How to Stop The Nightly Homework Fight

fighting about homework

It seems inevitable that we will fight about homework, or is it? Here are some ideas to end the battle!

Choose to Disengage

In order to stop the nightly homework fight with your kids, simply disengage. Choose to not fight. Choose to let the homework relationship stay where it belongs – between the teacher and the student. Your job is to simply help your child. You can’t do it for them, you can’t tell them all of the answers, and you can’t write their essays. You can provide support and encouragement, but remember: it’s not YOUR homework.

Take a Deep Breath

When you’re feeling angry or frustrated, take a deep breath. Step away. Do some dishes, water your plants, or go get a drink. Take a second to cool down, and then come back to help some more. When you’re angry, your child can definitely sense it – and that’s not going to help either one of you.

Create a Homework Structure

Just like a bedtime routine when they’re younger, homework should have the same kind of feeling. Kids should know what is coming. Remember – no surprises. Set some limits that are the same each night: 

  • Homework is done at the same time each night. 
  • Homework is done in the same place each night (a kitchen table, a breakfast bar, a dining room table)
  • If your child is failing a class, give them the same consistent consequence each time (take a phone away, or a tablet, or a favorite TV show).
  • Make a weekend rule that weekend activities (soccer games, basketball tournaments, playing with friends) don’t happen until homework is done. It always comes first.

Think About Yourself

In what ways can you model “homework” to your kid? How can you model the idea of perseverance, or powering through? 

Let Your Child Make Their Own Choices

This is a tough one, parents. Sometimes, kids don’t want to make the right choice, and we have to allow them to suffer the natural consequences. Remember, we said that the relationship of homework is between your child and his or her teacher? Allow the teacher to implement consequences, and then, you can talk your child through them. 

Naturally, if homework isn’t completed, grades will drop. At this point, you can ask your child some pretty honest questions to help them process: 

  • Are you satisfied with your grades, or how your class is going?
  • What do you want to do about your grade situation?
  • How can I help you?

Keep your snark to yourself, and remember to stay open to their answers. Check your judgment at the door, and try not to show disappointment in their answer.

When It’s Time To Intervene

Your expectation should be that homework is done to the best of your child’s ability. When the effort wanes, then it’s time to step in as a parent. But remember: keep your judgment and disappointment at bay. 

Try something similar to this: 

“Now that your grades aren’t showcasing your actual ability, it’s my job to help you do better. Let’s chat about a plan that can help you help yourself, and I will check in occasionally to make sure you’re doing well.”

This is important: with your child’s input, create a plan. (Don’t create one by yourself because then your child won’t feel any ownership.) Within the plan, new rules could be that homework is done in the same public place in your home each night until his or her grades improve. You could also meet with your student’s teacher (and your student!) to discuss what would happen should their grades continue to fall.

By putting a concrete plan in place that you follow each and every single time, you help your child get right back on track. When you start to see their success, back away again. 

When grades begin to drop, you’ll also begin to check in more. Depending on the age of your child, ensure that things are checked off from their planner before they get to do fun things. Add in a half-hour of review time (this can be done while you’re cooking dinner!), or help your student create flashcards. And every day that he can after school, your student is asking the teacher for extra help (you’re teaching advocacy here!).

Never treat this plan as a punishment. You’re simply helping your child do his or her very best. 

“But I don’t care about my bad grades!”

We hear it quite frequently. Kids say that they just don’t care about their grades. Our guess, though, is that somewhere inside – they really do. They want to do well, they just don’t have the tools quite yet to get there. That fancy teenage bravado is stopping them from asking for help.

The problem is that “I don’t care” becomes a power struggle. If your student doesn’t care, then why should you? And if your student doesn’t care, why should you MAKE them care? 

In other words, your child is really saying, “I’m not going to care because you can’t make me care. You don’t own me.” That’s the truth, you know. You don’t own them. You can’t make them care (as much as you want to).

Instead, focus on helping his or her behavior improve. Don’t focus on their attitude or their words. Focus on what they’re actually doing.

Give Them A Sense of Ownership

Motivation to do well comes straight from ownership. Allow your child to live their life, and the motivation to do well, to care more, and to improve will eventually develop. We know it’s so hard to loosen those reins! 

Let your student’s own disappointment over his or her grades. You don’t get to feel it more than they do. Let them choose what he will do or not do about his homework, and then let them face the natural consequences. This just might lead to caring even more. 

We never want to motivate our kids out of fear. Instead, by allowing a little more ownership of their lives, they might find just what motivates them the best. And it might just be something we never even saw coming.

You always want to help guide, but never prevent your student from feeling the real consequences of bad choices in regards to homework. We always say that if they’re not learning these consequences now – in middle school or high school – then they’re really going to sink when they fail as a 25-year-old, or as a 35-year-old. 

Guidance vs. Over- Functioning

It’s a tough line between guiding your child and taking on all of your child’s responsibilities as your own. Your student needs your guidance more than anything, but that never means that you do his or her homework for him. You can help review, you can help understand the power in advocating to teachers, and you can help them to understand the importance of organization. But you cannot do their work.

If your child asks for help, certainly help guide them. Suggest conversation starters with his or her teacher. Talk about how to study, or how good students act in class. Teach communication skills that will then serve him or her throughout their adult life.

Don’t back off altogether. Instead, find a common middle ground in which you are a pillar of support, a champion for their character, and a forever study-buddy. 

Believe In Your Child

Before you create structure, before you help with advocating with the teacher, you need to establish belief in your child. They are not fragile beings, and they are capable of great things, and they are capable of completing really difficult work. 

Coming to the table with fear or doubt transfers directly to your child in a flash. We think that if we don’t help our kids, they’re just not going to do it. That’s simply not true. 

If you continue to say things like, “But I’m just trying to help you,” what your child hears is, “You’re a failure. I don’t think you can do this on your own.” And those negative thoughts don’t have a place at any homework table.

Instead, lead with, “I know you can do this. I’m going to allow you to learn the consequences on your own, and I believe in you enough to help you deal with them.

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