If your child fears she isn’t capable: First acknowledge how painful this feeling must be. Then reassure her that she is capable and give concrete anecdotes so she doesn’t roll her eyes. Share with her a moment when you thought you couldn’t do something, but you learned to conquer the task. And be honest! Your kid will know that you didn’t really wrestle that champion alligator. Emphasize the importance of determination, effort, and persistence in whichever example of your successes you choose to share.
If your child is exhausted: Prioritize only what’s really essential. Try to help your child go to bed earlier. She can always wake up early to complete smaller assignments if need be. Getting major work done while exhausted is a losing battle for everyone. Help her plan ahead. Create a schedule for completing small portions of a larger assignment over the course of several days or weeks to make overwhelming work seem more manageable.
Read: My daughter’s homework is killing me
Once you figure out what’s driving your child’s procrastination, you can strategize with her about logistics. Start by removing temptation when possible. Of course she’d rather see where her friends went this afternoon than stare at a blinking cursor, and if all it takes is a simple click or swipe for your child to access social media, it’s going to take her eons to finish an assignment. It will be almost impossible for her to develop an argument that flows if she’s tempted by her phone. So all possible impediments to success should be removed. Disabling social-media and messaging apps and having a conversation about the purpose of setting technology limits is an important first step. Putting her phone aside will also help her compartmentalize time so that she can get her work done more thoroughly and then have free time afterward. Technological boundaries may lead to major pushback—especially now, when kids rely on technology for most forms of socializing—but this temporary misery is undoubtedly worth it in the long run.
And emphasize that short-term pleasure equals long-term pain. Empathize with children who do not want to do something that’s hard. Then remind them that the immediate instinct to procrastinate and play video games will make life miserable later. While they may resist and grumble, helping establish rules will ultimately prevent suffering tonight, tomorrow, and next week. Kids thrive in the comfort, reliability, and safety of a structured, focused work environment. It’s never easy, but on evenings when you want to tear your hair out because your child won’t sit down to work, reinforce the message that short-term gratification will only get in the way of long-term goals.
Finally, explain the relevance of the assignment. If kids don’t understand why they’re doing the work, they’re more likely to be frustrated. For example, your child might ask, “Why do I need to know algebra? I’ll never use it when I’m older.” You can tell the truth: “You probably won’t need to know about variables in everyday life, but learning algebra will give you a framework for understanding how to break down and solve complex tasks down the road.”
Learning to work independently, without a teacher’s direct counsel, is key to building academic and personal autonomy. So when your child is overwhelmed, help her figure out why, and then model strategies that foster independence, confidence, and well-being.
This piece is adapted from Freireich and Platzer’s new book, Taking the Stress out of Homework. Every Tuesday, they answer education-related questions. Have one? Email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.