HELP FOR PARENTS OF CHILDREN WHO RESIST HOMEWORK
By Dorothea McArthur, Ph.D.
Sometimes I do psychotherapy with children who can do homework but they don't. Instead they delay the task endlessly, often running out of time to complete the tasks. Jerome Bruns wrote a book in 1992 (Penguin Books) entitled They Can But They Don't, in which he explores the kind of kids and parents that tend to become involved with this problem. These are usually not defiant or rebellious kids.
Bruns did some research and discovered that such children have parents who care about them very much, love them a lot and spend time with them. The children he studied with this problem tended to have above average to superior thinking skills. However, a significant percentage of children who don't do homework had been adopted or had personalities that lend themselves to attachment problems. They tended to have difficulty with separation from family, entering school without the confidence needed to perform academically. Some of the parents had become over-involved in handling the problem or protecting the child from learning through mistakes. Other children had parents who over-empower them, allowing them to have more than they should and too often to be in charge of outcome. Such parents can be talked out of setting firm limits.
Brun sees the child's problem as a long-term low self-esteem and sensitivity to criticism problem that gradually improves over time, especially with the right kind of parental interaction. These children would prefer to do no work at all rather than allow parents and teachers to see that they are making mistakes and having difficulty. It is very easy for concerned parents to respond to this frustrating procrastination by becoming worried, over-involved, and critical in a detrimental way.
If you have a child or teen who procrastinates endlessly with homework and chores, I would recommend that you get a copy of Bruns' book. In the meantime I can provide a summary of some of the suggestions he makes to ease the problem.
Parents can find some new direction in this book with the details provided to be successful. I recommend that you do not regard this article as a sufficient substitute for reading the whole book.
Dr. McArthur is a psychotherapist in practice in Los Angeles. She is the President of the Independent Psychotherapy Network.
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