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Parents #AskAlyson: Homework Struggles

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Dear Alyson,

I’m having a lot of trouble with my son when it comes to doing his schoolwork and homework.  He just turned 7 and his teacher is also expressing concerns. He is a bright kid but has difficulty with writing.  He’s doing well in all other subjects but has difficulty when it comes to written expression (e.g. he knows all the material for his math test but won’t do well because he doesn’t write it down on the test).
Our problem is that he often chooses not to do his work, especially written work.  In school, his teacher has to continually prompt him. We find the same at home – he sits at the table and doodles or plays.  He often screams when we tell him it’s time for homework or journal and has a tantrum.  His teacher is now sending home any work that is not completed in class so that he learns he has to finish it.  However, we have to spend a lot of time with him to complete work we know isn’t difficult for him.  When he wants to, he can write neatly.
I recently read your book “Honey I wrecked the kids” and this seems like a power struggle to me, but I don’t know what to do.  I think that he is capable of much more than he is demonstrating.  Homework is a big stress in our family.  Please help!


Dear Farrah,

Nobody knows boys and their unique issues learning to read and write better than my Adlerian colleague and former school teacher, Barry MacDonald.   You should check out his books, blogs and workshops at

I have 3 specific pieces of information to share with you:

  1. Your child is struggling and you should discuss with the school how they plan to rule out any underlying issues such as dyslexia etc.
  2. When a child is faltering at developing a skill that everyone else around them is competent at, it’s psychically uncomfortable to showcase it. If you are bad at writing, of course you don’t want to work on it! You want to avoid it, hide your inadequacies from others. Imagine that every time your son picks up his pencil to write, the gremlins in his head start shouting “you’re stupid, you’ll never write nicely”. It’s hard to stay motivated with that noise going on.
  3. This is what a discouraged learner looks like. Our job, as parents and teachers is to help your child feel encouraged and hopeful again. We have to quiet that gremlin and allow him to feel he can improve. Here is how:


Encouraging a poor writer

Explain the benefits of good hand writing is so that you (and others) can enjoy his words.   If he writes a poem or a card but it’s illegible, the communication is lost. You want to be able to read his notes, cards and poems. Share with me – Share with me!

Focus on improvement over perfection. Hopelessness comes from having a goal just too lofty to think you can reach it. We are not looking for a calligraphy, but perhaps notice how his loops are closing more now that he has been working on it! His efforts and leading to a change! That’s motivating!

Discuss what conditions are best for doing the work. Some children are so afraid of being judged that they now have children read out loud to dogs to help improve their reading skills. Dogs are non-judgmental and will listen all day! What would be the equivalent for writing? Maybe they would prefer to do their homework in solitude in the library? Maybe they would prefer to work with a grade 6 student buddy instead of a teacher? Perhaps tutoring at a centre where mom and dad just drop them off – instead of watching and commenting over his shoulder would help?

Ensure your child that you believe in them and that you know that when they want it badly enough they will find the time and energy to tackle this challenge – and you trust them to manage.   Let them know you are available should they need you, but let them take ownership of this situation. If you get too controlling you will incite a power struggle that is harder to undo.

Happy Parenting!

About Alyson

Alyson has been blogging parenting advice for over 15 years. She has been a panelist at BlogWest, Blissdom, #140NYC and more. Her content appears on sites across Canada and the US, but you can read all her own blog posts right here.

More about Alyson

One Response to “Parents #AskAlyson: Homework Struggles”

  1. Amy McCready

    Alyson – you advice is always SPOT ON! This is such a common issue for parents and you nailed it, as usual. Thanks for all you do! Amy McCready – Positive Parenting Solutions


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