Power struggles over homework plague many families. Discover a way of dealing with this—that works!
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.
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.
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.
Andrea tells this story about her struggle with herself and her son, Seth. Believing that she was responsible for motivating her fifth-grade son to do his homework, she reminded him constantly. Rather than working faster and better, Seth worked slower and with increasing resistance, although he is a very bright boy. One weekend Seth had an essay assignment, so Andrea sent Seth to his room on Saturday morning, saying he could come out when his essay was finished. Alone in his room, Seth dawdled the time away. By mid-afternoon with no progress, Andrea's frustration and anger were building, so she began visiting his room every so often making a variety of threats and demands. Still Seth made no move to write. Andrea slept poorly that night and awoke Sunday morning more determined than ever to get Seth to write his paper, admittedly afraid of the consequences if he didn't. By Sunday evening she had spent most of the weekend in and out of Seth's room with various ploys—yelling, threats, criticism—trying everything she knew to control him. Finally, in tears of frustration, anger and fear, she gave up. And as she did, she was forced to come face to face with her beliefs about what she could and could not control as a parent. Also, she was forced to consider alternatives, since what she was doing wasn't working. She called me for some help.
Monday after school Andrea and Seth met with Seth's teacher. "I want you to know," Andrea said to the teacher, "that Seth will now be in charge of his own work. I won't be helping him or reminding him. Whether he does his homework or not will be his choice." All three of them agreed on this new plan. The teacher was a little surprised but Andrea felt relieved and Seth was obviously happy. The difference in his attitude was like night and day. For the rest of the year Seth did his assignments without being asked, most of them done very well. Seth felt the pleasure of being personally responsible and Andrea learned a lot about what she could do to be the best help to her son.
Not all children respond as quickly as Seth. Often, when parents finally let go of control, children dig in and do nothing, testing out their parent's resolve. Parents have to be ready for their children to suffer the consequences of their own choices without trying to control or rescue them. It may take months or even longer for some children to decide to do well for themselves. You need to have the faith that if you have role-modeled personally responsible behavior, your children will eventually follow your example.
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This article was originally published at Inner Bonding . Reprinted with permission from the author.