I get a lot of these type of questions from parents very distressed with the fact that their child refuses to do their homework. Many times, the children will lie about the homework’s completion, stating they turned it in when they didn’t. These lies can be very creative too 🙂
Most of the time, the parents REALLY are doing everything to stay on top of the situation. Teachers blame them for the child’s behavior but the parent feels helpless to do anything more to motivate the child. That’s when they come to me for answers. They don’t always like the one’s I have to give them and honestly, there are times, I really don’t know why. Fortunately, that isn’t too often.
Why do the kids act this way and how can you correct it? I can only answer this question for the foster and adoptive children that I work with and not in more general terms. Most kids will get on track with their homework and be more compliant with a little extra vigilance on the part of the parent and a couple consequences put in place for some leverage. All kids test the limits at home and school and once they realize the limits are going to be firm and all the adults in their lives are working as a team to help the child, all is well…
But not for more traumatized children with huge losses in their lives. Unfortunately, these losses become part of the child’s Internal Working Model (John Bowlby) and color how they see the world, their caregivers/parents, and themselves. Self-defeating beliefs in a persons Internal Working Model are extremely hard to change. Not impossible, but their is a lot of work involved.
The reason parents of these kids don’t like my answers is that I don’t focus on the homework at all. Remember, the issue is the child’s negative IWM, not the homework. That is just the expression of the negative belief system, not the cause. I want to address what is under the behavior and focus on the beliefs. Letting go of the need for the child to get good grades or have perfect behavior in the classroom is difficult for parents. When parents do get this concept and are willing to follow my suggestions to address the “roots” of the problem and partner with me and the child against the problem, the situation dramatically changes.
Now I will give a quick disclaimer here. In some instances, the behavior never changes but what does improve is the relationship (read: Attachment) between the parent and child when mom and dad can keep the big picture in mind. I tell parents that it is more important to win the battle for the relationship versus the battle of the homework. School will come and go but the relationship is for ever!
Of course, 80% of the behaviors will improve with a little psychoeducation on study skills, scheduling, communication with the teacher, better reinforcement systems, etc. It is the other 20% that I am focusing on in this post.
The bottom line for this 20% of children who refuse to do their homework is control. Given their negative IWM about themselves, they haven’t experienced much control in their lives and this is one area that the adults can’t force them into compliance. They might improve for a time but fall back into the same control patterns. Even more reason to work on the roots of all this, improve the relationship/attachment, build more internal strength over grade point averages.
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