This turned out way longer than I intended, please try to bulldoze thru it.

My oldest daughter is 11. She's the middle of 5 (21 19 11 9 7). Her older bros are in 'college' (they're taking classes). They pretty much blazed the middle-school trail for their siblings so the wiff and I have had plenty of warning with the general issues that we will face again. Yes kids are different, I know this... but they've all grown up in the same middle class neighborhood so their general issues are very similar

The problem with school work is that she's simply not doing it. I was an 11 yo latchkey kid that never did his homework, but I also didn't have much if any guidance or direction. There's nothing stopping her from coming home, getting a drink, sitting in the kitchen, and doing the hw before her siblings get home. This isn't earthshattering and therefore, I expect that she can do that. She doesn't. We're midway thru the 2nd quarter of 6th grade (1st yr of middle school) and can't seem to crack the nut into making a routine. She's failing 3 of 4 core classes (science, math, communcation arts/english, but not social studies) because she doesn't do the work. She's seriously about to fail and repeat 6th grade simply because she will not do it.

She's very much like I was and her 2 older brothers. The difference is that I managed to deal with it without parental or school aid, and her brothers eventually got it. Both of them, Jr/Sr yr, were finally able to do what they needed to do without me crawling up their back about it.

Anyway, in class, she does other things besides "using her time wisely"; ranging from sitting there staring at the ceiling to old-school reading a book you want to read while it's framed in the book that you're supposed to read. She's supposed to fill out a daily agenda with the assignment for that class (all kids get the agenda booklet) have it signed by the teacher (just my kid and then i deal with it at home) and then come home and do the work, and me or mom will look it over. This is not a complex process, but she's supposed to do it 5 days in a row to get pc/ds privileges back. The most she's managed to do is 2 days.

Now . . . I know that she's distractable. She always stops in the middle of whatever and I have to make her focus. "Aaaahhhh, there it is... add/adhd". Not so fast there, bub...

I've not seen real effort put into doing it. Without going into the gory details and examples, she can get started (2 days above) and she clearly exhibits the ability to focus (not hyperfocus) for varied times and levels of concentration. But they're all things that she really likes to do... reading, drawing, pokemon, building lego farms with her younger siblings. I don't count, but to some extent probably should count, minecraft and certain pc/vid games that require serial attention on goal oriented gameplay.

It's hard to quantify in this space all the things I've tried and the conversations I've had with her. Her teachers generally care, but they're middle school teachers with 200 kids, or whatever, to deal with. One teacher seems to be going thru the motions but the others are interactive with her and parents. I've burned completely thru a variety of motivational systems, positive, negative, bonus, none of them stick. From "bring a signed agenda home, I'll put a bead in your vase" (full vase gets you something cool) down to "bring it, or else" and all the "or elses" have come to pass. And I know from experience with her older brothers that they eventually turn into the rat in the electrified cage: After 2 weeks without pc/ds, it no longer matters.

Yes I follow up on the negative stuff. 11 is too old to spank in our house (besides, she's like 5'8" 150#), but she quite literally has zero privs right now. Come home, sit at the table, the end. And I still have to tell her to do the work and she doesn't do it because I'm busy being a parent and can't stand over her like a totalitarian despot.

As said, it's not my first rodeo. My older boys had previously set the mark on "horrible getting hw done" and we dealt with it, dare I say, effectively. I managed to deal with it without parental or school aid, and her brothers eventually got it. However it took them several years, all the way up into hs, before I had to really start hacking into life-affecting privs. Both of them, Jr/Sr yr, were finally able to do what they needed to do without me crawling up their back.

So the fact that I've blasted thru a 6 year plan in 2.5 mos has left me with no idea what to do. I've considered homeschool (my schedule would allow it), her younger siblings are in the gifted program at school and she missed it by a couple points in math (she convinced herself that she hates math yet can do it easily). They all tested high in younger grades and are following the same path of dumbing down to the curriculum that's taught. Homeschooling, tho, presents a number of challenges for especially me.

So, after all that, the questions are:

  • What else I can do motivationally? I've explained how much it woudl suck for her to repeat, and she gets it: the next 6 years of school will affect the next 60 years of her life.
  • Any specific recommendations for some kind of professional? I'm not beyond counselling but I've no idea where to begin. I'm not beyond accepting diagnosis, but I'm not convinced that 1) she's diagnosable and I'm not throwing meds at it 2) she's got a problem beyond motivation. We know add and adhd kids and personality wise she's nothing like any of them.
  • Any thoughts on the homeschooling solution? What about part time homeschooling?
  • A lot of what you describe could fall into the ADD diagnosis. Have you talked to her teachers about that? They'd be able to shed some light on that possibility. I grew up with it undiagnosed. I can tell you no amount of 'parental motivation' really helped.
    – DA01
    Commented Dec 2, 2012 at 7:37

1 Answer 1


Wow! does that sound familiar! As a former Middle school teacher I can tell you I had a least a couple of these kids every year.

A specialist

I know you don't want to throw meds at it - so please know I'm not including this information for that purpose. ADD and ADHD shows up a little differently in girls and what you describe actually describes what I experienced with ADD/ADHD girls in particular. You might consider a specialist in the area of behavioral disability. There are also other, lesser known challenges that can exist that create some of these symptoms (although, from my experience she doesn't sound like a match - I am no doctor though) Whatever the case, a behavioral specialist would be the one to handle these types of issues.

I don't think meds are the only way to go and a good behavioral specialist can also help by offering supportive techniques that might help your daughter out if that is a part of the problem. I'm just saying it is worth considering because the way the ADHD brain works is a little different and movement often helps them think through academics a little better.

If she does have ADD, there are probably some cognitive components about getting organized and getting started that are honestly hard for her and there are steps you can take with her to help her learn ways to work around and through these challenges if you know a little more about her specific ADD type and how the symptoms express themselves in her. For example, the writing process might actually be in the wrong order for her brain to operate at its best capacity the way it is traditionally taught.

It can also help to know if she is a visual/spatial learner which can impact teaching style as well. If she has any sort of learning or behavioral difference her brain may not work in a way conducive to effectively learning within the context of how the thinking process works. If this is the case, the problem may not be about motivation, but ability and with a few tweaks in HOW she goes about getting her work done, motivation may come more naturally. It'll feel good to do it rather than feeling like an uphill battle she will most certainly lose - but you can't use alternative means of learning if you don't truly know what she needs. A full work-up can determine these things for you.


  1. Motivationally, some kids need to feel they are the ones in control - often to their own detriment of course. You might try asking her about a solution. Maybe she actually has some decent ideas and she probably isn't real happy with the situation at home either right now (On purpose I know, that was the point wasn't it?). For kids that want to be in control, letting them take ownership of figuring out the solution can be a huge motivating factor. It won't hurt to ask right? If she gives some flip answer like, "just stop worrying about it." Just give her a flip answer back, "It is my job to worry about it - if you have any ideas for a real solution I'm willing to listen." Then give her some time to think about it (As a teacher, I saw this technique work really well with most parents that tried it. You really do have to be ready to listen and respectfully brainstorm with her though).
  2. If you are willing to go as far as this next one, you really have to mean it, but It is amazing, as soon as you step back a little and say, "okay. My boundary is that a kid who isn't doing her job by getting her school work done is a kid that doesn't get extras" - relate this to jobs in the future. An employee that doesn't get his/her work done eventually gets fired and can't afford basics let alone extras - "Other than that, this is your job to fix" can seem almost like a dare that totally gets them going. Be careful on this one, because if she isn't likely to take the dare and figure it out, it will backfire.
  3. You can also try offering her back one privilege - you might insist that this one be one that will have her be active but let her have some say in which activity she gets to do. Consider it an olive branch between you and probationary. She can have this activity back this semester and you will give her this if she will work with you to come up with a solution together. She gets to keep the privilege if she has shown improvement at the end of the quarter. She gets to add a second privilege back when her efforts at improvement start showing results in improved grades. The reason for the "active component" is that exercise often helps with concentration and learning so you'll be "multi-tasking" by allowing it (The parents and students I worked with in this way often had a good margin of success combined with motivational idea number one and extra supports for those who needed it, it almost always worked).
  4. This last idea is related to her brothers. If she is particularly close to either of them, they could have the potential to be of great help here. First, if the second of them is close and just left this year, it may explain some sort of distraction she is struggling with. However where I'm really going here is that perhaps now that they've gotten themselves straightened out and have experienced a little of the college life, maybe one of them could have some positive influence about how much nicer things are when the work gets done. Talk to her about things they have tried to help self-motivate, organize and stay focused that have worked for themselves (as well as ones that didn't).


Your questions about homeschooling depend largely on your location. If you are in the states, virtual schools can provide you with all the necessary information, curricula and support as the parent or "learning coach" as well as online classes by people who are specialized in particular subjects (instead of it being only you in charge). In particular, K12 (www.k12.com) is nationwide (almost) and in many states is set up as a "charter school" meaning that officially your daughter is enrolled in a public school program making the whole thing free. The school is also large enough, that in many areas it holds "community day" classes where your daughter will attend a class at a location with peers usually about once/week. There are also similar programs of very high quality scattered about the country, but as they are more localized I can't say a lot about many of those. This way of doing things has its drawbacks too - but what system doesn't really? You can check out more regarding my experience, research and thoughts with Homeschooling on What should I consider when deciding whether or not to homeschool my Child? if you haven't already.

If she is truly just horribly bored with her work, home school, may provide some help, but there is often a pretty rough transition as she will still need to get her work done and now it is just you and she (and the other parent?). If the work she gets feels more challenging and she likes it more it could be a really good move for you, but the switch-over may take a while of increased resistance before you really see improvement. If you do go this route, I suggest checking out, "schoolathomeeffectively.com" The family includes one child that was not homeschooled, one that was switched (because of similar problems to the one you are having) the mother learning-coach and the father is a school principle) They have a lot of great stuff about motivation and discipline in the home regarding school work and their on-line workshops are wonderful.

  • 1
    +1 for considering the ADD issue. Even if it ends up not being that, you have at least ruled it out.
    – DA01
    Commented Dec 2, 2012 at 7:38
  • 1
    As a parent of three diagnosed ADHD kids, I've found just having a label for it doesn't really help you all that much. Fundamentally you have to be able to complete homework assignments to get anywhere in College, and no amount of "accommodation" is going to get your kid around that fact. If they can't learn to do homework, even on meds, they are going to have to find themselves another path.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jan 30, 2018 at 19:14

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