Mom-to-Mom Support/My 8-year-old daughter flat out refuses to do any school work

My 8-year-old daughter flat out refuses to do any school work

Little girl whines about schoolwork


I have been homeschooling for three years now and my oldest of 8 years flat out refuses to do any school work, she takes all day to do her work. We are currently using [structured, pre-packaged program] right now but we are going to be switching to CHC this coming year. I have shown her multiple times how to do division but she just gets up from the table and starts playing with her brother and sisters. I ask her “why aren’t you doing your work?” only to get an “I don’t know” answer. It is so frustrating at times I just want to quit homeschooling. She has no respect for me whatsoever. I’ve tried to set schedules and discipline her but nothing is working. Please help… she knows how to do the work she just chooses not to. Should I quit?

Dear Mom,

I really enjoyed reading your letter. Though you presented a definite parenting challenge, I could sense that you are trying very hard to handle this challenge with a nature of sweetness and motherly love in the spirit of a good and holy witness. Children can and do oftentimes bring us to our knees with the challenges they present, but the challenge isn’t the issue because how we handle the challenge is the issue at the heart of parenting. Remember that children are always “in the making.” I am always in the making because I consider myself a child of God. I am uplifted and encouraged with the truth of the Lord’s great patience for me and His overwhelming love which moves Him to mercy.

An 8-year-old is a relatively young learner. This is not to say that she is not capable of sitting for a short amount of time doing schoolwork. However the nature of an 8-year-old child is that they are usually very active, and their style of learning requires that they have time to move about and to engage in hands-on activities. Think for a moment about the time she spends with her siblings when she leaves her schoolwork to play. Remember that play is the work of children. Look at what she is learning through the time she spends playing. Children are learning machines. Every experience is an opportunity for them to learn. They go about their play with the passion of a student who is in graduate school and consumed with academic study.

With all that said, there is of course the very real challenge of discipline. Discipline is an ongoing skill. I am 54 years old and I must work every day to maintain the discipline that is necessary for a healthy lifestyle with regard to diet and exercise. Imagine the young child who sees the world as a fascinating and marvelous place to be. There is just no time in their life for stoic discipline that serves no purpose. They sometimes see “our” discipline demands as being contradictory to their need to discover the world and to be about the work of play. Sitting still, standing in line, trying foods they think they will dislike, being quiet, not wiggling etc. are very difficult disciplines for a young child. Yet they are necessary at times and our children must come to appreciate the worth of such disciplines.

For example, my granddaughter, Catherine, loves to kneel up in her chair while eating. She is wonderfully active and talks, wiggles and eats all at the same time. Recently at her uncle’s wedding during the formal sit down dinner, she was at her best with wiggling, talking, and celebrating. She fell out of her chair. Though she wasn’t hurt physically at all, her pride was a bit bruised. She said to me after her daddy rescued her from the floor and placed her back in her chair, “Nanaw, I see now how ‘imporment’ it is to sit still when you eat at a wedding.” Hee, hee. All the lectures could not have affected better discipline than that little episode. I trust Catherine will find it easier to discipline her will at the table. Hee, hee.

100% of the work of parenting is helping our children learn the worth of self-discipline. I like to use rewards for good behavior. It just makes sense to me. Children love their parents and want to please them. They work very hard to reconcile their own lack of self-discipline with their need to receive praise and acceptance from the persons in their life that they love. This is a hard struggle for any person. Think of a teenager who must tell his friends “no” when asked to join an unacceptable activity. The teenager struggles with issues not unlike your 8-year-old daughter.

First, look at the work you are asking of your daughter. Is it a realistic amount of seatwork? Maybe the amount is realistic for some but not for your daughter. Head in the direction of building up to 30-40 minutes of sit-still work. Start small with doable goals. Reward her as she merits. Praise her and let her know that you know how difficult it is to go to a quiet spot and do her “homework” while the other children are playing. Speak to her in terms of her being a “big girl” and reward her with a big girl privilege.

If you agree with me that helping our children learn self-discipline is vital to their being healthy individuals, then the time spent in talking with her, working with her, and effectively helping her to learn self-discipline will be time well spent. No matter where our children go to school they must learn to obey the rules, discipline their wills, and concentrate on the tasks at hand. It is a psychology of thought that makes parenting the real work of school. All the school teachers that I know (my daughter included) confirm that the best students are the ones whose parents spend the time “parenting to the fullest.” This makes the child Ready, Set, Learn when they are in the classroom.

You are not a failure because your little girl is behaving like an 8 year old. You have just been given a parenting challenge. Jesus wants your little girl to grow up to be the fullest of His desire. He loves you and will empower you to do the parenting work ahead. This is your “lesson,” so to speak, from the goodness of the Lord. She is your oldest. You will learn quite a bit through the wisdom granted you by working this challenge. I admire you and found your sweet nature to be uplifting and encouraging. I would love to come to your household and see this delightful little girl at work in such a loving home. Go forward into solutions. Jesus will empower you.

Sending out a prayer,
Rita Munn

About Rita Munn

Rita Munn is a veteran homeschool mother of ten. For many years she was a popular speaker at Catholic homeschooling conferences. Writing has been a passion of hers for as long as she can remember, and she loves to use her writing skills to share her homeschooling experience with other parents. Her “family journal” reflections are featured in CHC’s Educating for Eternity e-newsletter.