10/20/2010 09:39 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

The Dancing Parent: Navigating Homework Hell, Part 2

Welcome back to our three-part series on what most parents find to be one of the most difficult challenges of raising children, especially in a high-tech world brimming with enticing diversions, often no more than a mouse-click away.

In Part 1, we looked at how parents might best cope with a child who is expressing various forms of denial when confronted with the fact that they are not doing their assignments.

In addition to offering several steps a parent might take, we also highlighted the possibility that the reason they may be losing track of their assignments may have more to do either their troubles with organizing their work, or their fear of being judged or found to be incapable. Somewhere in the recesses of their hearts and minds, they may consider it much safer to not turn in the assignments and bear the inevitable penalty than to turn in their assignments and possibly reveal themselves to be incompetent or incapable -- a familiar, all-too-human strategy at any age.

In Part 3, we will explore this idea further, and how a child may be experiencing his or her homework, including the often unidentified factors that may, in fact, be the primary reason(s) your child is struggling to do their homework.

But in this, Part 2, let's look a little deeper into the two other general responses parents often face when confronting their child who hasn't done their work, namely falling apart and/or belligerence. The falling apart response can be accompanied by tears, a sense of hopelessness, and a wish to withdraw. Your child may speak of feeling overwhelmed, outmatched, or irreparably behind their peers.

In expressing themselves in any of these ways, they are providing you with insights into how they are experiencing their assignments -- and perhaps their life -- and thus providing you with a way to help them get through this sometimes recurring phase of growing up.

A useful way to re-frame their expressions of frustration in your own mind would be to ask yourself: what is it that they need? While some kids can sit for hours in their room alone, others dread the attendant feelings of isolation and so do everything they can to reconnect with others by talking on the phone, emailing, texting, tweeting, turning up their music or escaping into video games.

Should their sense of isolation be the real culprit, a possible remedy could be to find them a place to work in a more trafficked area of your home. Or you could encourage them to touch base with you during their homework time -- or you could touch base with them. See what works best. The key is finding the right balance and dance between contact and individual effort.

For others, they simply may need to have you close by throughout the entire process, which may include sitting beside them for a time, as often as not to help them organize efforts and work. As we talked about in Part 1, organizational skills may develop at different times for different students, and be quite challenging at different points.

In contrast, your child may be suffering from not having a place to work. The constant distractions and intrusion of their home life may make it impossible for them to focus on their work. In their case, identifying both a time and space for them to regularly work in peace may well mean the difference between success and failure. A chaotic or unpredictable home is not a good work environment, as any adult can attest.

Why should we expect a child to react any differently?

The other common reaction parents face when confronting their child about his or her missing work is belligerence, which can likely be found on any parent's list of the top ten most aggravating parental responsibilities. When confronted, your child may rant or attempt to shut off conversation with dramatic protestations and freewheeling accusations. Insolence and the well-slammed door may also feature in their expressions of frustration and anger, leaving more than a few moms and dads to wonder: Is this my happy home?

And try as they might to remain calm, most moms and dads soon find themselves embroiled in a no-holds-barred, knock-down, drag-out argument that usually escalates into computers being taken away, privileges rescinded, weekends spent in solitary confinement, and mom and dad shaking their heads.

So what can you do, and what will help?

First, take a healthy step back from the heat of the moment and the flying fur, as best you can, and take a deep breath ... OK. We're good? Now, having hopefully cleared enough inner space to think, a mom and dad are best served by asking themselves what is underneath their child's insolence.

What do they need?

What clues are they providing you about how they are experiencing their assignments and learning to work at home? Is this about their schoolwork, or perhaps part of their need to separate and individuate from you? Statements such as, "It's my life," or, "Leave me alone; it's my problem" may well indicate that your child is trying to define themselves in the world, however difficult the process.

When you were growing up, what lengths did you go to accomplish the same?

So whether your child is using bluster to distract from the fact they have been avoiding their homework, or genuinely expressing their frustrations, which may be only tangentially related to doing their homework, the key for a parent is to not get drawn into the fray, but to do their absolute best to see beyond their child's belligerence to what's more truly being expressed. While a parent may need to set some appropriate boundaries as to how each of you communicates with the other, even when upset, the key again will be for you to ask yourself what their need is.

You can also talk to their teachers, school dean or school counselor. They may be able to offer some good ideas specific to your child and their school.

Yet it will be only from a place of understanding as to what is truly going on with your child that you will be able to make helpful judgments about what your response will be, which may include everything from getting them some sort of academic support separate from you, to fashioning wise consequences when they choose to not do their work.

In a coming article, we will look at how a parent can best use thoughtful consequences in raising their child, but within the limits of this brief discussion, the key to remember is that only from a better, deeper comprehension of what your child is experiencing can you be of any real help to them.

As always, we welcome your questions and comments, here, or at our website, We will soon be back with Part 3 of the "Homework Hell" series. Until then, keep dancing! (This material is copyrighted.)