One of the most frequent complaints I am hearing during covid is that kids are not doing their homework or not completing it satisfactorily. It only takes one e-mail from teachers to ignite a conflagration at home. The scenario goes something like this: students do not do or “forget” to do or hand-in assignments; a note goes home; parents speak with kids who may either own up or invent an explanation; the explanation (i.e. I did the homework but it was not entered online) may either be untrue or unsatisfactory (i.e. I cannot find the assignment; I will do it later; I really do not feel motivated).
When kids offer unreasonable or illogical explanations for their lack of task completion, parents usually try to reason with them. When this proves unsuccessful, parents may punish kids by taking away their electronics (which is often the only social connection they currently have), accompanying it with statements like you won’t get into a good college or you won’t get a good job and will end up on the street that typically do not resonate because kids do not have a fully developed time perspective. Parents punish and make threats because they are understandably frustrated and do not know what to do. Getting angry and punishing relieves albeit only temporarily the feeling of impotence that parents experience when their attempts to reason with kids goes nowhere.
What are parents (and teachers) to do? While there are no magical answers to this question or one-size-fits-all fixes, there are some important principles to keep in mind in order to craft a solution for your student.
-First and foremost, it is essential to manage the tendency to abandon good emotional regulation and become over responsive when the feelings of frustration seem intolerable. Yelling, threatening, and punishing have limited value except for the temporary release of steam and short-lived compliance while raising the degree of resentment. Staying calm is a herculean task during the pandemic; however, without understanding your student’s perspective a solution tailored to your individual situation cannot be attained.
-Combat feelings of impotence and failure by remembering the idea that parents need be only “good enough” in their efforts to parent. Good enough connotes that the goal is not perfection in ourselves or our students. We just need to be good enough more times than not. Keep in mind that being good enough is not a capitulation or a lesser-than state of mind. In fact, since being good enough requires good emotional regulation it requires effort.
-Consult with kids to try to understand the obstacles to task completion. Consulting means making a genuine effort to comprehend students’ seemingly unreasonable and illogical behaviors without becoming either homicidal or suicidal. To do this requires understanding the students’ perspective. They have “good” reasons for doing or not doing things like homework that make sense to them while driving parents and teachers mad.
-Create an atmosphere where kids can say everything to you. This means being available to hear everything. Yet, no parent really wants to hear that their student is not feeling motivated to do the work or just not interested. Moreover, the seeming lack of caring about the consequences further adds to the dilemma. However, for some students, even students who are strong academically, relating to the computer screen does not generate sufficient connection to feel motivated. Understanding/joining in how students feel and how remote instruction “stinks” while not endorsing not doing the work can help students feel understood.
-Consulting means asking your student what it is you are to think, feel or do when they do not do their work while not getting put off by the proverbial, “I don’t know.” I don’t know often means I do not want to talk bout it; however, keeping the conversation going is key to infusing new emotions into impasses or stalemates that typically deaden the participants.
-Consulting means asking students their objections to doing what they are being asked to do. Ferreting out the negative can help in moving things progressively forward. Again, this means being willing to listen to students’ complaints while not necessarily agreeing with them.
-Remember that when the above does not immediately lead to a satisfactory resolution, do not quit or give up hope. You can agree to disagree in the moment and revisit matters at another time.
-Keep in mind that the most important goal in resolving these seemingly unsolvable matters is to keep the relationship intact. Maintaining emotional regulation does not mean that you cannot feel frustrated or angry. Nor does it mean that you cannot express it as long as it is done constructively. Discipline does not need to be punishment, but it can involve consequence. The word discipline comes from the word “disciple,” a person whom others want to emulate. Modeling how to show discipline in the face of intolerable emotions can teach the same to kids.
-Do not forget that despite appearances to the contrary, parents usually remain the most important people to the child and constructively expressed disappointment and a feeling of temporarily not wanting to be with a child is powerful as long as there is no punitive threat or action of abandonment implied or exercised.