Got Homework Hassles?


Lana* was going crazy trying to get her daughter Olivia* to stick with a homework routine. She couldn’t understand why it was so hard to just get it done! She tried sitting down with her right after school, but hours later, after cajoling, bribing, reminding, she would only be half way though. So Lana let Olivia go outside, ride her bike, have a snack, then set her up at the kitchen table while preparing dinner. No luck. Arguments, delays, and stalling still happened. So she let it go until after dinner. No TV, no ipad, until homework was done. Sometimes it worked and she did it, sometimes she would fall asleep, but often she ended up doing it on the bench during recess the next day or staying up too late at night. Lana couldn’t understand why it was such an ordeal! Olivia’s brother just came home and got it done without any hassle or drama.   

Olivia is a rebel when it comes to meeting expectations. The thought of having a scheduled time every day to do ANYTHING made her not want to do it. She doesn’t mind doing her homework when it’s her idea and she’s in the mood. She could be getting her books out and sitting down at the table, but as soon as Mom says, “Oh good, I was hoping you would get your homework done now.” It made Olivia the Rebel think “I was going to do my homework, but now that you want me to, I can’t.”

Noah* was a hard working kid who liked to follow the rules at school. He had every possible sticker on his chart and was appreciated by every teacher he ever had. He was diligent with his homework, always doing his best to fulfill every expectation. Sometimes, this was hard for his Mom to watch. He could spend two hours on an assignment that should take 20 minutes, trying hard to get it right. Mom would plead with him, “Tell the teacher you don’t understand it.” or “She doesn’t want you doing this much homework, it’s time to stop, even if you aren’t done!” or “I’m writing her an email right now telling her you are only doing half the problems, it’s past your bedtime.” No matter how logical her arguments were, Noah wouldn’t hear them. He had one mission, to complete the assignment as directed and it was exhausting for his Mom to watch.

Noah is an Upholder. When expectations are on the table, he rises to them. Whether they are his own expectations “I want the most stickers on my chart” or someone else’s “You are to complete all 20 problems”, he will meet that expectation no matter what. These kids are great at creating habits but when you want them to deviate, they can seem rigid and stubborn. Logic and reasonable arguments do not persuade Upholders to deviate from their routine.better than before

I am obsessed with Gretchen Rubin’s, book Better Than Before, where she outlined these four different tendencies when it comes to fulfilling expectations. This should have been required reading before marrying a rebel!  When you have the same tendency as your family members, life is easy.

I am a Questioner, so raising a Questioner son was simple for me. Questioners don’t follow external expectations unless they also align with their internal expectations. When my son asked me “Why do I have to go to school?” I had well thought out, logical reasons that made sense to him. Questioners make all external expectations, internal, or else they won’t do them. Just because a doctor tells you to take a vitamin, isn’t reason enough for a Questioner (like it is for an upholder). Questioners need to do their own research and come to their own conclusions before deciding the doctor is right. The most frustrating thing for a Questioner child is the old parenting phrase “Because I said so”. For Upholder parents (like Olivia’s Mom, Lana) it is reason enough. If you want your child to get good grades or go to church every Sunday, find reasons that tie to their sense of logic or morality and chances are greater they will adopt your expectation as their own.

The fourth tendency is an Obliger. Obligers are great at meeting external expectations but struggle to meet internal expectations. If you are an Obliger, you might never miss a work deadline, always give your best effort on PTA projects, and never forget a carpool, but trying to exercise regularly or floss your teeth can prove a huge challenge. For kids, this shows up as people pleasing. Obliger kids are usually easy to raise, are great with homework, but problems arise as they enter adolescence. Ella agrees to spend the night at her friends house even though she doesn’t want to and cries while packing a bag. Nathan ignores his best judgement when playing truth or dare, doing something stupid just to please his friends.

Getting to know how we react to expectations, internal and external, can help us accept ourselves for who we are with appreciation and compassion. Understanding the tendency of our children, helps us argue less, enjoy parenting more, and create positive habits. To learn more about ways to work with your natural tendency, check out Gretchen Rubin’s book Better Than Before, listen to her podcast, Happier, or take her quiz by clicking here. 

*names have been changed

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