9 step game plan for when your child doesn't want to 'do school'

 Photo Credit: Stocksnap.io

Photo Credit: Stocksnap.io

It happens to every parent at some point, whether your kids are in a traditional school or homeschooled; your child INEXPLICABLY refuses to do their school assignments.

They cry, they are angry, they give up in despair and call themselves "stupid". I'll never forget the helplessness of watching one of my kids weep in frustration because they just weren't "getting it".

What can a parent do to diffuse the situation so that learning doesn't become a battleground? 

 It is important to recognize is that you cannot, in reality, force a child to learn. Babies teach us this lesson early on. You can't make a child eat, sleep, or go potty without resorting to violence - which is, of course, unacceptable. So parents manipulate, beg, bribe, and brainwash their little bundles of joy into compliance. Our little ones can't be reasoned with, they can only be conditioned and redirected until they learn to think things through and understand consequences. 

When children are old enough to reason, you can begin to lay the foundation of any educational experience - effective communication.  And effective communication is a vital step in the process of dealing with a reluctant or stubborn student. 

As with many stressful situations, there is a sensible process for handling it in a way that is healthier for the family and serves as a positive role model for your children. So -


Calm Down. 

Education is a long haul for any parent, so don't overreact to every bump in the road. You need to take a step back and gain some perspective on the situation first. When your child refuses to complete an assignment or melts into tears at the idea of school, a parent often takes this as a personal affront.  

News Flash: you are not actually the center of your child's universe. They are the center of their universe, and you are the person who makes them PB&Js and tucks them in at night.  

The worst thing you can do is go to war with your child over math or reading or writing. When a child doesn't want to learn, when they aren't curious or excited about doing something familiar or tackling a new skill set, there is something else going on in that little head. It's time to put on the Mom Psychologist Hat and figure out why your child is being stubborn or feeling fearful about school work.  

 Photo Credit: Stocksnap.io

Photo Credit: Stocksnap.io

Eliminate underlying physical or developmental issues. 

Make sure your child's learning issues are not related to a physical problem or developmental delay. Have their eyesight and hearing checked. Keep a journal of how much they eat, drink, sleep, and exercise. Note when, where, and why they complain about school or doing other tasks that involve following instructions, answering questions, or working a problem. You may discover a pattern that leads you to make corrections to their diet, exercise, or sleep routine, and a journal will be a valuable source of information if you take your child for a doctor for a physical check up.  

Don't engage immediately.

If your child is having a meltdown, the opportunity for communication is already lost. Take a break from school to do something together, even if it is chores or running errands or going to the library. I know for most of us this sounds like giving in and rewarding the child for bad behavior. If you are certain that there are no other underlying issues and your child is just being a brat, then by all means - mete out the appropriate consequences for misbehavior. But if not, then you both need some space to decompress before you start trying to address the problem. 

Go to neutral territory to talk one-on-one.

Head to the nearest Chik-Fil-A or take a walk, and ask open ended questions to encourage your child to be honest and discuss their problems with you. One of the reasons to do this is to remove the association of stress and discouragement with homeschooling. One of our goals is to help our kids find the pleasure in learning, and the last thing we want to do is to make connections in the child's mind between anxiety and their education.  

  • Ask questions like: 
    • "I noticed that you don't want to do math. What is it about math that makes you unhappy?" 
    • "So - what do you think about the reading program you've been using? Is it hard to use or to understand? "
    • "If you could be anything you wanted, what would it be?" (child answers) "What do you think you'd have to know in order to do that? How can I help you learn the necessary skills so you can do that when you grow up?" 

When you ask your child a question, give them plenty of silence so they feel free to answer. Don't interrupt, don't jump in to correct them about their misguided notions. The point of this is for them to tell you what is going on in their minds so you can help them, over time, resolve the problem. In essence, you aren't trying to fix your child - you are helping them find ways to fix themselves with questions that guide them to logical conclusions. They also need to know you are available to them and willing to listen without judgment.  

Why so serious? 

Learning doesn't have to be nose-to-the-grindstone all the time. Granted, acquiring new skills and internalizing concepts isn't always laughs-a-plenty, but too much academic pressure without any joy or pleasure is not a recipe for homeschool success. Point out something funny in their math word problems, try to play Scrabble or Boggle with words from their spelling list or reading lesson, do some science experiments, reenact a historical event. A child inspired and excited will be motivated to do more of the 'boring' foundational skill practice than one who is always plunked down at a desk to do drills and worksheets.  

Be willing to change. 

We as parents often bring too much of our own baggage to our homeschool.

  • We are insecure about our choice to homeschool.
  • We sucked at math or hated literature class.
  • We are distracted by household chores left undone.
  • We are imitating traditional classroom methods at home.  

And now for some Homeschool Reality. This is your child's education, not yours. It's your child's future, not yours. They are individuals, not carbon copies of you. Don't try to fix your past issues or live through your child. 

So what if you aren't competent to teach math or literature? You don't have to be. It's as simple as finding quality resources for your child and being available to support and guide them. And for more News You Can Use - homeschooling parents don't have to teach every subject, or any subject.

While you may need to address some organizational problems in your home, the time to focus on learning with your children is precious - don't waste your energy on a pile of clothes or dust bunnies multiplying in the corner. Give your child the most valuable gift you have - your undivided attention. Deal with clutter and dirty dishes after your scheduled school time.

If the program or methods you are using seem to be more of a stumblingblock than a help, find something else more in tune with your child's abilities and interests. Consider taking a break to deschool before spending money and time on all-the-bells-and-whistles curriculum. 

Get the whole family involved. 

One of the most pleasurable aspects of homeschooling is creating strong family bonds. Use unit studies or project based learning to involve the whole family in the subject areas that your child fears or dislikes. Talk to your child's siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents (if you can) about your child's  struggles so they can offer encouragement and plan field trips to places or events that will boost their interest in learning new things.  

Show them it's real. 

How often do kids ask "When am I ever going to use this?" They need to see Dad and Mom reading books, working math problems, researching medical questions or home repairs, and how your education led to your current career or hobbies. Kids also need to see you willing to learn new things, whether it's tennis or knitting or gardening, or building scale models of skyscrapers with toothpicks. It's basic Teaching By Example.  

Quit while you're ahead.

When your child is working on a subject they don't like or feel confident about, stop the current lesson on a high point - after they've experienced some measure of success with the topic, say "Well done!" and move on to the next thing. Their first thought the next day when they take out that book or boot up that program will be the good feelings they had the day before.  You can create a pattern of positivity to act as an antidote to their negative attitude.

By remaining calm and thoughtfully approaching the problem, you can not only help your child resolve their learning issues, you can provide an example of how to respond to a crisis with a patient and balanced approach. 

Do you have questions not answered here? Share them in the comments -