Our kid has been going through some fallback in school scores recently, and as a result, I've been monitoring and helping him to do his homework.

Usually, everything goes smoothly, but sometimes, when he faces an exercise he doesn't understand at first, he gets terribly frustrated and tries to evade doing it as much as possible, even if I try to help, constantly arguing that "it's too difficult", or even that I'm wrong (he is also in the mood of thinking he knows everything and his parents don't know a thing, so maybe it might hurt him when he is proven otherwise?).

I've considered the possibility that he would be just trying to "play me" to stop doing his homework, but I'm not fully convinced. It really seems to me that once he gets frustrated, he gets into a blocked state and all that remains is to be stubborn and drop the homework.

What would be the best approach to go in such a situation?

Thanks in advance

EDIT: he is 13yo. He changed schools about 1 year ago, and yes, homework has been getting harder proggresively throughout the year, but this has been ongoing and pretty consistent. Talking by heart... maybe once every week.

EDIT May 8th: Thanks all for the answers. I really do appreciate all of them. I will take very good note of them, and try to applying in the best way possible to overcome this challenge.

  • How old is he? Has anything changed recently? New school, new subject, more workload, etc.? May 5, 2014 at 23:05

6 Answers 6


What kind of homework is it? Any kind of homework, or is it math? What you wrote reminded me of this blog: http://mathwithbaddrawings.com/2013/04/25/were-all-bad-at-math-1-i-feel-stupid-too/ - the frustration, the procrastination, the excuses, the avoidance... though this doesn't have to be restricted to math, math is just a very typical example.

Changing schools a year ago might have left him with a knowledge gap in some areas, and because he was new to school he might have been to shy to ask about them back then, and now they're showing. I'd try to find out if he has knowledge gaps, and where, and also talk to him about his frustration and his fears of not understanding.

  • +1 for knowledge gaps; that's a good idea of something to look into
    – Valkyrie
    May 6, 2014 at 15:15
  • It's not math, but it really sounds exactly like what he does.
    – RandomNL
    May 8, 2014 at 16:41

This may sound odd, but have you tried helping him less? When I was a kid, I had a very similar reaction to piano lessons. I would have trouble learning something, I would get frustrated, and my parents would come over and try to help me. Somehow, though, feeling like I was too incompetent to do it myself just made me more frustrated, which made me resist their help. The worst was when my parents tried to encourage me by saying "it's not that hard". Well, if it's not hard and I can't do it, what does that make me? So I would insist the task was impossible.

What worked for me was walking away from the piano and doing something else for fifteen minutes to relax. Once I was calm, I could go back to work and would usually figure it out on the second try. The key for me was being left alone to work at my own pace, including taking breaks when I was frustrated.

Of course, just because it worked for me doesn't mean it will work for your son, but it might be worth a try. If you notice him getting frustrated, suggest taking a break (even if it's just switching subjects for a while). Tell him you'll help him with the problem if he wants help, but make sure you aren't hovering over him while he works if he doesn't want help. The feeling of being judged by an audience can add a lot of pressure.

  • The help offer is actually a response to him complaining about not understanding specific things in his homework, mainly because there is no point in doing his homework for him. However, it may have looked a bit too much "cop-like" in the last weeks, so I take note of this and will return some space to him.
    – RandomNL
    May 8, 2014 at 16:57
  • @RandomNL Oh, definitely, I wasn't trying to suggest you were doing his work. My parents also just made suggestions, e.g. try one hand at a time, try with a metronome, etc. And they were good suggestions! I just didn't want to hear it at the time.
    – user7185
    May 9, 2014 at 11:56

Gamify it! Work with your son to determine levels and rewards. Since he gets stuck on the more difficult problems, maybe you could tie them to "stuck it out and solved four problems for level one, six for level two,..." etc. Having him help you determine the levels and rewards will give him a lot more buy-in on the process and hopefully will give him something to help he push through the frustration.

For my daughter (younger than your son), she was struggling with some advanced math, and we came up with a reward structure where she gets a prize (she loves pens) when she advances a level. When she gets frustrated, the reward helps her push her way through.

  • We do apply a reward systems for other things like doing his chores, etc, and for studies we have done at the end of semester. I didn't think about applying it in a smaller scale. I'll look into it.
    – RandomNL
    May 8, 2014 at 16:55

From a college teachers perspective:

It might be a combination of the things mentioned here. I'll add some things that haven't been mentioned though.

I would try getting him a tutor if you can afford one. It might be that he has already decided that you can't help him. So it might be helpful for him to open up to someone else first. One thing that a tutor might have more experience with is providing positive feedback. It can be tough to constantly hear "you're wrong" or "no". A good tutor would probably avoid this and at the same time might be able to provide some feedback to you from your son's perspective.

I would also suggest speaking to the teacher. Perhaps they can speak to the students mastery of the material more accurately.

Lastly, if he is in the mindset that he knows everything or if he doesn't understand a particular question, have him explain what he does know. Sometimes all that's needed is a bit more of a relaxed dialogue.

  • I've tried to avoid negative assertions as much as possible, buy yeah, I'm not a teacher, so it can very well be the case that sometimes I do it without noticing. Teachers unfortunately have not been of much help. They have 30+ students to manage and even to report he was falling behind they really took their time. I'll look into the option of having a tutor, though.
    – RandomNL
    May 8, 2014 at 16:50

Kudos to you for helping him stay on track. While he may seem put off by it, it is probably actually good encouragement by itself with him knowing that you are there just in case.

There have already been some great suggestions in terms of rewards for advancement. I agree with that but I would also add make sure the reward meets the quality of the advancement. If he has been struggling with a concept for quite a while and then finally understands it in a major breakthrough, give him a major breakthrough reward. If it's just small achievements here and there, then make sure the reward fits those small achievements.

I would also like to add that I used to shutdown (still do sometimes) like this when I became extremely frustrated with learning material I didn't know or I found hard to understand. That shutdown phase when he doesn't understand something is sometimes a necessity. Allow him to take a step back from the work and maybe even join him. While pushing might help, too much may also turn him off to completing the assignment to completion.

  • That's a good remark I may have overlooked, I'll keep in mind those shutdown phases. In regards to the quality of the rewards, my main challenge will be to identify how much of a challenge is for him the specific homework that is troubling him.
    – RandomNL
    May 8, 2014 at 16:53

Here are some tips for when you're having homework trouble.

1.Create a Homework plan Keep a notebook where you record all your homework. Keep folders in your notebook where you can make different sections for different subjects. You can also use a electronic device such as mobile phone where you can keep all the records.

2. Get Help When You Need It Sometimes even though you're paying attention in class, studying for tests, and doing your homework, certain classes seem too hard. -You can ask some help from another student. -When doing the harder assignments, don't be afraid to ask parents or older siblings for help. -Other option for extra help is a tutor. Find some good homework help company or Tutor over Internet.

3. Start with the tough subject. Once you have the harder stuff out of the way, you will need less minutes to do the easy stuff. Put the hardest ones first, so that you can be relaxed at the end.

4. Create a list with all Homework that needs to be done. Move step by step. Don't try to bypass the steps. Remember, Slow And Steady Wins the Race.

5. Start doing Homework in school if possible. You can complete Homework during study halls and free classes. This will lighten the burden when you get home.

6. Make sure no-one interrupts you. Find yourself a quiet place and make sure the TV and/or radio is turned off. That way you won't be so easily distracted.

7. Homework on Weekends: Try to complete all your overdue homework on weekends.

8. Take short breaks Take a short breaks of 15-20 minutes in once you finish your Homework.

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