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Long story short: For online lessons (because of the corona lockdown) I had to put pressure on my son to do his school tasks. Now the circumstances have relaxed. But we are stuck in the "pressure pattern" regardless of almost 2 months of holidays.

At the beginning of the Corona events our country had a full lock down. The school’s Easter holidays were started one week earlier and after them my son had online lessons until the summer holidays. It is his first year in primary school. This means I have to sit next to him all the time he has online lessions via video-chat with his class.

So my tasks were to make him follow the teacher’s commands, focus on the screen and fulfill the tasks the teacher gave to him. The teacher put a lot of effort in and poured all her heart and soul into it. Because of this I felt obligated to "make" my son a good pupil.

The tasks he likes (for example painting/crafting, maths and anything to do with general knowledge) were no problem. He was interested and stuck to the screen. But the tasks he did not like (even in IRL school, like writing) were a big struggle.

Because writing is an essential part of the documentation of every lesson, it was a problem all day. I need to use more and more pressure to get him write anything.

For example they had to write every Friday for 30 minutes about one topic that had been discussed that week. It was not important how much they write, but for each sentence the first letter needs to be capitalized and end in a full stop. It was no problem for him to tell me all about the lion, every bit of information. But he refused to write down anything. We talked about the first sentence he wanted to start with, then the first word to write, then the first letter. He uses many strategies to distract me (and him) from the task: needing to use the toilet, getting thirsty, telling me all about the lion and about the last lessons, needing to sharpen his pencil and so on. After 30 minutes of discussion there were two words written: "The Lion".

I tried to limit the distraction. I sharpened the pencils, only one walk to the toilet, one glass to drink... I tried to make compromises: one sip and one letter, one sip and one letter... or "you write one sentence and I write the next" (because I had the impression that he feels very thwarted by his slow writing in contrast to his fast thinking). At some point he did not want to write any more and said this very directly to me. I answered that I need to say this to the teacher, because she wanted to see the outcome of the 30 minutes of writing (the school collected the week’s work every Friday). He was upset, we argued and he cried (as I see it, because of anger). This repeated nearly every Friday, more often the longer the online teaching lasted.

Then the holidays started and we needed no pressure for school anymore. But now I observed that we are stuck in the learned patterns of behavior. If he does not get something he wants, he starts to get loud. I start to get loud fast too. I hoped we could calm down and repair our behavior and relationship, but now the holidays are nearly over and school will start again. Online lessons are not planned, but we need to do homework together and I am nervous, because I do not want to make the situation worse.

My aim: Find a way to stay calm during the homework and do it with less stress for both of us. Homework means writing, equal with the topic it is connected with.

Please ask if you need more information...

  • Why does he not like writing? I do not know for certain but I have some assumptions. I believe he is impatient. He likes to tell stories a lot, but to write them down is too difficult when one could send voice mails instead. He is also a boy and a little more than 6 years old so his motor skills are not too developed, so writing is exhausting for his muscles. This is one reason I started to reward his effort like "When you write the first sentence, I will write the others". But he is not dyslexic I think, because he could write on a keyboard and sometimes likes doing it. (We do so as much as possible, to train even the convert-sound-to-letter-skill, like writing via Messenger to his grandparent). The "failing" worry could be an option now, because I have to tell the teacher about the problems. But this is not wanted, neither by me nor by the teacher. We both want to help him and reward any effort he does.

  • Does it need to be handwriting? The problem I’m asking about is handwriting. One part of the homework (like last year) will be 10 words per week that have to be written three times each. These words then on Friday will be dictated by the teacher as a test. We use a keyboard whenever it is allowed.

  • How was the situation before the online lessons? He was very slow in writing, but this was (and is) no issue for me. He did his homework slowly with some distractions but without stress or arguing. I thought that he knew the need behind it, so he wanted to learn it even if it is difficult.

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    Hey Allerleirauh! Do note that this site is about Interpersonal Skills, so answers here would help you with your behavior, the behavior you use to interact with your child. Some of the things you mention, like where you limited distractions, sound more like your question might get better, broader answers on Parenting.SE (that also include things that aren't necessarily tied to your behavior while interacting) than here on Interpersonal Skills. It's on topic for both, so you get to pick, but it may be something to keep in mind :) – Tinkeringbell Aug 22 '20 at 12:59
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    @Tinkeringbell Thanks for this hint. I decided this site, because I could not change my child (nor any other person, only myself) and because I think along lines like "be a good example for him" and that in general children want to please. So problems in our relationship need to be solved by the adult part, so I need advice how to "change my view" and how to behave to break through the pattern and take the pressure out of the writing situation – Allerleirauh Aug 22 '20 at 13:06
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    I think that because this is specifically about the dynamics between a parent and a child, you would get better responses over on parenting compared to here. Someone may come along here with a good response, but it's more likely on the parenting site. – Johanna Aug 23 '20 at 17:02
  • Related question: parenting.stackexchange.com/questions/3244/… – CaldeiraG Aug 24 '20 at 12:05
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The first thing that puts a child off the writing exercise is the time contraint. If your son asks you to play with him and you answer "I need to finish this work, I'll play with you in half an hour." how does he react? In my experience with my nephews, children at that age cannot estimate time yet. Waiting 5 minutes is already too long, waiting half an hour feels like an eternity.

My advice would be to concentrate on something your son can estimate and count: The number of sentences instead of the number of minutes he exercises writing. At the current point, even writing 2 sentences of 3 words each is an improvement, so tell him that he must do that and if he finishes in less than 30 minutes, he can go play.

Another strategy that works very well is positive reinforcement via an artificial token economy. It works like the work life of an adult, but adapted to the behavior of a child. In short, you ignore bad behavior and reward good behavior with a currency.

  • You could reward each written sentence with a direct material reward like sweets or pocket money. This approach may fall short if the reward is not valued by your child or not available in vast amounts. Also, we don't want to induce diabetes in your son ;)
  • Instead you reward each sentence with a token. That can be a colorfull sticker, a stamp or a drawn smily face. The token itself has no value, but a number of tokens can be exchanged for a more valuable material reward.
  • You can change the value of his work by giving him 2 tokens for longer sentences and you can adapt the value of the tokens by demanding more or less tokens for a reward.

This may sound very cold and capitalistic, but in the families where I saw this method employed children up their late teens proudly showed me their long list of smily faces as tangible proof of their good work or good behavior. It's a positive outcome that stays even after the deed is done and forgotten.

If you don't like the idea of exchanging tokens against sweets or similar, you can enhance the positive reinforcement by giving a special token (drawing a big smiling sun or sticking a special sticker on the list) after an accomplishment of e.g. 10 "normal" tokens and then doing something special with your son like taking him on an afternoon trip, going to the cinema or allowing him to watch TV longer than he's usually allowed to.

You can later adapt this threshold to his skill, rewarding only every 15th, or 20th "normal" token with a "super" token.

  • I heared of this list-thing a time ago. But how it goes I forgot it... Thank you for remind me. I assume I need to give a token for each word (even for an "I"), because each word is a struggle. But with the "super" tokens it would be adaptable for me. I will overthink and try it. – Allerleirauh Aug 25 '20 at 21:13
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I don't have any child, so I might not be on point, but I am a lazy person by nature. When I was a child I was doing homework for ages, when it could have been handled in a matter of a few minutes, just because I'm really good at distracting myself.

Something that came to my mind when reading this question is the lack of positive reinforcement for your child. Something I might try is to promise him to reward him with sweets or an episode of his favourite show, if he finishes the assigment.

Another thing that came to my mind is, that you might compromise with your son, by telling him that you understand his situation (let's be fair: writing can be annoying at times, especially when you're not too comfortable with it yet) and that you'll both "trick" the teacher by just writing for maybe 20-25 minutes. That way you might ease him to do the task, since 20 minutes is way less time compared to the full 30 minutes and if he writes properly for 20 minutes, thats way better than discussing and procastinating for 30 minutes. Just make sure that he actually works for that time, since otherwise that "deal" wouldn't work, and you'd have to go back to 30 minutes.

However those were the solutions that came to my mind. Maybe try asking the parents of other classes, how they deal with their child's homework, while corona. You might get some useful input there as well.

  • Hey Eiskrief! Good attempt at a first answer, and trying to incorporate some personal experience as backup. I think it's missing one last step though: the part where you explain how this solution worked out for you. Is this something your parents did to encourage you with your homework as a child? Or a mindset you came up with yourself to motivate yourself? In either case, a bit more about how this solution worked out (did it always work well, was it no longer needed in the end?) could help make your answer even better :) – Tinkeringbell Aug 24 '20 at 14:55
  • Thank yoi for the answer. The 20 against 30 minutes part is interesting for me. I tried rewards during the corona time too, before I need to argue and so on. But it was only sometimes useful because when he "lost" the treat, (for did not writing) there was nothing left to motivate him. – Allerleirauh Aug 24 '20 at 16:39
  • one of the general problems for me is that the class is very small and I could not get in good contact with the parents during corona time and holidays. My friends with children in the same age life in another country, where the corona time was no online teaching. – Allerleirauh Aug 24 '20 at 16:50
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As a child I never liked writing. I learned to write, patiently, but my handwriting was poor, barely readable, I made tons of effort to improve it, but then I was too slow, so... I dropped it almost completely. I stopped writing my lessons around the age of 13. I would instead pay close attention to the professors and memorize a few key points. My school results barely dropped : I wasn't reading my lessons before that anyway. Nothing of that prevented me to become a software developer.

I am quite surprised the professor would put so much pressure on writing on a child that is barely 6. If I remember correctly, at this age I barely knew how to draw the letters. So, unless I understood wrong, the exercises seem extraordinarily complex in that regard: do the professor expect them to write invented stories? Some professional writers could fail on exercise of "writing 30 min a day" and go on a pure blank pages...

Supposing the difficulty is purely on handwriting given sentences, there are numerous motivational problems with writing when put back in the perspective of a 6 year old:

  • You feel like you are very unskilled to it
  • You don't get to do it at your will but at moments where you are quite forced to
  • You don't really know or understand the purpose very well

This goes against the three motivational pillars (Autonomy, mastery, purpose) identified by Daniel Pink, that show empirical efficiency evidence (Note: he speaks about workers, but I'm assuming he's not too far for child motivation).

I don't have a clear view how you could act on these points, but pressure is certainly counter-productive especially in the long run. You could use it as inspiration for some way you organize the homework, though, for example, letting the choice between stuff to write, choice on the day, and encouraging progress.

Regarding purpose I have no idea how well your child understand that (hand)writing is a requirement for higher level school, but this might be something to discuss with the professor. Maybe the professor would tell you that results can wait until your child is ready; maybe the professor can delay the passage to the next step; maybe the professor will give you convincing arguments you can repeat to your child. Outside of that, I'm afraid there is no magic trick to bend the will of your child to do what the academia would like they do.

  • Thank you for the answer. I spoke with the teacher before the holidays began. We agreed about one (3 word) sentence every day via keyboard and one handwriting sentence once in a week (write one from the keyboard-sentences from the screen). The problem is: The teacher left the school and after the holidays the class will get a new one. The three motovation points are interesting. I assume for children they need to be taken into a breakdown context so they could understand and overview the decision and consequences. – Allerleirauh Aug 24 '20 at 16:47
  • While I used pressure I was sadly aware, that it is not prpductive, nor for the long run. I know, that I myself made this problem for me and my son. I do not want to bend the will of my child. I like to make handwriting in best case something good, in worst case something he know is crucial. How I said before: I will treat any effort of him, so long he work some 2-5 minutes in a row. – Allerleirauh Aug 24 '20 at 16:54

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