Troubles with schoolwork – looking beyond the obvious

Posted on January 9, 2014 · Posted in Parenting, Wisdom

Schoolwork assignments add another set of variables that goes beyond the immediate scope of the parent-child relationship. If you tell your child to take out the garbage, or take a few minutes to read to his little brother, the interaction is primarily between you and your son. However, if the task is to complete a schoolwork assignment, there may be important factors influencing your child that are not immediately obvious. This is true even for homeschoolers. 


Any time your child interacts with an outside source of direction or information, parents must be alert. Wisdom, discernment, and patience are required to understand your child’s reaction to that outside source. It is in these moments when you prepare your children to deal with the world outside of your home, for the time when they will leave home.


If your child is slow or troubled by a schoolwork assignment, don’t automatically assume he is being lazy or irresponsible. It is important to take the time to understand why the assignment is not going well.  Discipline appropriate to schoolwork struggles, discipline that benefits your child and honors God, is an art form. 


Underlying problems with schoolwork that are not resolved can lead to broken and bitter teenage years. Simply giving terse directives may get the immediate assignment done, but that approach could also result in the beginning of a relational barrier between you and your child. It is not uncommon for children to believe that their parents don’t really care for them because of misunderstood interactions regarding schoolwork. 


Here is an example. Your 5th grader is reading a short story about which he is to write a paragraph. There is an element to the story that disturbs him, but this is not immediately obvious to you. His mind begins to focus on the troubling element. He may connect it with something in his life that is disturbing to him—but he is embarrassed to tell you. So when you notice he is working slowly, or perhaps drifting, you encourage him to get back to work and focus on his task. He says okay, but still can’t focus. You direct him again to regain his focus. You ask him what the problem is. He says, “Nothing, really.” 


Eventually he finishes, but he is late finishing, you are frustrated, and he is reserved. You are thinking why can’t he just do his work and he is wishing he could talk about the disturbing thoughts he is having. Even though the assignment is finished an important opportunity has been lost for both parent and child. 


It is important to spend enough time to know when your child’s subtle mood changes might indicate internal problems that need to be addressed. The principles of listening well and knowing your child are important if you are going to be a wise shepherd and build a strong relationship with him. You want him (or her) to talk freely with you about the things that are troubling. This takes time to establish. As I said, this sort of interactive discipline is an art.  


The problem may be that your child needs to be more diligent. But, there may be other important issues just beneath the surface.


It is vital to realize that the most important issue in schoolwork is one of relationship. Don’t isolate school from the rest of life. Yes, you want your child to do well in school. But along the way don’t lose sight of the importance of your relationship with your child and with his relationship with God.


Jay Younts
Jay Younts is the Shepherd Press blogger. He is the author of Everyday Talk and other materials on parenting. He has been teaching and speaking on parenting issues for 30 years. Jay and his wife, Ruth, live in Fountain Inn, South Carolina. He serves as a ruling elder at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Moore, South Carolina. He and Ruth have five adult children.