. No more, no less. Good Luck

I can highly recommend Rikki Sudikoff, an amazing, empathetic, smart, insightful, caring LCSW who specializes in work with teens. Rikki works at JFCS/East Bay, a nonprofit social services agency in downtown Berkeley. The agency accepts United Behavioral Health and also has a sliding scale. Rikki has an uncanny way of connecting with and helping teens. She can be reached at (510) 704-7480, ext. 761. Holly

I can personally and highly, recommend Dr. Fleury. Dr. Fleury is a highly qualified, well practiced, and sensitive therapist. She does excellent work with teens and relationships. She would be especially well suited for your daughter. She is located in Rockridge near the Bart station. Dr. Theresa Fleury, PhD (510) 404-8625 Office 5665 College Ave. Suite 340 B Oakland, California 94618 Anon

Karen Sprinkel at clearwater in Oakland karen_sprinkel [at] yahoo.com is the finest teen-whisperer there is. My son now in college could not have made it without her. Reenie

Unmotivated high school freshman - Help!

We have a 14-yr old son (9th grade) who is bright but unmotivated. In middle school he was an excellent student-- all A's or mostly A's, until 2nd semester of 8th grade when his grades tanked (3 C's on his final report card). He just seemed to lose steam and not care anymore. After much debate over the summer, my husband and I decided to put him in a small private high school, where the class size is much smaller and he is not so influenced by what is going on socially. It's still early, but we haven't seen much change in his attitude. He doesn't see any real relevance of school to his life and would rather be on his skateboard or computer. He does his homework, but just enough to get by, and never studies for tests (although he does remarkably well on standardized tests). He announced yesterday that he no longer wants to play soccer or baseball, both of which he's been doing for years. Over the past 6 months we've taken him to 3 different counselors to try to get a handle on why he's 'checked out', but none of the counselors were particularly helpful. At home he's uncommunicative and moody, but with his friends and other adults (teachers, coaches, etc.) he's pleasant and respectful. I just don't know what else to do at this point. Any advice is greatly appreciated. (BTW, we have a 12-yr-old son who is a great student, confident, outgoing, loves sports, so it's not US!!! ;-)) Thanks. frustrated & worried mom

Our son followed a similar pattern, but he arced downward at a slower pace than yours. We went to therapists that were helpful in some areas, but didn't solve the problem. He tanked Junior year and we finally got him tested by a neuropsychologist (Alan Siegel). He diagnosed ADHD, inattentive type and various learning disabilities. Our son's high IQ masked these difficulties, but he was suffering in school and developed very low self esteem. We started w/ an educational specialist(Ann Gordon) and continued therapy, but he still hasn't turned around. Unfortunately, all along he escaped into online internet video games and has become addicted. I can't emphasize enough how important it is to get your son tested for learning disabilities...my son did well on standardized tests too. Don't wait or postpone or think he will get better on his own and DON'T let him get involved with internet gaming. Earlier intervention might make all the difference...I so regret not doing this when it started in 8th grade. anon

You said you went to counselors with no luck, but has he been evaluated for hitherto undiscovered issues by a diagnostic professional? We took our son to Brad Berman in Walnut Creek, who was able to tell us that our son does NOT have bipolar disorder but is anxious. Please make sure your son is evaluated by an MD with experience in these matters; Brad Berman is highly recommended and there are others. A counselor can only do 'talk therapy', probably doesn't have the tools for real diagnosis, and with an uncommunicative teen will get nowhere. You need to eliminate the possibility of something like anxiety that could led to this. Best of luck!

My 13 yr old son has experienced a similar change just recently. He stopped all the sports he used to play (although is interested in a few new ones) and does not do half as well in school as he used to. I am anxious to hear what the others have to say in response to your post. Also I imagine you have to work to find the right counselor. anon

I don't mean to be alarmist, and I hope I'm not right, but the changes you're describing are classic symptoms of either depression, or serious substance abuse. I've know kids who started marijuana and cocaine in 7th grade who eventually turned themselves around, but their school careers didn't always survive. If this is what's going on, (1) your younger child is likely to know the truth, and (2) your older child's health may be at risk, which justifies parental intervention. I hear Kaiser has a good family counseling group for teens with substance issues. Good luck

Freshman year is a big change for kids. They start to look at things and decide what they really want to do. No longer playing soccer or baseball I think is normal. We tend to have our kids in sports at a young age and then at high school level they become much more stressful and competitive. They need lots of sleep as there bodies are growing. I'm sure you have met with his teachers at school and discussed his grades. My kids always started slow and worked there way up to A's. I am glad he is doing his homework. My son would do it but didn't turn it in. So your son is doing better then mine did. Relax and try to give him space to find out who he is. Don't you wish we could see the future. It would help us stressout moms so much. A mom that has been there

I recommend you consider Holden High School (925-254-0199) in Orinda. My 14 year old son was bored and not interested in his previous schools. He did just enough to barely get by. He was unmotivated--irritated by boredom. The staff at Holden has quickly managed to peak his interest and engage him in active learning. Holden teachers are everything educators should be. These talented people teach to the student, the individual WHOLE person, not just ''to the test''. They treat my son with dignity and respect and they truly care what he thinks and how he feels. He is now very happy and making good progress. Have patience with your son, he sounds like a very normal 14 year old boy to me. Check out Holden, they may be able to help your son. Ingrid - Happy Holden Parent

Epilogue: unmotivated 9th grader Hi, I wrote a few weeks ago asking for advice on how to help my unmotivated 9th grader (boy) who is irritable and not performing in school to his ability. Thanks to everyone who replied. We took him to a highly regarded psychiatrist who is an expert with adolescents. He gave me a detailed parent questionnaire and also a survey for each of the teachers to fill out. Long story short-- my son does not have ADHD, depression, or a learning disorder. He has an anxiety disorder. The MD suggested we start him on (low dose) Lexapro. Questions-- (1) Do any of you have experience with Lexapro in teens and its affect on anxiety (or other side effects)? (2) sidebar questions-- any advice on how to help my son be more organized? And, he doesn't seems to have any particular ambition or goal-- how can I help him identify his Talents & interests (which right now don't seem to go beyond skateboarding, music, and friends)? Thanks for any advice!! Concerned mom

Editor: in response, several parents posted their thoughts about How pushy should parents be?

Underachieving 10th grader not turning in homework

I have a son entering 10th grade who is very bright but underachieves consistently. He always talks about attending an ivy league college but cannot seem to translate that desire into daily obligations such as turning in homework on time. This causes his grades to suffer. He is also not very well organized. We have tried some counseling and tutors. The tutors always remark about how bright he is. How have you handled this as a parent? The only arguments we have are over homework. Otherwise, he is a very caring, loving son. Anonymous

check out the hyde school at www.hyde.edu. they have an extraordinary and life-changing summer program. my son went there, and it changed our family dynamic so much that my daughter decided to go and teach there for two years just to ''give back.'' leela

Hello, I just read the post on Underachieving Teen on my e-mail. My son who has now completed his Junior year had the same problems as your son. I also did not know how to go about it. Again my son is also a very intelligent person, has scored highly in all his standardized tests and has somehow squeaked through with a 3.0 so far. Your son seems to be the same way as mine. This summer I have tried to try the School foe Independent Learners in Oakland and have had him there for a week now. Already my son is planning on attending this school to complete his High School. Just a thought for you to try them out and see. Some kids just seem to not work well in the traditional environment. I wish I had discovered this alternative earlier and improved my son's chances of college choices. Check them out on the web. Good Luck. Dee

I don't believe that high school is the best way for every child to be educated. Today, unlike when I was in high school, a sixteen year old can take the high school exit exam, or pass the GED, and enroll in community college. It's not for everyone, but it is an option for youngsters who want to learn but just can't get excited with high school. At Berkeley High, maybe other high schools, too, a child can remain in high school and also take a course at the community college. They can use those units for high school graduation as well as for college requirements. Check with your guidance counselor for details. barbara

The only thing that ever helped was Classroom Matters. A tutor, then later just going there to do homework. Unfortunately he stopped going in his senior year and I believed him when he said he could do it on his own. My boy just graduated highschool. Barely. It required me chasing him down the street shouting get back here and do your homework. I would have been embarassed except that parents are often seen chasing their offspring in our neighborhood. anon

Unmotivated Junior says he's ready for college

Hello, My son a junior in HS is very smart but his grades have been slipping, will not submit assignments properly and just wants a way out of school. He says he is ready for college but I am not sure. The behavior he is exhibiting does not give me any confidence that he is mature enough to handle college. Should I let him take the CHSPE and try to get admission at a UC? His standardized test scores are very good with some more to be completed. Have kids who have taken the CHSPE been admitted to a UC? How have they done at College both academically and socially as they will be younger than their peers in age? Anyone, please your advice and suggestions are welcome and appreciated. A very worried Mom.

High school was not working for my daughter and she took the CHSPE jr. yr. She had an A- avg in HS, and after 2 semesters of community college had a similar college GPA. She had decent extracurriculars, a part-time job, and some community service (My impression is the existence of these activities is important, not the quantity of hours or years spent doing them.) Her SAT's were not great. We found nobody who took her exact path, CHSPE to private college, and had no idea how it would work out. She was accepted at 4 small liberal arts colleges as a soph transfer. I think UC's would be easier because the CHSPE is a state-defined part of the system, and if he took even just a year at a community college, those track right into the UC system... although the AA degree I think is the usual route to state and UC colleges.

Going straight from CHSPE to UC with no record of college- level success... not sure. I do know the GED carries more weight because it is harder, goes deeper into more subjects, and is a nation-wide thing. But you have to be 18 to take that, and being too young at time of transfering out of HS is a justifiable reason not to have taken it. If he's 18 it would be required over the CHSPE - UC's may ultimately require it anyway.

It can definitely work if the current behavior/declining grades are not due to inability and don't continue. My daughter was driven and ambitious... what is your son's underlying purpose or vision? Is there some situation at school or elsewhere causing the grade drop and lack of interest? Perhaps something can be rectified there with only one more year left of HS.

Guidance counselors should be able to help with this. Public school guidance counselors are more knowledgeable, open to, and less judgmental of, alternative routes to success than private school counselors. My daughter went to a private HS but we got excellent advice from the public HS counselor even though she didn't go there! Hope this helps... anon

2 of my children decided that high school just wasn't for them for different reasons. Both of them took the CHSPE, one at 15 and one at 17. They both went on to Community Colleges. Despite dismal high school grades, my son got motivated at a community college and went on to graduate from a 4 year school with honors. My daughter was a B student and just didn't get the point of studying too hard in high school, but she has a 4.0 at DVC, and plans to transfer to UC Berkeley.

I don't think you can go to a UC armed only with the CHSPE, but it can be a good choice for a mature kid who is willing to spend from 3 to 4 semesters at a community college first. I know that some colleges will accept transfers without high school transcripts after 40 college units and some require more, but we never made an exhaustive search since they both picked schools and then worked to fulfill the requirements for transfer.

Whether to let them live on their own or live at home is a different matter. worked for my kids

Why not schedule a session with an educational therapist who can help you determine what's going on with your son and how you can best deal with the situation? Educational therapists can also help with college plans.

One possible reason why a junior's grades might be slipping, and why he might appear unmotivated, is a learning disorder. The ''Predominantly Inattentive'' type of Attention Deficit Disorder sometimes causes bright students to lose interest in school. (It's hard to maintain interest when you're ''slipping in and out'' of attention in class, and having to re-read and re-read assigned texts. Grades may plunge because assignments aren't submitted, so the student gets great scores on standardized exams--and even on in-class exams--but much lower course grades.

I'm an educational therapist, former staff member at UC Berkeley. Please email if you think I can help. No charge for email or initial telephone consultation. Caroline

Very worried Mom, You haven't given enough information about your son to be able to offer useful advice. How old is he, what else does he do in his spare time, what are his academic interests, what behaviors make you question his maturity, what evidence has he shown of his ability to adjust to a new environment or to do college level academic work? If he has slipping grades and ''very good'' but not excellent standardized test scores, how do you know he could do well academically at a UC? Have you seen him carry out project he is interested in?

Normal admission to a UC requires completing a required set of courses. Admission by examination is quite rare at the highly selective UC's and requires superlative college examination test scores. Does he have superlative test scores? Would he be willing to go far away to a new UC campus (Merced) or to one of the less popular ones in southern California?

A lot hinges on how self-motivated he is, how able he is to do college level work, if he has goals or just wants to get out of high school. Any negative behaviors that tip the balance? So you have to evaluate the evidence you have. If you have no evidence of his self-motivation and ability to follow through when out of the protective high school environment, then maybe he needs to prove himself first at a community college. Or at a job. Work experience would be good, to help him mature and see what the real world is like. Maybe he could get a job first. Or participate in an international community-oriented program.

Perhaps one way to deal with it is to have him outline his strengths and weaknesses for you and try to build the case himself for why he is ready to go to college. Then let him research what it would take to get in. If he is not able to do this, that would be telling.

Another option is for all of you to talk with an educational consultant. Anonymous

Just an idea, have your son look at this school http://www.simons-rock.edu/

They specialize in students that want to go to college early. They need to have a good GPA so maybe if he looks at the school it will motivate him. They have full scholarships for qualified students.

Maybe it is the right time to start looking at colleges. I highly recommend quickly looking for a college summer program at a place of interest to your son in a field that he has passion for. If he wants to learn to program computer games, or learn painting, or study the ocean there is a great progam for it at some University or College: for instance www.EducationUnlimited.com www.bu.edu/summer

I gave this advice to one teen and his family from this list several years ago and a good friend of my daughter's. Guess what? The teens were ready for college and when they had a taste of what was in store for them their high school work improved and both were admitted to all their first choice colleges. One should be half way thru college now and one will be entering this fall. These are true stories, I just said ''Do you know you can do this?'' They didn't at the time but when they checked it out it seemed to fit and fall into place.

run a google on this topic summer Programs for teens at Universities

and you will find many, many great options. Some of the programs have scholarship assistance or sliding scale. Or bite the bullet and pay the costs if your son finds something he really wants to do - make the deal that his grades and homework need to receive his full attention.

It is important to support your student to find their passion and how to be great at what they want to be. Our ideas of what is reasonable or practical may be stifling to them and not necessarily what will work in the marketplace for their generation.

I know a lot of people with professional degrees who cannot find work in their field. Some of my most successful friends returned to school to get second BAs,and then advanced degrees, took a while to find themselves. Following your passion with guidance, emotional support, and appropriate educational experiences can make a huge difference in launching your life.

Even if your son does not find an ideal summer program, searching for what interests him will be a great opportunity for him to explore life outside of high school. So even the search is a good thing. High school can be very confining exspecially about the junior year. A class at Berkeley City College or the City College of San Francisco might work equally well. Or think about a service project, helping others is a good way to help yourself.

If it helps I would be happy to talk to your son to help find out what he is interested in or you can both email me. Good luck claudia

first, i send you wishes for huge patience & grace with this. i know it's a really tough situation. i'm writing you back because i was that kid. i failed high school (was held back a year) while being smart, high SAT scores, talented musician, etc. your description of him is like looking in a mirror for me. for me, the environment, as supportive as my parents were trying to be (and they were loving, generous, curious - doing the best they could), was the issue for me. the instant i got away & into college, i instantly manifested discipline, interest & enthusiasm, and did fine in school & wonderfully in life. only later i heard that i could have taken the equivalency test and gotten out earlier, and was angry that nobody had offered it to me.

i don't know the statistics on how ''well'' kids like that do leaving HS early, but i know that i would have been thrilled. and a little bumpiness in a transition like that couldn't have been worse than the hell of depression - being in an obviously stultifying place (suburban high school). a year living at home doing pre-req's at a community college might be an acceptable compromise (to him) to the full-on UC entry. another possibility that comes to mind is giving him more autonomy while staying where he is. more leniency of outside activity, or offering some activity he really wants (if you can figure out with him what that is) - essentially sending the message that you, like him, don't believe that high school is a very satisfying, full-person place to be. take a semester off & travel around the world together? or a foreign- exchange type program for him? think outside the box. whatever you find, i wish you (& him especially) all the best. sean

Struggling in school and apparently unmotivated

I am wondering what to do for a student who is struggling in school, and seems to have a lack of motivation to improve. I do not know exactly why there is not much effort on the student's part, but have some ideas it is related to emotional issues. I think I would like to find someone or some program to help him over the summer, when we have more time for extra help. I do not want him to fall further behind, and would like to also get a handle on this negative school attitude. Any ideas? thanks. needing advice

We were in a similar boat. I got the book ''Bright Minds, Poor Grades'' which was ENORMOUSLY helpful -- re-oriented my thinking on the matter. Also got a great tutor through One Smart Kid (Marci Klane is wise and talented when it comes to hiring for her tutoring company -- every tutor we've worked with has been the right match for my son's particular needs at the time)415-285-6507. You didn't include many details like your son's age, grade, or emotional struggles -- but hope this helps. Evie

I'm an educational therapist working with intelligent teens who are having problems in school for one reason or another. Many of them appear unmotivated, and many say that school is ''boring.'' Sometimes they really are bored; sometimes their schoolwork is being affected by emotional issues; but quite often they are showing the effects of a learning disability or Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. It's a good idea to check out this possibility with an appropriate professional: for example, an educational therapist, learning disabilities specialist, or developmental pediatrician. Caroline

Ms. Parker is a therapuetic learning specialist. She was the director of Lindamood-Bell Berkeley and is now working towards her PhD in education. Ms. Parker works with a few students during the year, and has more time for private students in the summer. Ms. Parker is experienced in working with children who have various learning challenges. Ms. Parker is very intuitive and has a natural ability to connect with and motivate students. Ms. Parker helped one of my children with organizational skills, and my other child with his writing. She was dynamic and engaging with each of them and adapted her style to meet their particular temperaments. You can reach her at 510 530-9571. a happy parent

My 15 year old was totally disillusioned and unmotivated by high school and refused to go. We eventually found, interviewed and eventually sent him to Holden High School in Orinda (formerly Contra Costa Alternative High School), and he really likes it. You might want to check out some alternative high schools. alternative solutions

16-y-o son is almost completely unmotivated to do any work in school

My 16 yr. old son is a late fall birthday junior in high school. This school year, he is almost completely unmotivated to do any work in school. Part of it is boredom, but his almost straight A high school average is now B's and C's and is getting worse, mostly because of missing assignments. He lies about doing his work, about doing it well, and about turning it in. All he wants to do is play videos, talk on the phone with girls, and hang out with his friends. He's always relied about natural talent rather than hard work but we used to be able to get him to do his work - now he doesn't actually rebel - he just sits in his room without doing anything. His friends are similarily unmotivated. Our son DOES say he wants to go to college but doesn't seem to connect his rapidly dropping grades to his dwindling opportunities. VERY FRUSTRATING and causing quite a bit of stress in our family. We don't think drugs/alcohol are a factor - just immaturity, slacker friends, and laziness. And maybe, he's not ready to grow up yet? Any suggestions would be appreciated. Mostly we've relied upon taking away computer, cellphone, going to friend's houses, etc. but that only works temporarily. And, as we tell him, soon he will be an adult and being such a slacker really isn't going to cut it (his room, personal hygiene, and approach to household chores is equally lax). anonymous

I would be worried that your son uses drugs. The behavior you describe matches 100% of what we had to go through with our teenage son, and we had the same initial reaction as you. But no, this is not immaturity. This is your son's concious choice to do what he does, and there is a very high chance he is involved with drugs. The drugs are so easy to get in schools. The biggest mistake you could be making is refusing to accept in your minds that the situation with your son may be serious. We have made such mistake. My advice: make sure you are right - search his room and all belonings, find out how does he spend time with his ''friends'', install parental control on his computer and read the book ''Before it's too late'' by Stanton Samenow. If you are able to prove to yourself that there is no drugs involved, your son should be able to shape up in a few months. Julie

I think that it is likely that your son is using drugs. I always thought that I would ''know'' because I did drugs as a teen growing up in Berkeley and that the signs would be obvious. My daughter was using on and off for a couple of years (starting at about 13) before I knew. I could see some of the same things that you are - low grades (in her case C's, D's and F's), hanging out with large groups of friends (the ''knoll'' on campus and Starbucks at the corner of Center and Oxford among the hang outs) and general slacking. Some of the drugs like meth are truly frightening in that they can cause brain damage or death. There are lots of interventions. Most of them involve getting the teen out of the environment all together. We started with a wilderness program (they work with kids who have just behavior issues, not drug related) and have moved onto residential treatment programs. You can find out quite a bit from the observations of counselors and teachers - for example, they saw my daughter smoking cigarettes in the park across from Berkeley High - something I never saw until much later. I hope this is not what you are dealing with. Good luck. anon

My 16 year old son was also unmotivated in school--bright kid but not trying, happy to get C's and an occasional B and hang out with friends and play video games. I've had excellent results with him working with Kevin Arnold, a tutor who has helped him organize his time better and helped him in Spanish and a few other subjects. (Kevinarnold2004[at]yahoo.com) They meet at a cafe which makes my son feel more grown-up. A former teacher, Kevin has a low-key, friendly, supportive manner. My son and I now argue a lot less about school work and his grades have definitely improved. Happier Mom

The behavior you describe is ''typical'' behavior for a child your son's age. My 18 y.o. went through the same thing at 16. If your son goes to a large high school, he may not have a teacher or counselor looking after him (a go-to guy). He might see other kids not doing any work and passing anyway. There are some smaller charter schools around, and someone mentioned a program in Berkeley, I think, where the kids do their high school work in the a.m. and then go to college classes in the p.m. This might work for your son.

You are doing the right thing about controlling computer and gaming time. Make extra time a reward for good grades, helping out or keeping himself clean for a week. Remember those little charts we did when they were younger? Gaming can be very addictive to a teenage boy, and Ive seen some kids cut school etc. to get back on.

What I had to do with my daughter was to budget her computer time (there are programs you can download to do this). I also began asking to see her homework before I would let her do anything. In addition many teachers respond to e-mails and you can ask them if he turned in his HW. I also noticed that when the teacher knew whose parent I was, and they saw we were involved and concerned, they paid more attention to how my daughter was doing. (squeaky wheel theory)

Good luck with this, and keep after him. He might appear angry at first, but he should come around. He will appreciate your involvement in the future. Jenny

We completely agree with the posting about tutoring from Kevin Arnold. Our 13-year-old suddenly developed test anxiety and his grades dropped. He seemed totally unmotivated and exhibited the same apathy and seemed only to be interested in video games, etc. We hired Kevin for weekly sessions, and we're very happy with the results. If you can afford a private tutor, Kevin is great and seems to win the trust and confidence of his students. Best wishes to you - hope this situation doesn't turn out to include drugs -- Wendy, Oakland

I just left almost the same response to another post... Paul Osborne, Paul The Tutor, seems to have some very good success with these types of students. Paul has a nice way of connecting with these types of students so they see the possibilities. In addition, he tutors almost any subject, so can help with which ever subject a student needs help at any given time. You can read more or send him an email from his website, www.paulthetutor.com His phone number is (510) 301-5302 Good Luck, Parent and Teacher

Unmotivated HS junior seems destined to drop out

My son is a Jr. in HS and his participation has gone from bad to worse. I doubt very much that he'll be eligible for graduation. We have tried unsuccessfully to motivate him. He shows up to school whenever he feels like it. I'm trying to let him know that eventually he must accept some responsibility for his future and that once he turns 18 it's either work or school. If anyone is in a similar situation, please advise? Thank you.

Been there done that. There are a LOT of kids out here like your son and we parents all struggle along. The best advice I got was to have him take the Cal. Equivalency Exam (CHSPE) (see previous advice here . But he needs to be under 18 and it's only given 2 times a year, so don't put it off. If he passes, he can then take community college classes, or get a job, while he figures out what he wants to do. I am still waiting for my 18-year-old to figure that out. But I found it was a big waste of energy, time and money to try to keep him in high school when he wasn't motivated to be there (and we tried 3 different schools!) It was a relief once we made the decision for him to drop out and take the CHSPE. Good luck!

I also have a son who is a junior who is ''barely'' in school. Last semester was a total loss. This semester he is attending class, but not much else. He is aware of the choices he is making. We tried therapy, which he refuses to go back to. My suggestion would be to make an appointment for a check up with his pediatrician. The pediatrician can ask about depression too. Check to see if he is experimenting with drugs or alcohol. Try a therapist. Take each day as it comes. Be supportive and patient and remind him everyday that you love him. Also that finishing high school is a must!. After talking to other mothers and teachers, I have found that the junior year is extremely stressful. We've lowered our expectations and now feel that if he makes it out of high school, we will be happy. After that, he will decide on what to do. The anxiety that is created just in growing up coupled with the competition for college is too much for some kids!

There are many programs for young people who are spiraling out of control academically, emotionally, and/or socially. They are usually referred to as ''emotional growth programs.'' Enrolling your child in these programs can seem extreme and be expensive (depending...) but they are well worth it if it gets your young person back on track in the end.

Programs in this catagory can range from 6-week-long outdoor adventures to behvior-mod style boarding schools to study abroad (and get-it-together-too) programs in Costa Rica or Samoa (literally!)

Please don't be too discouraged as you move through the adolescent years. They are tough for most, and really hard for some. After living in boarding schools for 10 years, helping to raise and mentor young people who were struggling, I learned this -- most kids end up just fine in the end, even if they have pushed their parents (and sometimes themselves) to the scary brink of disaster. I recently reunited with several of my old students from a while back. They were working, taking care of themselves capably, and living happily. (And, their parents had survived.) Breath through it all. Always breathe...

Best wishes to you and yours. Wanda

TO the parent who is concerned that her son will not graduate. As a Marriage and Family Therapist Intern, several thoughts came to mind as I read your e-mail. If your son's refusal to attend school represents new behavior, he may be depressed or experimenting with alcohol or other drugs. Is he hanging out with a new group of friends? Is he more secretive or has his behavior at home changed? Is your son capable of completing his assignments at school or is he struggling academically (not just because of time missed)? I would talk with his teachers to find out about your son's behavior when he does attend school. If you know parents of his friends or classmates, you might want to express your concerns to them. They may be having similar difficulties with their children. Mary

Underachieving 15 year-old - what to do?

My smart 16-y-o son (at BHS) has been utterly unmotivated since jr. high. and his 13-y-o brother is close behind. Last report card had two D's on it, one in Ceramics, if you can believe that. He says the teachers don't like him. They say he doesn't turn in his work. I don't know how to solve this problem but I will tell you what I've tried, and what the result was. Maybe others on the list will have ideas. If not, we can at least cry together on the mailing list!

1. punishments - I've tried all these for periods of a week to an entire grading period: come straight home after school, no TV, no video/computer games, no weekend sleepovers, no more allowance Result: no noticable results

2. rewards - instead of allowance, hefty bonus for A's and B's, nothing for C's, deductions for D's and F's. Extra bonus of TV in his room for all As and Bs. Result: slight improvement first grading period but zero profits all grading periods since then and he never qualified for the TV

3. nagging & lectures - "Where do you want to be in 2 years?" "How will you live in the Bay Area on miniumum wage?" "How will you get into college with a 2.3 GPA?" "When I was in High School" "All the Things you Have that I Didn't Have" etc. etc. etc. Even his friends nag him about his crummy grades. Result: if he's feeling happy, he says either "I guess I'm just lazy" or "Mom - think of what you're doing to my self-esteem" If his self-esteem is low, or I push him too hard, he says: "You just want me to be perfect! I'm not like you were!" and there is a big screaming fight and we both feel terrible for days .... I know self-esteem does come into this, but how do you preserve their self-esteem while still trying to prevent them from making huge mistakes?

4. private school - my son takes this as a threat. Very possibly this might have helped, but he loves the social life at BHS so much, and it is so important to him to be with the friends he's known since kindergarten, that I have never seriously considered this.

5. tutoring - this is about the same as trying to get him to do regular school work, only there is an additional person also trying, and you have to pay them to do it. The problem is not that he doesn't understand the material - he doesn't want to do it. The tutor also wasn't able to convince him to do it.

6. phoning/meeting with teachers - Result: predictable ("He doesn't turn in the work") This can also have the undesired effect of turning the teacher's attention to a previously unnoticed poor student, which has a couple of times for us meant even WORSE grades - now the teacher is expecting lousy performance from your kid so even if he improves, he may be already tagged for failure. On the other hand, I think it's good to meet with the teacher now and then so your kid knows you are interested, and that you care about his school work and are trying to find a way to make things better.

7. meeting with the school counselor - This was beneficial. The counselor listed all the classes and credits he's taken and he is actually not doing as badly as we thought, even though his grades suck, as he puts it. She had some helpful suggestions (find a study group). We felt encouraged. She also suggested we NOT take him off his jr. varsity team, something we had considered, because outside activities help with college applications. I also realized that being on the team is a big part of his identity, and that it helps him feel important and useful, so it would be devastating to have that taken away even if it interferes with his academic performance, which I am not so sure about.

8. talking with my friends - this helps a lot. Everyone has stories of the sister/nephew/husband/son who went thru high school with a C average and then blossomed in college when he found his niche. Or even later than college. Or maybe never, but "he's a really nice guy and everyone loves him." Seriously, some of my friends have teenagers who are brilliant in school, same schools as my kids all the way through, have fabulous GPA's and all sorts of extra-curricular activities, and are highly self-motivated, seemingly right out of the womb. That does get discouraging and it's hard to acknowledge that my kid just isn't like that. But it still helps to talk to other parents, because there are all sorts of kids, some better off than yours but some worse off too.

9. focusing on his good points - He's a personable guy, enjoyable to be around, has a good bunch of friends. These attributes can sometimes be more useful in life than stellar grades. And we have a pretty good relationship and he has never given me any problems with bad or risky behavior, which I am grateful for. I hardly ever tell him I appreciate these qualities, and I should do it more, now that I think about it - it seems like they can't get enough praise. He doesn't say anything back, but if I just say "You look nice in that shirt" his face lights up!

Anyway, I hope you don't put too much blame on yourself, because there are a lot of us out here struggling with the exact same problem, and there don't seem to be any easy solutions, at least not that I've found. But I'm always open to new ideas, so if anyone has something, send it on!

What has worked for me with my 14 year old son has been a combination of reward and punishment. For reward he gets more of what he wants such as more time for playing on computer, sleeping later on weekends, watching more TV and...... For punishment he looses privileges and things he wants the most such as things mentioned above.

This situation sounds just like my 14 year-old, down to the "sometimes almost brilliant" who just brought home 3 C's "work turned in late/incomplete." First, the parenting of teenagers just isn't something to feel that confident about unless your child is a mutant. Having a child who is brilliant but won't do the work is a constant struggle! Don't give up.

In your multiple choice test use psychology, punishment and witholding sparingly; I have had the best results with bribes and threats. If you use bribes, give the reward and then threaten to withdraw it if the desired behavior doesn't materialize. For example, put the phone in the bedroom, but clearly state that if there's more than one C (or whatever standard you want to hold him to) that the phone will be removed. It's a "you catch more flys with honey than vinegar" thing.

Most importantly, (at least to me) don't sacrifice other family values unless absolutely necessary. Seek out some large privelege or material thing he wants, and either tie it to the report card or give it and say it will be taken away if the standard isn't met.

Above all, be consistent and follow through. Do what you say you'll do. If you make a threat and fail to follow through, all you've done is teach him that your threats are meaningless.

This approach works for me and my daughter, I hope it works for you!

reply to underachieving 15 year old

It might be worth screening him for a brain disorder/mental illness. You mention that his father has a mental illness, and sometimes those are hereditary. I don't know what his dad has, but if a teen is struggling with bipolar disorder, depression, or ADD, their life can get pretty out of control. Treating the underlying illness might help him get back on track.

The only thing that is more challenging than parenting a teenager is parenting a teenager with a mental illness, but it can be done. Finding out if there is anything going on with the brain chemistry can really help. Best wishes to you.


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