Homework and the Defiant Child: A Parent's Guide

Many times parents and children are caught in the confusion as to how to manage homework. There are numerous guides that have been published for helping parents to handle homework with their children. These guides typically suggest setting a specific time for doing the homework and having a quiet place for the child to work. These suggestions can function well with children who are cooperative regarding homework, fast learners, and do not struggle in school. But the problem area that many parent guides do not cover is how to approach homework with the defiant child: the child that fights homework, struggles at school, and does everything he can to subvert the whole process. A situation such as this can cause a rift to grow between the parent, child, and teacher, and if allowed to fester, could ultimately destroy any well-meaning intentions surrounding the assignment of homework. Negative emotions could also cause children and families to disengage from the school system altogether which could result in having long lasting implications.

The Defiant Child

A child that is defiant towards homework sometimes sees it as an intrusion in his free time while at home. All day he has been at school doing what the teacher directs him to do. In his mind, schoolwork belongs at school, and once he arrives home at the end of the school day, this is his personal time. Another source of frustration is that he may not know how to do the work. Young children do not necessarily have the words or language skills to appropriately express what they are feeling; so instead, will react to their frustrations through yelling, screaming, door-slamming, crying, or even vomiting. The less overt reactions might include a headache, stomachache, or not wanting to eat. The child may not bring home the necessary materials in order to complete the homework. This could possibly be a passive way of trying to get out of it, or it could be that the child is not sure how to prepare and organize the necessary materials needed for completing the work at home. Teachers may be unaware how the child is feeling about homework as his frustrations are more likely to be vented at home.

A Plan of Action for Parents

Partner up. To rise above any issues surrounding homework, parents of children who are struggling with schoolwork or are defiant towards doing schoolwork at home can experience a peaceful and productive learning engagement with their child. First, it is necessary for the parent to adopt an attitude and perspective that is apart and contrary from the popularly held notions about homework as these usually do not work with the struggling or defiant child. This does not mean that the child is a failure; it just means that not all children are alike; and therefore, one approach or perspective does not work for all children. Instead of sending the child off by himself to the designated homework space, partner up with the child and say, "We are in this together-you and me." This will help to calm his fears and frustrations over feeling alone, helpless, and inadequate. Partnering up with your child will give him a sense of security that he needs to help him to be successful in his schoolwork, and once this success is experienced, he will require less and less help from the parent, but this may take time, depending on how deeply his frustrations are ingrained or his overall level of ability to do schoolwork. Things will not change overnight, so a steadfast commitment is necessary on the both the parts of the parent and child.

Negotiate a time. Find a time that works for both of you to do the homework, but flexibility is important so that working together happens every school night, no matter what else may be happening in the family schedule. It is best to allow the child some free time after school to release some built-up frustrations and to just relax in doing something he really enjoys, and it is important to give him a snack to alleviate any grumpiness that may be caused by hunger.

Get prepared. Prior to beginning the cooperative time together, it is crucial for the parent to prepare herself for what he has brought home in regards to his papers and books. The chief factor is to be prepared before working with the child. This way the parent is not trying to figure out the homework at the same time as trying to help the child. Not only can this be very frustrating for both the parent and child, it also allows for wasted time, something that is at a premium when it comes to family time at home. The parent should examine his papers and books for directions about how to do the homework. If the parent is not sure about what the directions are for completing the homework, a phone call to the teacher may be the next step. If the directions are present, but the parent does not understand how to solve for the answers, such as math problems, there are a couple things that can be done. If the math book or other textbook was also sent home, that could be examined for the steps to follow in solving the problems. If the necessary textbooks or written directions about how to solve the homework was not sent home, this is something the parent could request from the teacher for future situations. If the parent has access to a computer and the Internet, there are multiple sources that can be found online regarding completing schoolwork by entering the following terms into a search engine: homework, homework help, math, grammar, social studies, and science homework, to name a few. There are multiple websites available to help not only parents, but children, too. It is best not to proceed with the homework until the parent is clear about the directions and how to solve for the answers. Leaving this up to the child could further exasperate the situation.

Create a central location. It is necessary to create a comfortable place where the parent and child can work together and sit side-by-side. Some suggestions include the kitchen table, a living room coffee table, or some other area that is centrally located where the parent, once the child has developed some confidence and is working more independently on his own, can go about her evening activities but still remain within ear-shot of the child if he should call for assistance. This lets the child know that the parent is there if he needs her, ready to offer encouragement and support. It is best if the parent does not become too engaged with some other activity that cannot be easily interrupted for the sake of helping the child. The main goal is to assist the child as much as necessary, but to gradually step away to allow him to do as much of the homework by himself that is possible. If there are other children in the home, the ones that are old enough to be away from the parent, could be doing independent activities elsewhere. If there are younger children that need to be supervised, they could be engaged close to the parent with drawing or coloring activities.

Have materials ready. It is important to have materials ready prior to working with the child. Have two clipboards stocked with loose-leaf, wide ruled lined paper; sharpened pencils with erasers; and a calculator. If the child is learning cursive, either ask the teacher for a cursive alphabet guide or print one from the Internet. Put these materials in a box, crate, or some other type of container. One of the clipboards is for the parent and the other is for the child. The parent can use her clipboard and paper for showing how to write the homework, solve math problems, write sentences, or whatever the child needs to see in order to complete his assignment. The child can use his clipboard and paper or the homework paper for showing his work. When the parent sits shoulder-to-shoulder with the child and demonstrates how to write and solve the homework, the child has a visible model to emulate, and this arrangement can be an extremely valuable learning experience that will help him to solve similar work while at school.

When to walk away. Special attention should be given towards keeping and maintaining this partner approach until the child demonstrates self-confidence in doing the schoolwork increasingly by himself. Eventually, he might say, "Let me do this one." Or, "I think I got it now." When it looks like he is able to work independently, then it is time for the parent to walk away, but stay close by in case he calls for help. Another approach that will help him gain independence, and especially if he is feeling overwhelmed with the amount of homework, is to work alternate portions of the homework with him. For example, the parent does a problem, and then the child does the next problem, and so on, until he feels that he can finish the work on his own. This will serve to get him through those difficult moments when he might be focusing on too much all at one time.

The best rewards. One of the most rewarding benefits of a parent partnering up with the child is the bonding that results from accomplishing something tangible together. In addition, the parent becomes keenly aware of the work the child is doing at school. This shared understanding can be the foundation for conversations between the parent and child that could possibly lead to a more intrinsic quest for further knowledge about particular topics covered within the homework, which in turn, will deepen the relationship between parent and child and serve to model real-world learning.

About Author / Additional Info:
I teach literacy and literature methods courses to students majoring in elementary education at the University of Northern Iowa, USA.