Parents, you’ve got questions, we’ve got answers.

Or just as likely, we’ve got questions and you’ve got answers.

Challenge: Open Discussion

Homeschooling During COVID-19 is No Easy Ask; How Do You Know if Your Child Can’t, or Won’t, Do the Work?

Vote up!
Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Email this article

With many states declaring the end of the traditional school year, we are well into this “new normal” of online learning. Parents did not choose to homeschool. Many of us are working from home for the first time and some of us have lost jobs—and now with this heightened sense of anxiety, we are expected to teach our children?

You’ve prepared for this challenge by purchasing planning calendars, organizing the workspace, and successfully logging onto Zoom and installing a kid-friendly backdrop. Unfortunately, your child is not interested in this type of schooling. Your gut tells you that he is under pressure, in pain, and that no amount of cajoling is going to help—he seems to be struggling and can’t manage the different classes, worksheet packets and endless stream of tests and quizzes that are being thrown at him from every direction. “I don’t want to do it anymore. Can’t we just go back to school like normal?” Your heart breaks hearing these words, but that’s not in our immediate future.

Is There a Way Out of This Battle?
Talking, yelling, crying, and bribing aren’t working…now what? All kids lack motivation at some point, but this is different. This is school and grades and he has to move on to the next grade WITH his friends.

“Can’t” versus “Won’t”
You child’s behavior probably has you upset and annoyed, but even more frustrating is your lack of understanding as to why he is acting this way. Is he behaving willfully or can he honestly not do any better and needs help?

Your Child’s Intentions Are Good

It’s important to realize that a lack of executive function skills means some kids don’t have the ability to see the big picture, long term effects of online learning. There’s a lot going on in their head, and the last thing they may want to do is focus, alone, for hours at a computer. This is something many of them have never done before.

When feeling bored, overwhelmed, hungry, tired, or facing a self-regulating challenge, your child can unintentionally forget school assignments or rush through tests and quizzes. Their intentions are good, but they don’t really know how to tune in and manage this type of work on their own. Bad grades and overwhelm can snowball pretty quickly as many have up to seven classes with seven different teachers.

Getting to a Better Place
Recognizing that there is more to his lack of motivation than willful disobedience, bad manners or laziness doesn’t mean you should let things slide. Instead, understand that this ongoing challenge needs to be addressed now.

Below the surface of your child’s behavior are the forces that drive it. Brain-based executive functions are the hub of the brain that controls self-regulation, understanding big picture consequences, controlling emotions rather than allowing them to control you, paying attention, and self-awareness—to name a few.

If your child has weak executive functions, he may be struggling and unable to organize his work. As you coach your child, you will better recognize the extent of the situation, how it impacts her experience and how to work together collaboratively to develop the skills needed to foster change and growth.

Listen to, but don’t confront your child when he is angry, lonely or frustrated. You’ll learn in the coaching process that these calming conversations—the foundation for transformation—will be the beginning of thoughtful reflection, goal-setting, and skill-building.

Trade “Tell-Tell-Tell” For “Listen And Learn”
“How many times have I told you…?” Sound familiar? Shift from the “tell-tell-tell” mindset to the more effective “listen and learn,” by trading phrases:

  • Replace “try harder,” with “What’s getting in your way?” “What would you like to do differently?” “What are you expected to do as a student?”
  • Replace “Get your work done on time,” with “How many assignments do you have today?” “What can you do to organize them and get them turned in on time?”
  • Replace “Stop being difficult,” with “What’s going on for you right now?”
  • Replace “Your attitude is so negative,” with “What are you telling yourself?” “I hear you being negative, what’s going on?”
  • Replace “Get control of yourself,” with “You’re the boss of your behavior—how can you take charge of (your body, words) right now?”

Focus On What Your Child CAN Do

Shift your attention from weaknesses to strengths, interests and brain-based processing style. The open-ended questions technique is well suited for those who wish to help their children become more engaged and even independent in their schoolwork. Becoming a homeschool parent wasn’t your plan, nor was it your child’s plan to be isolated while doing schoolwork.

For many kids with executive function weaknesses, organization and the ability to start and finish tasks do not come easily. Rather than staying lost in the can’t versus won’t cycle, work together to improve the situation. Take small steps, celebrate wins - even small ones - and you’ll be amazed at what can get accomplished.

My book Why Will Nobody Play with Me? is a step-by-step guide to teach parents how to coach their child to develop social skills (new executive function skills).
For more information about supporting your child, visit my website at Or order your copy of Why Will No One Play With Me?

* photo credit - Julia M Cameron:

This post comes from the TODAY Parenting Team community, where all members are welcome to post and discuss parenting solutions. Learn more and join us! Because we're all in this together.