Power struggles over homework plague many families. Parents worry, wanting their children to do well. Believing that encouragement, praise, explanations, setting limits, and even threats, anger and punishment are well-meaning, deserved, necessary and loving, parents often interact with their children in ways that lead to the very problems they want to avoid.
Leon, one of my clients, was struggling with the consequences of having grounded his 14 year old daughter, Heather, because she was not doing her homework and was getting bad grades. Now, Lean and Heather were caught in a power struggle, with Heather refusing to do any homework and not coming right home after school, resisting both the homework and the punishment. Leon was feeling frustrated, angry and powerless, with fantasies of locking his daughter in her room to have some control over her, but it was obvious to him that his controlling way of dealing with the homework issue was backfiring.
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From the time our children began school, we took the radical position that their learning was their responsibility. We let them know that we would always be available when they needed our help, but it was their job to let us know when they needed help or if they just wanted us to sit with them and keep them company when they studied. We let them know that our love for them was not dependent upon their performance—that we would love them if they succeeded or failed. If they did well, we wanted it to be for themselves, not for us. We let them know that we wanted them to discover their passions and do what brought them joy. We encouraged them to discover what their gifts were that they wanted to offer to the world.
We didn't ask if our children if they had homework or if they had done their homework. We never told them they couldn't do something until their homework was finished—watch TV (that was automatically limited in our house to 1 1/2 hours a day), play, go to a friend's house. We never offered them rewards such as money for good grades because we wanted them to receive their own internal rewards and to learn to be personally responsible.
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This worked very well for us and our three children, who are now happy and successful adults doing what they each love to do. They all did very well in school without any prodding from us. Children like to do well and are self-motivated when they receive love and acceptance and are not in a power struggle with their parents. I have worked with hundreds of families on this issue of schoolwork, and over and over when the power struggle is broken, children generally begin to do well.
Many parents have been perplexed when their children turn away from many of their important values, especially education. This is almost always the result of a child resisting being pushed to study and get good grades. Children don't like to be controlled and may resist in an area which is most important to the parents. It is often difficult for parents to let go of their attempts to control how their children do in school, as much fear comes up regarding failure.