What do you do when your child refuses to do his work? It’s frustrating! Learn how to cope when your homeschooler balks at schoolwork.
What do you do when your homeschooled child won’t do his schoolwork? The situation is frustrating, but how to handle it depends on why it’s happening. In most cases, blatant defiance isn’t why your homeschooler is balking at schoolwork.
First, determine the cause of the resistance. The coping method you choose will vary if it’s a discipline problem instead of, say, a readiness issue.
Consider factors such as:
- The age of the child
- Possible physical or medical issues (ADHD, vision or hearing problems, Asperger’s)
- Potential learning challenges (dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia)
- Significant changes in the child’s life (divorce, a death in the family, the birth of a sibling, a move)
- How your current curriculum meshes with his learning style or your teaching style
Once you pinpoint why your homeschooler doesn’t want to do his schoolwork, you can start exploring solutions.
The fact that society dictates that kids start school at age 5 doesn’t mean that’s the right time for all kids. Your child might not be developmentally for formal learning. Customizing each child’s education to his needs is one of the many benefits of homeschooling. For some kids, that may mean delaying formal learning.
If your child is crying or acting angry, frustrated, or bored, you might want to delay formal learning. Instead, spend time exploring the world through active play, hands-on learning and reading engaging stories.
Your child may be ready for formal learning in some areas, but not others. We went through a period with my oldest when it was clear that formal spelling lessons were a waste of time. She wasn’t retaining much from the lessons.
Although it made me nervous, we put spelling aside for a year or so. When we came back to it, my daughter’s retention improved. Plus, she still had a good attitude about spelling since I didn’t choose the subject as my hill to die on.
If your child isn’t retaining concepts or seems frustrated, you may need to put the material aside for a while. Give her time to reach a level of developmental readiness.
Kids often balk at schoolwork when they struggle to focus. When my oldest was in 3rd or 4th grade, it used to take her forever to complete a math worksheet. She wasn’t incapable of doing the work. She just didn’t enjoy math and found it challenging to maintain focus.
The solution for us was a reward system for finishing her work in a reasonable timeframe. After determining that 30 minutes was a fair amount of time to finish, I gave her a starting goal of 45 minutes. That gave her some buffer time and allowed her to feel successful.
Each day that she finished her work before the timer went off, she got to put a sticker on a sheet. She could trade a few stickers for a small prize, such as a candy bar at the grocery store checkout line. Or, she could save them up for a bigger prize, such as a date night with Mom or Dad.
She quickly realized that she lots more free time if she didn’t drag her feet over math, and we didn’t need a sticker chart.
If your child is dragging through his work, it could be a focus issue. Some solutions include trying a different curriculum, a different approach, or an incentive program. You may also want to consider dietary changes or medication for issues such as ADD and ADHD.
If your child is dragging his feet over schoolwork, he might be overwhelmed. Some causes include struggling with the material, poor time management skills, or an overloaded schedule (social or academic). Some kids deal with those issues by shutting down.
In this case, you may need to:
- Change curriculum
- Look for a tutor or other teaching alternative
- Consider different ways to teach the concept (such as lattice multiplication)
- Help your student learn better time management skills
- Teach your student more effective study skills
- Don’t require him to complete all the problems (Remember how excited you used to get when your teacher assigned only the odd-numbered problems?)
Procrastination and dawdling sometimes stem from boredom. Quick, ready learners often benefit from more challenging or engaging materials. Some kids need a different approach to learning such as video-based teaching or literature-based curriculum. Others respond well to opportunities for digging deeper into intriguing topics.
If your student seems bored, consider changing or tweaking your curriculum. You might also look at other ways to teach the material and allow time for chasing rabbit trails as your student explores a topic more thoroughly.
Sometimes balking at schoolwork is a character issue (i.e., your kid really is blatantly and defiantly refusing to do his work). How to proceed in this case is going to vary from family to family. I’m not even about to tell you how to discipline your kid.
However you decide to proceed, consider the root cause of the defiance. I used to think that homeschooling parents who encouraged others to put schoolwork aside for a time while dealing with character issues were crazy. I mean, that was just going to teach the kids that they could act out and get out of schoolwork, right?
Sometimes you need to stop what you’re doing to have a heart-to-heart talk with your child. Often you’ll find out what’s really bothering him, and you can resolve the issue.
And, sometimes, stopping to talk it over will get you nowhere.
When my kids were little, sometimes I sent the defiant kid to his (or her) room until Brian got home. Then, that kid finished schoolwork with Dad while everyone else went on with their day.
Don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying that dads should be the heavy disciplinarian or that moms can’t handle a kids’ bad behavior on their own. Sending the kid to his room to wait on Mom if Dad is the at-home parent works, too.
Sometimes it helps the child to have a different parent with a different teaching style. And sometimes it’s better for everyone involved to tag-team with the parent who’s not already frustrated with the situation.
Like us, kids sometimes need to work out their frustrations. Try taking a walk or giving them a job to do. For example, picking up sticks or trash in the yard gets kids away from the source of their frustration, gives them a physical outlet for relieving it, and offers them a sense of accomplishment.
Sometimes emotional struggles manifest themselves during school time. If your child has experienced significant upheaval in his life, he may need a little extra patience. He may also need someone (you, a family friend, another relative, or even a counselor) to talk with to learn more effective coping skills.
Thankfully, we haven’t had many issues with a kid defiantly balking at schoolwork. But we have dealt with learning struggles, readiness issues, emotional distress, and kids feeling overwhelmed. In my experience, taking time to address these, even if it means working through the curriculum at a slower pace, usually resolves the issue without any negative impact.
What suggestions do you have for coping when your homeschooler balks at schoolwork?
updated from an article originally published September 27, 2010
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Kris Bales is a newly-retired homeschool mom and the quirky, Christ-following, painfully honest founder (and former owner) of Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers. She has a pretty serious addiction to sweet tea and Words with Friends. Kris and her husband of over 30 years are parents to three amazing homeschool grads. They share their home with three dogs, two cats, a ball python, a bearded dragon, and seven birds.