I have an 11 years old daughter who goes to a fairly "laid back" school - in particular they didn't use to have homework regularly. Occasionally she brought back some exercises that she did immediately after coming home - but this was maybe once every two months. However, recently she got a new teacher who insist on giving homework every week, for the weekend - and I have really hard time to make her do her homework. Apparently all of her classmates do the homework in the school in the afternoon, but she prefers to play instead.

She complains that it's unfair that her younger siblings don't have homework. I tried to motivate her positively ("If you do your homework, you get cookies"), but to no avail. I tried to motivate her negatively ("If you don't finish your homework, you can't watch TV.", "If you don't do your homework, don't get good grades, won't succeed in life."), but it just lead to "Right, I'm going to stab myself with a knife, because I don't want to live if I have to do homework. You don't love me anyway because you want me to do homework.". Although I think she's overdramatising (there was a kind of "psychological checkup" at school and the psychiatrist said she doesn't suffer from depression), there was suicide in the family, so her choice of words does scare me. Also sometimes she does her homework without me asking here - my problem is that when she doesn't do it, I can't motivate her.

The problem is unfortunately a little more generic: I also have problem motivating her to go outside, go to an excursion, walk the dog, check out a kids-specific exhibition at a museum, etc. Sometimes she gets into this state of mind ("I hate the world, especially you!") where I simply can't reach her and she's not willing to do anything.

I'm a little loss at here. My wife says it's "normal teen stuff", but due to her work schedule she's often not at home at the same time as the kids, so can't help me. I've googled and found a few ideas:

  • Set aside a specific time to do her homework. She'd just go to her own room and do nothing or read a book.
  • Let her do the homework while I'm doing some chores, so she sees she's not the only one who works. She'd just go to her own room and do nothing or read a book.

I don't remember from my childhood that I had this much trouble with homework - I used get over it quickly, so I could play. Do you have any better ideas?

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    A few questions: what is your most consistent parenting style (permissive, authoritative, authoritarian, uninvolved)? Do you give/ follow through on consequences consistently (why does she get to leave your presence and go to her room to avoid doing homework?) Does she have chores at home? Do you ever make comparisons between her and her siblings ("if x has to go, you do, too", etc.)? Who wanted to get the dog? (Honest question.) Finally, what does she enjoy doing most? Thanks. Commented Mar 7 at 21:18
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    Have you tried sitting down and doing it with her? "Here, let's do it together". This way she isn't left to find the motivation to do it herself, and you're on her side.
    – stan
    Commented Mar 10 at 14:49
  • Have you considered that the institution of forcing kids to do homework is rotten, that she is right to refuse this kind of coercion, and that you could help her pursue her own goals instead? Commented Mar 10 at 21:45
  • @DennisHackethal - I would guess you don't have kids. Is that guess correct? Commented Mar 16 at 0:00
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    @DennisHackethal - You presume. I don't need to know anything about you to "safely disregard your opinions"; one needs to simply disagree with them, and voila, it's done. I've asked because the tone of your comment(s) suggest you've never actually dealt with the issue(s) before. If you had, I think you might be more circumspect about such issues than you are. Commented Mar 17 at 3:57

2 Answers 2


First: please always take comments about self-harm or suicide seriously. They may not be serious now, but that doesn't mean they won't eventually be. Look into resources for parents to understand how to better handle conversations that end in a threat to self-harm, or ask your child's doctor for suggestions for further resources.

As for the homework: as your child matures, you cross from the space where you can "make" them do things (positive, negative, or any other sort of incentive) into the space where they have to decide to do things (including whether they respond to incentives). It sounds like that's happened for your child; it did for my oldest at around this age as well.

This means you need to treat these conversations like a negotiation. You also need to treat it like a negotiation with an adult, for the most part. Talk to them about why you think it's important for them to do their homework. Find out what they think, and more than just "I don't want to". She's mature enough to have at least some understanding of self improvement. Set boundaries for the discussion, just like you would with a car salesman.

Also consider the possibility that she's largely right. My younger son doesn't really do his homework because he really doesn't need to. He's 2+ grades ahead in math (mentally), but due to the structure of the school system is stuck in at-level classes. So yes, the homework really is pointless (from a learning math point of view). I'm okay with that (and don't mind if his grade takes a hit, in fifth grade). What I do want is for him to learn good habits, though; so we replace the useless homework with something not useless.

Aside from my concerns about self-harm above, testing over-dramatic responses to demands is not unusual also at this age/maturity level; my oldest certainly does the same. What's worked well for me there is simply not responding to that kind of response; the point of them is typically to escalate (remember, they're still in a position of relatively little power, so making emotional attacks is one of the few things they know that they can do). Keep yourself level, suggest a brief break until they're ready to converse again.

Finally, the other thing to remember is as they mature, they can and should be more personally responsible for the consequences of their actions. Letting them fail is not the worst choice, when they're still in a grade where that's not going to have a major impact on their future. I found over the last year or so that letting my 12 year old figure things out himself and manage things has mostly gone okay - he started caring a bit more about getting things done, he still mostly waits until the last minute but now he pays attention and does things at the last minute. There were some unfinished/un-turned-in assignments in between, but he figured it out. Make sure she has the tools to succeed, but letting her figure out how to get the self-motivation to do so might be the right approach here.


Agree with the other answer from Joe - with one caveat on the last paragraph. For my kid - they (still) do not care about the grades as long as they don't have to do the work. Also, note that working with your child may be a years long process. I am working on it with my kid (academically strong and in a magnet program) for more than 2 years, and things are still not good. But better than when they were 11.

  • Make sure they can actually do the work. Understand what the assignment is asking for, do they have any gaps that need to be addressed on the academic front. Get tutoring help if needed.

  • Build habits around school work.

    i. As soon they come from school, make a list of all missing work and work to be done with date. These may be scattered between grade reports, online assignments, class slides, random papers in the backpack etc. Make a note as to what the status of each is (done/turned in/ need followup with teacher/ don't know what it is/ ...). Even if I know that a missing work cannot be made up, they need to write it till the grade reports move on to the next period.

    This list is made even if there is nothing to do: just date and a "All Done!".

    ii. Based on the list, determine what can be done next. Do they have to start with work? Do they have time to play/ watch TV? Determine what works for you.

    iii. Insist on not having any missing work even if its late. Insist on them going to the teacher and turning in the late work. If the child is hesitant to talk to the teacher - role play with them.

    I demanded proof that the child went and talked with the teacher. If the teacher said that the student cannot make up the work, the kid will have to ask the teacher to email that decision to me. In another instance, I said I will take an appointment with the teacher and stand there while the child talked to the teacher.

    iv. In my case, it helped (some) that the grades mattered for something they wanted to do - high school admission to a competitive program. We still have missing homework, we still finish each grading period with a handful of missing class/home work, grades can be much better, but atleast they have made some attempts at followup.

    v. Lots of positive interactions. There are lots of periods when I am totally frustrated with them, so I try to spend some relaxed time with them every day.

  • If there isn't much of school work, I'd enroll them in some other class (Kumon or something online or you have to assign the work), just so that they develop the habits.

Note that this will take years (!) and is very demanding and frustrating to the parent. But I believe that it will help the kid in the long term.

Also, with respect to the other things, see that they will do stuff for which they have willingly signed up for (catch them in a good mood to convince them to sign up) or with friends.

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