By Dianne McLean

I believe all homeschoolers go through this at one point or another – kids aren't motivated, they sit for what seems like an eternity staring at the same math problem, they daydream, they throw fits when you try to get them to do their work, etc.  Even if you tell them they can't go play with friends until they are done, they just don't seem to care.

We parents tend to believe that playing with friends is the problem.  We feel our children "need" friends, when they are clearly telling us that family is more important to them because they aren't striving for the goal of being with friends. Even if  you are constantly arguing and being with family is a negative experience due to their own lack of obedience, they are still with family.  

So a 12 or 13 year old boy dragging his feet on his assignments and not caring whether he sees friends, should signal a big clue that the problem isn't your son, it's the relationship as well as a lack of accountability.  So how do you ease the tension in the home and instill accountability in your child?

I went through the exact same situations with my kids when I first started homeschooling them.  These are some of the things that I did:

  1. Find WHAT motivates them. For my kids, I couldn't tell them "you will see your friends when you finish your work" because they really didn't care or respond to that. They would dawdle until 10pm or later. They had my full attention, and kids will do that subconsciously – even if it was negative attention.
  2. Next, I had to SHOW them what they could receive – show them how wonderful that reward is, give them a taste.  Once they felt the thrill of freedom based on their own accomplishments, it became easier for them to strive for that.
  3. Instill ACCOUNTABILITY I did it using these strategies:


    • Level of accoutability #1 – We began by scheduling Fridays off.  I created a policy which was that we did lessons Mon-Thurs, and we would schedule catch up time in the morning if needed on Friday, then we went to the park or on a field trip. But in the beginning, they would still whine and dawdle. So what I told them was this: "I teach Mon-Thurs until 2pm, during each lesson block I give more than ample time for you to complete your seatwork, if you do not complete it, we ARE moving on to another subject and your uncompleted work becomes homework. I do not teach after 2pm." (However, I was flexible, if they needed me as a parent after 2pm to help them with homework or they needed more instruction, I would certainly do so). If they chose to dawdle in the evenings, it no longer had bearing on me. I still went about the things I wanted to do instead of standing over their shoulder getting angry. This created accountability on their shoulders for their time, and it was immediately more peaceful in our home (remember not to get angry, it's their choice and their consequence).
    • Level of accountability #2 – This was in conjunction with the Fridays. Park day was also an outlet for ME. So I told them that if they didn't have everything done by the time we left, they would have to go and do their homework in the car or on a park bench and can't visit with friends – they are not keeping me from enjoying my day off. With my daughter, this happened ONE time and she learned to stay on task. With my son, it took two lonely park days doing his work while all his friends played basketball in the distance, and one benched baseball game (the coach benched him for being late) to teach him.
    • Level of accountability #3The next level was to let them decide on their rewards. Why should I plan the field trips? I let my kids make a schedule of field trips (within reason of our budget of course), it's good leadership training for them – AND it gives them a goal to shoot for. They think about the activity, they plan for it, they look forward to it.  They would even call their friends and invite them, so now they had an obligation to do everything in their power (which means their work needs to get done) to attend.
  4. I utilized my human support system specifically my husband. They (my husband and son) are both very much outdoorsmen, so they like to hunt, fish, target practice, work on cars, ride dirtbikes, etc. I asked my husband to schedule one afternoon a week after work with my son. His contingency was that the previous week needed to have a 100% completion record (everything was done on time with no arguments). So he would check their previous week record on Sunday and then they would plan their outing for Tuesday or Wednesday evening.  What kid doesn't want to go dirtbike riding in the middle of the week, even if it's just for an hour or so, with his dad?  Now, I ought to digress here by saying that family time was NOT conditional in our home as a general policy – don't misconstrue these "special events" as manipulation of love or relationship.  We prayed together, ate together, read scriptures together, and spent plenty of family time together doing really fun stuff without even mentioning their academics.  But the "extra" days were just that, "extra", and they were contingent upon performance.  And of course all of these things were great for my husband to release some energy after a long day at work, so he looked forward to it.  Taking the dirtbikes out for an entire Saturday might seem fun for a young couple or family, but when parents get older those Saturdays can get quite long, so a quick evening trip was perfect for our guys.

    With my daughter, she also loves to spend special time with her dad. So they would go have an ice cream cone, go see a movie, or go shopping (yes, he took her to Claire's, what a guy!)  They tried to put her on a dirtbike, that didn't work out so well, she's quite girly.  Sometimes they would just go and get haircuts together, go to the library, or paint a canvas of the sunset (yes, they did this too) anything to spend that extra time.


What about dinner time?  Because our family is really big on having dinner together, on the days they had scheduled for their outing I would crockpot some meatballs for quick meatball subs, or some pulled pork for BBQ sandwiches.  They would come in from loading up the truck, put a blessing on the food, and out the door they would run with their dinner in hand.  It would be the FASTEST family dinner, but it was worth it. They had to stop riding when it got dark anyways, so we would always make up for it with family dessert.

And really it didn't take long before the conditional part was no longer an issue, my kids saw the fruits of their labor – because not only did they get the extra outing with mom or dad, they also had free time to do a lot of other things like go be with friends, explore personal interests, and just relax without mom breathing down their neck about their assignments. They saw what would happen if they just buckle down and do the work.  We stopped having motivational issues – and arguments – once all of these things were in place.  My husband came home to a happy wife, instead of a stressed out mess.

Spending time with their father one day a week, and having a pleasant outing with mom on Fridays, developed something in my kids that I presumed we might lose when they become teens – and that was a love for family time.  It was extremely valuable and now that they are adults, they express how grateful they are that we instilled these family values in them and encouraged them to succeed.

If you don't have a father (or mother) in the home, is there a family member or a close friend you can lean on for support? What about other homeschoolers?

I hope this was helpful for you – and would love to hear your ideas and suggestions for motivating your tweens and teens while homeschooling them!

Leave a Comment:

Dana says

Such a good reminder that we all deal with "distracted" kiddo's.
My oldest son was always my hardest to homeschool.  When he came to his 9th grade year my husband took over his schooling. I loved it!  My son didn't love it so much.  Evidently, I was nicer than my husband. 🙂  But, it was a huge help to me.  Now I have  16, 14 & 12 yr old sons who I wish could be taught by their dad, but it isn't possible now.  Your tips are helpful because they are so distracted & I get frustrated. Thanks!!

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