Why you should agree with your kids when they tell you they hate doing their homework.
The great debate over homework is a struggle many parents face. The challenge probably looks similar across many homes. The child says, “Ugh, I hate doing my homework!” Followed by the parent saying, “Well, you have to — that’s part of your responsibilities.” This might be met with some type of schedule where the parent helps the child adhere to a more organized and structured way to complete his or her homework for the day. The arguing continues with the child asking to take a break every five minutes.
By the time the homework is finished, everyone is exhausted.
What if we explored this from the perspective of the child? She’s tired from her school day, and now she has to lug everything out of her backpack and spend more time doing the exact thing that has exhausted her in the first place. What if we validated how she felt and agreed? Meaning, every time they start to say they don’t like doing homework, instead of giving into to our kneed jerk reaction to stop the complaining, we say, “I understand, and I get how you’re feeling. I don’t blame you for not wanting to do your homework.” Agreement does not mean she doesn’t have to do it.
When my son was in middle school he came home and started to complain about an assignment he needed to complete at home. This particular year he had a teacher who was very “worksheet” happy. He started to complain, and I immediately tried to stop it. “Don’t complain, just focus and get your work done…you can do it!”
Now, can you imagine if every time you complained to your spouse, partner or friend about something, they just shut you down quickly?
Before I launched into my “don’t complain” pep talk, I walked over to see my son’s assignment. He was right. It was a worksheet that asked him to color different shapes based on the answer of each math equation. For example, it asked him to color all the shapes with the number 2 blue, color all the shapes with number 10 yellow, and so on. By the way, he was 12.
He had completed the math problems; he just didn’t feel like coloring. His complaint was fair, and here I was unwilling to acknowledge that. Instead, I said to him, “I totally get it. You’re right. That would annoy me too if I had to spend all this time coloring. Also, I know you’re tired, and when I feel tired the last thing I want to do is dive into more work.”
The minute I agreed with him and told him I understood what he was feeling, he stopped complaining. He felt heard. There was no gain for him to keep fighting me.
Once I agreed with him, I offered him a plan with an incentive. “Whether we agree with the assignment or not, it seems like in order for you to get credit for doing the work, you need to complete the coloring. Let’s do this, I’ll set a timer. It shouldn’t take you longer than 20 minutes to color this thing. Once you’re done, I will give you 15 extra minutes on your Xbox tonight.”
It’s OK to give incentives here. When you are trying to establish a new behavior, your children may need some additional motivation at first.
The minute I joined his team, and validated the way he felt, the arguing and complaining completely stopped. He knew I was there to hear him out.
Once you agree that homework is a drag — because it is — you will want to come up with a plan together. For some children, homework may be challenging because it’s hard. You want to figure out why they’re avoiding it. It will help inform the way you move forward with your plan.
For example, if math is challenging, tell your child you will do the first two problems with him. Then explain to him that you have to tend to something else and let him work independently on the rest. Don’t say you’re walking away so he can do it alone — you have to seem like you’re busy with something else, but that he’s got this. This will force him to work through some of the challenges independently.
Here is how I was able to use PARR with my son when he complained about doing his homework (pause, acknowledge, respond, reflect).
He begins to complain about homework.
I pause. I sense myself getting agitated. I can see that I’m about to respond automatically — stop complaining and get your homework done. Personally, I know I have to pause because I can physically sense that I’m agitated. My body tenses, my breathing quickens, my jaw tightens, etc. This physical response cues me to pause and breathe.
I acknowledge that I feel triggered and bothered. Remember in this step I’m recognizing that I’m about to react from a triggered place, nothing else. I stop my automatic reaction.
I respond. Instead of the usual script that I had been using night after night, I decide to walk over and take a look at his homework while fully listening to his complaint. Not in a judgmental and annoyed way, but from an honest desire to understand his point of view. I wanted to make sure he knew I was listening. Once my response shifted and I was no longer responding from a triggered place, I was present. When this happens the solution or answer is much easier to identify. In this case, it was clear he needed an ally, and I was that for him. Also, we had to come up with a plan to decide how he was going to complete his homework.
For every child and situation this plan will look different. Tune in to what your child needs.
I reflect. Why does it bother me so much that he hates doing his homework? What personal fear is being exposed in this moment? If my child does not do his homework, he’ll become irresponsible. School will be difficult, and he will always struggle. We have years of schooling left. Is this what homework will always feel like? What if he doesn’t succeed in school? What does that say about me? Why can’t he just do the homework as he’s told?
What I also realized is that we live in a culture where conformity is revered. Nothing illustrates this more than our schools. The minute children make choices that do not align with their expectations, they’re deemed a problem. My true fear was: What happens to the kids that don’t conform? This is a bigger reflection that requires a lot more work. But at the end of the day, this one parenting moment helped me tap into to something much bigger, both in me and culturally.
By using PARR I could clearly see what my son needed and reflect on my own underlying insecurities. Take these opportunities and dig deep. You’ll be surprised to see what you’re holding onto.