Challenging Kids… Schoolwork Contracts

My oldest has a very strong personality. She is quite bright, and because of this in her early years of schooling became accustomed to not having to work very hard in school.

She is quite independent and hates being told what to do. She also struggles with handling frustration. Around the fourth or fifth grade when her schoolwork increased in difficulty and complexity, she really began to struggle.

It wasn’t the work, per se. It was the fact that she chafed at having to ask for help, didn’t want to listen to my instruction, and was just overall frustrated at not knowing something. Add in a little adolescent angst and hormones and our school days became a swirl of tears, screaming, slamming doors, throwing pencils, and sulking.

Sometimes I dealt with her emotional responses well, and other times, I didn’t handle well it at all. Punishments just dragged the day out longer and longer. Trying to talk through her meltdowns was a waste of time and often just ramped up the negative energy.

How did I handle it?

Well, most importantly, I go ahold of myself and my own emotions. I knew that I couldn’t address her out of control emotions and reactions if I was just as out of control as she was.

James 1:19 says, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” I could not help my daughter grow in self control if I was not doing the same. My own anger could not bring about the changes in my daughter that she needed.

I also began praying each morning that God would keep my emotions in check. I rehearsed how I was going to handle the inevitable breakdowns and how I would react when she began falling apart. Of course, I am a hot mess, so I failed many, many times, but God has made progress in my heart in this area. In the years since, I’ve learned better ways of dealing with her emotions as well as my own.

The Contract

Another key to managing this time period was our contract.

My daughter is a very black and white thinker. Ever since she was very small, her attitude has been, “If you didn’t tell me not to do it, I shouldn’t get in trouble for doing it.” So I needed to spell out for her what a good homeschooling session was going to look like.

At a moment when we were both completely calm, I gave her this contract for schoolwork. It looked something like this:

  1. Behave respectfully. (No disrespectful talk, no throwing things, no slamming books around, no tearing, throwing, or defacing school materials)
  2. Ask for help respectfully (“Mom, I’m having trouble” is acceptable. “This is stupid I hate it,” is not acceptable.)
  3. I won’t help someone with a bad attitude.
  4. I won’t help someone who doesn’t try. (In my daughter this was manifested in a string of sullen “I don’t know’s” when I would try to ask her a question to explain something)
  5. Any work that is sloppily or half-way done must be redone.

I explained to her that I enjoyed homeschooling her most of the time when her attitude was good. But when she allowed her feelings of frustration to overwhelm her common sense, she was making both of us miserable.

This contract spelled out how she needed to behave in school.  We posted it in a prominent place where we could both see it during school. By the way, it was very important that our contract was written down in black and white. If I didn’t write it down, we would end up in a ridiculous debate about what I said, what she heard, and what it meant.

It wasn’t a miraculous cure. But it did help. She needed to see what parts of her behavior were unacceptable.  I began allowing her to step away from the table for a few minutes if she needed a break from school to manage her frustration. However, she knew that she couldn’t move on to fun stuff (like screen time or pleasurable reading) until schoolwork was done.

Do you have a contract for school work? Do you use contracts for other things in your home with your kids? What do your contracts look like?



Photo credit: via Flikr


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Rebeca Jones
    Jul 23, 2014 @ 19:23:50

    Great post! I don’t currently have a contract. I’m rethinking that right now–I don’t have too many issues, but the few that I do (sloppy work, tears etc.) would be handled much better if we were all on the same page, so to speak. Thanks for the idea!


  2. fairfarmhand79
    Jul 24, 2014 @ 02:02:46

    I’ve always found that being proactive in stuff (laying out the expectations and what the child can know will happen if rules are violated) makes things run much more smoothly.


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