More than once parents have asked me what to do when their child refuses to do her homework, with a refrain that goes something like this: “This math is stupid. When will I ever use it? I’m not going to do it.”
I believe that students naturally want to learn. Therefore, when I hear a child say this, I automatically think he is having difficulty doing the work. It is likely he is trying very hard (or has been trying), but does not know how to do it. It is much easier to say, “I don’t care,” or “This is stupid,” than, “I am trying very hard, but I can’t do this.”
Children in this situation feel like they are stupid and a failure.
I believe the first step for helping your child who is refusing to try is to help her understand that it is okay for some things to be very hard to do. I have been working with a student who was saying very often, “I am stupid. I can’t do math.” First, I told her that she is not allowed to say that any more—and gave her a list of alternatives she can say.
It's okay to say:
- “Math is hard for me.”
- “I am not good at math.”
- “I hate math.”
- “I have to work harder at math than anyone else in the world.”
It is not okay to say:
- “I cannot do math.”
- “I am stupid.”
- “I am a failure.”
The second step, after doing the above to help the child change her mindset, is to get help. The student I am working with is now getting tutoring in math. She talks out loud when she works through math problems. And, she has the opportunity to redo assignments that she fails. With these accommodations, she is learning and feeling a little bit more confident. She still hates math and probably always will. But, she is making some progress and will probably pass for the year.
For more suggestions about what to do when your child is having homework difficulties, read “What If My Child Can’t Do the Homework?”
To learn more about changing the mindset of failure, read “Change How You Praise Your Children to Assure They Reach Their Potential.”