7 Ways to Stop the Parent-Child Power Struggle Over Homework


Do you find yourself in full-on homework battles most nights of the week?   It’s no surprise that most children and teens will dig in their heels  when it comes to doing  schoolwork. Think of it this way: How many kids want to  do something that isn’t  particularly exciting or pleasant? Most would prefer to  be playing video games,  riding their bikes or driving around with friends,  especially after a long day  of school and activities.

As  long as you believe you are accountable (or to blame) for your child’s outcome,  you are under her control.


The underlying truth here is that you and your child might already be caught   in a power struggle over this. Like most parents, you probably want your  children to do well and  be responsible. Maybe you worry about your child’s  future. After all, doing  homework and chores are your child’s prime  responsibilities, right? Let’s face  it, it’s easy to get anxious when your kids  are not doing what they’re supposed  to be doing—and when you know how important  doing schoolwork is. And when you  believe you are ultimately responsible for  the choices your child makes (and  many of us do, consciously and  unconsciously), the ante is upped and the tug of  war begins.

Related:  Nightly fights over homework?

Nagging,  Lecturing and Yelling—But Nothing Changes?

If you’re in the habit of threatening, lecturing, questioning your child,   nagging or even screaming at them “do the work!” (and trust me, we’ve all been   there), you probably feel like you’re doing whatever it takes to  get your kids  on track. But when you’re in your child’s head, there’s no room for him to think  for himself. And unfortunately, the more anxious you are, the more you’ll hold  on in an attempt to control him and push him toward the task  at hand. What  happens then? Your child will resist by pushing back. That’s when  the power  struggle ensues. Your child, in essence, is saying, “I own my own life—stay   out!” Now the battle for autonomy is getting played out around homework and   chores, and exactly what you feared and hoped to avoid gets created.

This is very aggravating for parents to say the least. Many of us get   trapped into thinking we are responsible for our child’s choices in life. As   long as you believe you are accountable (or to blame) for your child’s outcome,   you are under their control. This is because you will need your child to make  those  good choices—do the work—so you will feel that you’re doing a  good job. Your child’s behavior becomes a reflection  of you. You are now at  your child’s mercy as you trying to get him to do what you want  him to do  so you can feel validated as a good parent. Your child does not want  to be  taking care of your emotional well-being, so he will naturally resist.

Related:  Do you feel responsible for your child’s choices—and behavior?

When kids are not following through on their responsibilities, it can  easily  trigger a number of feelings in parents. Note that your child did not  cause  these feelings, but rather triggered feelings that already belong to  you. You might be triggered by a feeling of  anger because you feel ineffective  or fear that your child will never amount to  anything. Or you might feel guilt  about not doing a good enough job as a  parent. Here’s the truth:  You have  to be  careful not to let these triggered feelings cause you to push your kids  harder  so that you can feel better. One of the toughest things parents have to  do is  learn how to soothe their own difficult feelings rather than ask their  children  to do that for them. This is the first step in avoiding power  struggles.

Why are power struggles important to avoid? They inadvertently create  just  what you’ve feared. Your child is living his life in reaction to you  rather  than making his own independent choices. Learning how to make those choices is a  necessary skill that develops self-motivation.  How can you avoid  ending up in these battles?  Here are 7 tips that can really help.

1. You are  not responsible for your child’s choices.  Understand that you are not responsible  for the choices your child makes in his  life. It’s impossible to take on that  burden without a battle for control over  another human being. Measure your  success as a parent by how you  behavenot by what your child chooses to do or not do. Doing a good job  as a parent  means that you have done all that you can do as a responsible  person. It does  not mean that you have raised a perfect person who has made all  the right  choices. Once you really get this, you won’t be so anxious about your  child’s  behaviors, actions, and decisions. You will be able to see your child  from  objective, not subjective, lenses and therefore be able to guide their   behavior, because you’ll have seen what he actually needs.

2. You  cannot make someone care—but you can influence them.  You cannot  get a person to do or care about what they don’t want to do or care  about. Our  kids have their own genetics, roles, and  ultimately their own free  will. So focusing on getting your child to change or  getting something from her  will not work long-term and will most often turn  into a power struggle. What  you can do is try to influence your child using only  what is in your own hands.  For example, when it comes to homework, you can  structure the environment to  create the greatest probability that the work will get done.

Related:  How to stop doing too much for your child and start parenting more  effectively.

3. Think  about the “fences” you’d like to create for your child. Take charge  of your own best thinking and decisions rather than trying  to control your  child’s. Pause, think and decide what fences  you want to create for your  child. What are your bottom lines? Know what you  can and can’t do as a parent. Recognize  that what will make the biggest  difference to your child (and helping him  become a responsible kid who makes  good choices) will be learning how to inspire  him, not control him. Building a  positive relationship with your kids is your  best parenting strategy. Children  want to please the people in their lives that  they have loving feelings toward.  You cannot ultimately make them accept  your values, but you can inspire them to  do so. Getting a child to listen to  you is primarily about setting up the  conditions under  which they choose to do so. In order to do this, make a  conscious effort to  sprinkle your relationship with more positive interactions  than negative ones. Hug,  show affection, laugh together, and spend time with  one another. Point out  your appreciations most instead of constantly  correcting, instructing, teaching, yelling, complaining, or reprimanding.   Don’t get me wrong, you need to correct and  reprimand as a parent. But  make a conscious effort so that every time you do  this, you will follow it with  many positive interactions. The human brain  remembers the negatives much more  than the positives. Most kids will be happy  to listen and be guided by the  people in their lives who they like and respect.

4. Should  you give consequences when kids don’t do  homework? Parents  always ask whether or not they should give  consequences to kids if they don’t  do their homework—or instead just let the  chips fall where they may.  I think you can give consequences, and that  might work temporarily—maybe even for a while. Perhaps your child will  learn to be more  responsible or to use anxiety about the consequences to  motivate themselves. You  can’t change someone else, but consequences might help  them  get some homework done. You can’t “program” your child to care about their  work, but you can create a work environment that promotes a good work ethic.  Kids who regularly get their homework done and study do  better throughout  school and overall in life.

Related:  How to give consequences that will work.

5. How  structuring the environment can encourage studying.  Again, you  can’t make a child do anything that he doesn’t feel like doing, but  you can  structure his environment to create the greatest probability  that the work  will get done. When your child’s grades slip, or you find that  he’s not getting his work in on time, you are automatically “invited in” to  supervise and help him get on track. You can make sure that for certain periods  of time, he will  not be able to do anything other than schoolwork. The  rule is during that  time, no electronics are allowed—just homework and   studying. By doing this, you are providing a structure to do what your child   probably can’t do yet for himself. The hour and a half that you set aside should  be a  time when you will be around to enforce the rules that you have set. Give  a fixed amount of time and once that time is  up, your child is free to go  elsewhere, homework done or not. Stay consistent  with this plan, even if he  fights you on it. This plan will accomplish the  possibility that your child  will get some homework done and maybe over time, create some better work habits.  That’s all. This plan should be in place,  whether or not he has  homework. He can read, review or study if he doesn’t have any during that  time. Let him know that these rules will change when his grades begin to  reflect his potential and when you are not getting negative reports from  teachers about missing homework. When he accomplishes this, tell him you  will be happy to have him be fully in charge of his own homework.

6. Parents  of Defiant kids. Extremely defiant kids who  don’t seem to care about consequences really try their parents. Some  of these  kids suffer from ADHD, ODD, learning disabilities, emotional issues  and many other issues. Defiance has become a way for them to try and solve  their problems. With  defiant kids, parents need to be very cognizant of working  to develop positive  relationships, no matter how difficult. Above all, work to  avoid getting pulled  into a power struggle. Your child will need many more  learning opportunities  and more rewards and negative consequences—and more time  to learn these lessons than less defiant child. And if nothing changes, and  your child  continues to be defiant, you must continue to work on your own  patience and be  thoughtful about your own bottom line. Most important, continue  to love your  child and keep showing up.

Related:  How to parent your defiant child without going crazy.

7. Your  simple message to your child. Be clear, concise and  direct. Your simple message  to your kids, which does not require lectures or  big sit down conversations is,  “Your job is to take care of your  responsibilities, which includes getting your  homework done and helping out in  the house. That’s my expectation for you. Once  you’ve done that each day, you  are welcome to do what you’d like.” Remember, as  a parent your job is to  essentially help your child do her job.

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