We frequently have parents contact us about struggles with kids’ homework and grades and we regularly coach parents through that challenge. We’ve also written a fair bit about this in our book Discipline that Connects, and on our blog. So we’re quite encouraged when we hear of parents who empower their kids to take charge of their own homework. Two families with kids of different ages shared their schoolwork stories in the last few weeks, with a common approach that we’ve seen help hundreds of parents. Bottom line – quit nagging!
Herding an 8-year-old girl
Julia was exhausted from the task of getting Abby to complete her homework. The stress often dominated and spoiled their weekends together. Especially as fall homework increased, Julia felt like she was increasingly on duty to herd Abby back to the task at hand. They would get in complex bargaining arguments that led to increasing discouragement for both. We talked about it in several coaching sessions, and Julia finally decided to make some major changes. She wrote the results:
We came home from parent coaching with you and I gave full reins to Abby for her homework. Now when she says “Can I take a break?” I tell her “You can take as many breaks as you want, because you’re in charge of making sure your work is done!!” She’s doing quite well and I feel much better!
Sounds almost too simple right? Here’s another example with an older student.
Nagging a 17-year-old boy
When Tyrell shared his feelings of depression and lack of motivation at school, his parents John and Candace kicked it into high gear to help. They monitored his emotional state, assignments, and grades closely. They consistently questioned and reminded Tyrell, thinking they were helping. But tension built. Fortunately, Tyrell was seeing a therapist who helped him put words to his feelings and coached him to talk with his parents. Candace told their story:
Tyrell sat us down and taught us how to better parent him – ha! He respectfully said, “I would like you not to constantly check my portal, remind me of missing assignments, or give frequent advice. Lots of mornings you even double-team me with reminders.The more you ride me about a missing assignment or something I SHOULD do, the less motivated I am to actually do it!”
As you can see from both of these stories, when parents closely monitor schoolwork, it communicates a subtle but powerful message: “You are neither capable nor responsible enough on your own to get the grades that will satisfy us.” This message builds a negative identity for the child and drives a wedge of resentment between parents and kids that can easily spiral into trouble of all kinds. Fortunately, both Julia (Abby’s mom) and John and Candace (Tyrell’s parents) have worked hard to stay well connected to their children and to be together with them in enjoyable ways.
For John and Candace, this connection over the years paved the way for Tyrell to understand and forgive their nagging.
After we apologized to Tyrell, we explained that our dysfunction was motivated by love. He was very understanding, reassured us that he knew this, and said, “I want to get good grades. I’m motivated and I will ask for help when I need it.”
Since our talk, all three of us are so much more peaceful and joyful. I personally feel so relieved and have been having so much fun with him. When he decided to look for a job, I made sure to only offer my opinion when he asked for it. I asked him questions of what he wanted in a job, listened to his answers without adding my own feedback, and simply sat back and prayed. It was fascinating to see that the less I did the more he did for himself. He conquered his fears and got a job that is a great match for him. It was so rewarding to watch!
Not every teen has a wise mentor to guide him in respectful self-advocacy with his parents. But when parents drop their defenses like John & Candace did, and create safe spaces for kids to express their real feelings, helpful “win-win” conversations about schoolwork or other responsibilities can happen.
Not every 8-year-old is going to step up to the challenge and use her time wisely like Abby did when Julia empowered her to take responsibility for her homework. But it’s been our experience that the vast majority do pretty well. And even if the grades are not stellar, kids start learning that their life is their own, not someone else’s to manage.
In what ways do you struggle with your kids over these kinds of issues? How do you want to respond?
Try asking yourself these questions:
- In what ways might your “help” (i.e. nagging, reminding, helicopter parenting) be actually discouraging your child with messages that she is not capable and responsible?
- If your child is resistant, sullen, or even disrespectful about your “responsibility reminders”, what might he tell you if he had a wise person to coach him through the discussion with you?
- How could you build a culture of safety in which your child feels free to be this honest with you? Try asking a bold question: “What’s helpful and what’s hurtful about the way I engage with you about your homework/responsibilities?” (or other sensitive issues.)
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