What do you do when your homeschooled child won’t do his schoolwork? That can be a frustrating situation for both the parent and the child, but how to handle it really depends on why it’s happening. In most cases, resistance to doing schoolwork isn’t caused by blatant defiance.
First, determine the cause of the resistance. The response will obviously vary if there is a discipline issue rather than, 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)
- Major changes in the child’s life (divorce, death in the family, birth of a sibling, a move)
- How your current curriculum meshes with his learning style and/or your teaching style
Resistance to work may mean your child isn’t ready for formal learning. Just because traditional schools start formal learning at age 5 doesn’t mean that all kids are developmentally ready at that age. One of the biggest benefits of homeschooling is being able to customize each child’s education to his needs. For some kids, that may mean delaying formal learning.
If your child is crying or acting angry, frustrated, or bored, he might not to ready to begin formal learning yet. Spend time exploring the world through active play, hands-on learning and reading great books.
Resistance to work may result from subject-specific readiness issues. We went through a period with my oldest when it was clear that a formal spelling program was a waste of our time. She wasn’t retaining what she was learning and was clearly not ready for the material.
Although it made me nervous to do so, we put spelling aside for a year or so. When we came back to it, her retention improved and her attitude toward the subject had remained positive because I hadn’t made it a battleground.
If your child isn’t retaining what he’s learning or appears frustrated, you may need to put the material aside for a few weeks or months to give her time to reach a level of developmental readiness.
Resistance to do schoolwork can be related to difficulty staying focused. When my oldest was in 3rd or 4th grade, it used to take her forever to complete one simple math worksheet. It wasn’t that she was incapable of doing the work, she just didn’t enjoy math and found it difficult to maintain focus.
For us, a reward system for completing her work in a timely fashion proved to be an effective solution. After determining that she should be able to complete the work in about 30 minutes, I gave her a goal of 45 minutes, allowing a little buffer time.
For 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 save them up for a bigger prize, such as a date night with Mom or Dad.
It wasn’t long before she figured out that she had much more time to do what she wanted if she didn’t drag her feet over math, and we quit using the reward system.
If your child is procrastinating over his work, it could be a focus issue. You may need to look at a different curriculum or approach to learning, or try something like our reward program.
Resistance to work may be an indicator that your child is feeling overwhelmed. If your child is dragging his feet in one or more subject areas, it could be that he is struggling with understanding the material, managing his time, or feeling overwhelmed with the amount of work. I have known more than one kid – and not all of them my own – who dealt with those issues by just shutting down.
In this case may need to:
- Change curriculum
- Look for a tutor or other teaching alternative
- Consider alternative ways to teach the same concept (such as lattice multiplication)
- Help your student learn more effective 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?)
Resistance to work make indicate that your child is bored. If your child is procrastinating or dawdling, it may be that she finds the work tedious or boring. If you’ve got a quick, ready learner, he may need more more challenging or engaging materials or a different approach to learning. Some kids may prefer video-based teaching. Others may prefer reading great literature.
If your student seems bored, consider changing or tweaking your curriculum or providing opportunities for more depth.
Resistance to work may be a character issue. How to proceed in this case is going to vary from family to family and based on the root cause of the behavior. I would begin with prayer and discussion with my spouse about how to handle the situation.
I used to think that homeschooling parents who would encourage 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 a child. Often this will uncover what it actually going on and you can reach a solution – and sometimes, stopping to talk it over will get you nowhere.
On those occasions, I would sometimes send the defiant kid to his (or her) room until Brian got home to discuss the problem. 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. However, sometimes it helps for the child to have a different parent with a different style to work with.
And sometimes it’s better for everyone involved to do some tag-teaming with the parent who’s not already frustrated with the child and his behavior.
Like us, kids may need to work out their frustrations. Taking a walk or giving them a job to do can be effective. Picking up sticks or trash in the yard, for example, gets kids away from the source of their frustration, gives them a physical outlet for relieving it, and offers them a sense of accomplishment.
And, yes, we have taken away privileges and/or electronics for bad attitudes and done early bedtimes and such.
Resistance to work may be related to an emotional issue. Sometimes emotional struggles manifest themselves during school time. If your child has dealt with some major upheaval in his life, he may just need a little extra grace and someone (you, a family friend, another relative, or even a counselor) to talk with to learn more effective coping skills.
Thankfully, we really haven’t had many issues with a kid refusing to do work in a defiant manner, but we have dealt with learning struggles, readiness issues, feeling overwhelmed, and emotional issues. It’s been my experience that taking time to address these, even if it means working through the curriculum at a slower pace, usually resolves the issue without any lingering negative impact.
What suggestions do you have for dealing with a child who isn’t completing his schoolwork?
updated from an article originally published September 27, 2010
This post is linked to the Hip Homeschool Hop.
images courtesy of depositphotos