Q: My 14-year-old son is in Grade 9 and he has so much more homework than he ever has before. Every day is a battle to get him to do it. He’s doing well in school, but I am so tired of fighting with him about it.
A: I think that almost every parent reading this shares your pain.
If you are nagging your child to do his homework, and making sure he does it, you are taking responsibility for his homework. And if you are taking responsibility, he doesn’t have to. When will you stop taking responsibility? Grade 10? Grade 11? University? You might want to stop now. That doesn’t mean you wash your hands of him. You can support him in a way that still encourages him to step up.
How do you do this?
First, hand the responsibility back to him. I would start by telling him, “I love you too much to fight about homework.” (I borrowed this line from one of my favourite books, The Self-Driven Child by William Stixrud and Ned Johnson.) You can say, “This is your life. I think it’s important to do well in school and at the same time I recognize that you have to decide what’s important to you.” You won’t be around forever to motivate him. He needs to develop self-motivation.
If you’re like most of us, this will be scary. What if he stops doing his homework and fails out of school and never finds a job? That probably sounds silly to read, but taking charge of your child’s homework likely comes from your anxiety about what the future holds for him. Most of the time we are “catastrophizing.” Our fears are unfounded and we are imagining the worst-case scenario. Learning to take responsibility for himself is actually the best way to avoid any bad outcomes you might imagine. You need to manage your own anxiety so he can do this.
Next, help him think about the future. Many kids actually do have an idea of what they’d like to do when they grow up. But they haven’t necessarily thought about how to get there. Helping him think about this can help him develop self-motivation. For example, one of my sons hopes to get a scholarship to play baseball in university and dreams of playing professionally. He doesn’t care much about school or grades. Yet he does his homework because he recognizes that he needs to do well in school if he wants to be considered for a scholarship.
What does your son want to do with his life? If he has some ideas, help him research what it might take to get there. If he wants to go to university or college, what are the high-school requirements. If he wants to do something specific, like be a police officer, what kind of higher education would he need? If he has no idea what he wants to do, you can speak about “keeping your options open.”
You can still support him without taking over. Homework is, after all, between your child and their teacher. A simple, “Hey, do you have any homework tonight?” is a great way to let him know you care. You could add, “I’m here if you need any help. Let me know.” You did say that he was doing well. That’s great and tells me that he already has the skills he needs for success. If you were worried about lagging skills and felt he needed extra help, I’d suggest helping him make an appointment with the guidance counsellor to see what supports are available.
Finally, remind yourself that academics are not the be-all and end-all for everyone. There are things in life that are more important than high marks. What else is your child interested in? “Good enough” in school might make room for “excellent” in other areas.
The idea here is not to let him fail. The idea is that the key to his success, in whatever field, is effort from him, not effort from you. It may take a little while for him to take responsibility. Take a deep breath and remember that the possible outcomes are not as dire as you might imagine in your most anxious moments. While you wait, stay connected and keep the lines of communication open. Your faith in him will give him faith in himself to make the right choices.