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The Genius of Letting Go of Homework Struggles in Two Remarkable Stories

homework battles

Let’s just state up front: “homework battles” shouldn’t be a part of family life. First, because the homework isn’t your homework, it’s your child’s. Second, as a parent, you’re not called to a battle with your child. You’re called to be a team!

We know, it’s all too easy to fall into this “homework battles” perspective as you try to help your child to meet school expectations. Instead of you and your child vs. the challenge, it becomes you vs. your child. When that happens, the conflict drains the most important asset you two have: your connection.

That said, you’re not alone. We regularly coach parents through homework struggles and academic underperformance. We’ve also written a fair bit about homework struggles in our book Discipline That Connects and on our blog.

Two families I  coached  (with kids of different ages) saw real transformation with the shifts in mindset they made. These shifts have helped so many parents. For both of these families, homework struggles eased and even ended as kids felt empowered to take more responsibility for their lives, and there was no more “homework battle.”

How did the homework battles end?

Bottom line – quit nagging! If you realize you’ve been in a tug-of-war with your child over homework, drop your end of the rope! You can shift your mindset to one of encouragement and freeing your child for the responsibility that is theirs, not yours.

Story #1: Herding an 8-year-old girl

Julia was exhausted from 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 into complex bargaining arguments that led to increasing discouragement for both. We discussed it in several coaching sessions, and Julia finally decided to make some significant changes.

Putting her daughter in charge of her homework

Here is what happened when Julia changed her mindset:

I came home from parent coaching with you, and I gave full reins to Abby for her homework. I stated clearly that it was her homework, not mine. I apologized for all my nagging and acknowledged how discouraging that must have been for her.

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! And the best part is there’s more joy and connection in our relationship again.

Sounds almost too simple, right? No more homework battles because there’s no more battling. Your child may still have homework struggles where they tackle complex or overwhelming challenges and need your encouragement. Or they may need some help doing some problem-solving. Your child owns the problem and enlists you as a resource, so you’re on the same team. Here’s another example with an older student.

Want more? Listen to this podcast.

Parenting the “middle years” can be extremely challenging. So, what does a child need from their parents during this season, and how do parents guide a child who has sudden new attitudes and opinions? Our podcast, “Practical Ideas For Parenting the Middle Years” could be just what you need to hear today.

Story #2: 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 parent him better – 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!”

Letting their son own his academic challenges

Fortunately, Julia (Abby’s mom) and John and Candace (Tyrell’s parents) have worked hard to stay well connected to their children and 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 have been 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 only offered my opinion when he asked for it. I asked him questions about 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 was a great match for him. It was so rewarding to watch!

Letting go of homework battles isn’t always smooth sailing

As you can see from 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 me.” 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.

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 and 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 will 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 my “help” (i.e., nagging, reminding, helicopter parenting) discourage my child with messages that she is not capable and responsible?
  • If my child is resistant, sullen, or even disrespectful about my “responsibility reminders,” what might he tell me if he had a wise person to coach him through the discussion with me?
  • How could I build a culture of safety in which my child feels free to be honest with me? Try asking a bold question: “What’s helpful or hurtful about how I engage with you regarding your homework/responsibilities?” (or other sensitive issues.)

We want you to have a connected, joy-filled relationship with your child as you communicate the messages of the Connected Families Framework related to homework:

  • You are emotionally safe with me because I’m going to set aside my anxiety about your school performance as I let God’s peace rule in my heart.
  • You are loved no matter what grades you get!
  • You are capable of navigating challenges and asking for help if you need it.
  • You are ultimately responsible for your life!

Colossians 3:15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts since, as members of one body, you were called to peace.

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Lynne Jackson
Lynne Jackson
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