My 11-year-old son is a bright kid (he's had IQ and other testing that indicates this), but when it comes to getting him to sit down and apply himself to learn something, he puts up a complete block. He has a particular problem with writing from his head. If he's given a report to write, he will just find something passable on the internet or in a book and copy it verbatim to his paper (whether it makes sense or not, which it often doesn't). He refuses to put anything in his own words. He's been tested for ADHD and dyslexia and has neither, but he does have some issues with comprehension. He argues and procrastinates and puts off doing his homework (especially writing homework). We've bribed him, threatened him, and punished him by taking things away, but we're at our wits end. We've talked to his teacher and school principal and tried everything they've suggested. We even have him going to a reading tutor. But he is willful and argumentative. What can we do??????
From: Annie C. Spokane, WA
Hi Annie C --
Consider this: That he might be afraid of failing, that is, that he's afraid he will not meet his own expectations, or yours.
And this: That he has a problem with executive functions, that is, that he can't figure out how to organize his thoughts or where to even start?
And this: That this has more to do with parent-child dynamics than an organic/cognitive problem. Nagging, bribing, threatening, punishing? No wonder he's willful and argumentative? How else can he exert his autonomy?
My advice is to back off, especially since you've tried everything else and since he's tested negatively.
It's time for him to be in charge of his homework himself. Suggest that you draw up a homework contract: Psychotherapist Dawna Markova describes such a contract as a promise by parents to back off and stop nagging, bribing, and generally breathing down a child's shoulder. In return, the child promises to do the work to the best of his ability and to agree to: a) ask for help when he wants it; you promise to help only with what he has asked; b) a weekly check-in, at an agreed to time, where he shows you work he has been doing for that week, including work that has come back from the teacher; c) revisit the issue if the work he's doing is not meeting the standards the two of you agree to ahead of time.
This kind of homework contract enables him to take responsibility for himself and to experience natural, appropriate consequences when he doesn't. (Part of this conversation could include such questions as, "What kind of grades do you hope to get? What kind of comments do you hope to see from your teachers?")
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