Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. "Honor your father and mother" (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land." Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Ephesians 6:1-4
The last issue to consider regarding schoolwork, at least for this series of posts, is what to do when schoolwork does not happen. Let me sound a strong word of caution: this is a complex topic. Parents, you must sort out what are matters that pertain to the struggles with sin and growth that your child has and what are the matters that are related to his schoolwork. I understand that the two areas intersect. Yet there are distinct aspects to each. For example, if your child looks at you defiantly and says no, I am not going to do my work, that is not an issue of schoolwork but of clear disobedience to your parental authority. The solution to this response is clear. You cannot allow outright defiance in your home. (As an aside, if you are struggling with this kind of response with your teenagers, checkout Rick Horne’s new book, Get Outta My Face.) This is not the sort of response I will address in this post.
However, 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 of which you are not immediately aware. This is true even for homeschoolers. This post will focus on some of the problems that specifically relate to doing schoolwork. The principle to weigh carefully here is Ephesians 6:4 – do not provoke your children to anger.
Any time your child interacts with an outside source of direction or information, wisdom, discernment and patience are required to understand your child’s reaction to that source. Your child may be reading a short story about which he must write a paragraph. Your child may be faced with a word problem in her math book that she has never seen before. There may be some artwork accompanying an assignment that is new or strange to your son that causes unexpected reactions. A child in a school setting could be impacted by any number of variables that affect the way he works. Your child may not have understood his teacher, or perhaps he was distracted by problems with other kids in the classroom. So if your child is slow or troubled by a schoolwork assignment, don’t automatically assume he is being lazy or irresponsible. Passages like Ephesians 4:29 and Proverbs 18:13 must be carefully considered.
It is important to take the time to understand why the assignment is not going well. (The problem envisioned here is one of a deeper nature than the example in the last post.) Discipline appropriate to schoolwork struggles, discipline that benefits your child and honors God, is an art form all on its own. Simply giving terse directives may get the immediate assignment done, but that approach could also result in the beginning of a relational hindrance between you and your child. Such a hindrance could seriously undermine your ability to influence and help your child on other occasions when he really needs parental direction and concern. It is not uncommon for parents to genuinely desire a closer relationship with their children, but then find that their children have come to believe that their parents don’t really care. The opportunity has been lost.
Here is an example of what I mean. Your 5th grader is reading a short story about which he is then supposed to write a paragraph. There is an element to the story that disturbs him, but it is not obvious to you that he is troubled. His mind begins to focus on the troubling element. He may connect it with something in his life that is also troubling 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 with pleasant words again to regain his focus. You ask him what the problem is. He says “Nothing, really.” You encourage him to stay with it. 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 to someone about the disturbing thoughts he is having about the story. You warn him he must be more diligent about his schoolwork or you will take away his privileges with the computer for a week. He just bows his head and walks away.
This example is meant to be illustrative of a myriad of situations in which schoolwork issues are not what they may appear to be on the surface. In giving instruction you want to follow the principle of using pleasant words. You also want 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 trouble them but are hard to talk about.
Not all schoolwork issues are this complex, but you want to be prepared for the ones that are. Discipline that is directed at helping motivation must be applied with great care. It is important to be clear with your children about what you expect of them regarding schoolwork. It is not wise to assume anything. Develop clear easy-to-follow procedures about when and where schoolwork is to be done. Then, don’t just assume they will do it. Follow up.
By teaching about biblical motivation in doing things for the glory of God, using pleasant words, looking for troubling complicating issues, and providing clear steps to follow about when and where to do schoolwork, you will have addressed many of the reasons why there are troubles with schoolwork . On the other end of the issue are the acts of defiance and disobedience that are not really schoolwork problems, but problems of character and faithfulness. These should be dealt with the same way you would address any other act of defiance.
This, then, leaves us with a narrower, more specific focus. These are the issues directly tied to not getting the work accomplished. This is where you want to encourage your children to faithfulness and diligence. These are not natural traits, but must be pursued as fruit of the Spirit. The focus goes back to Colossians 3:21-23. You want to teach your children to do their work for God. Because you have already dealt with problems caused by the way you promote and present the schoolwork, and, likewise, because you have dealt with the heart issues of defiance and disobedience, you focus narrowly on matters tied directly to the schoolwork.
What are these matters? Assuming a child has the capacity to do the work, homework issues generally fall into one or more of three categories: speed, neatness, and accuracy. Thus, If a child's work is sloppy or full of mistakes, then you must point out that this work is not what God desires from him. The consequences should fit the offense. One response is to have the child redo the work until it is done as well as your child’s abilities will allow. Discipline is built into this process. If homework is done as well as it can be the first time, then children will avoid having to redo the work.
Consequences for not doing schoolwork well should impact other areas of life as well. If schoolwork is done slowly or poorly, other activities will be delayed or canceled (assuming of course that you are working with them about working more quickly). But the focus should always be on learning to work well, not simply on negative consequences. Encouragement and positive consequences should outweigh the threat of negative consequences. Instead of scolding and exasperation, offer your child encouragement and support. Break the work down into achievable steps, and be available to help as needed. Be a cheerleader! Your loving, firm, and compassionate involvement at this step has potential to open a rich relational component in your relationship that will serve you, your child, and Christ. This is the way to live out Proverbs 6:20-24 with your children.
Let me know your thoughts. I am open to doing additional posts of this subject if it will be helpful.