Q: My six-year-old son resists doing homework by pretending he’s unable to read at his normal level. How can I get him to cooperate without using punishments and rewards?
A: I’m guessing 90% of parents experience resistance when it comes to homework, so you are not alone! The first step is determining whether there is more to his behavior than a mere dislike for homework. For example, is he wanting to keep you busy with him and needing more adaptive ways to connect with you? Trying to assert control and needing healthier ways to experience autonomy? Getting back at you for a past hurt and needing validation and reconciliation?
If after addressing any unmet need behind his behavior you discover his resistance truly is a dislike for the task, I suggest sitting down with him out of the moment and trying to really understand what specific aspects of homework he dislikes. Once you hear and validate his concerns, you can share your own concerns and ask for ideas to address both.
I also recommend shifting some responsibility to him so he feels more personally vested. Completing homework may be non-negotiable, but how, when, and where to complete it leave room for input. Once he devises a plan, you can agree to some basic guidelines (e.g., the daily homework specified in the plan must be done before TV or dinner) and agree in advance on what will happen if the guidelines aren’t met (e.g., he can warm up some left-overs when his homework is done or explain to his teacher himself why it isn’t).
Allowing his own plan to be the boss invites cooperation and teaches responsibility. If his plan doesn’t appear effective after a reasonable trial, you can always revisit the original problem-solving discussion and devise a new plan, a great opportunity to learn from past experience.