Tag Archives: Homework

Managing Transitions Part IV


Managing Transitions Away from Electronics

Jerry is a 13-year old boy who will not get off the computer. His mother in particular gets into terrible struggles with him when it is time to do his homework and he is intensely involved in a computer game that he refuses to leave. If it were not for his homework, his mother would not object as much, since he is developing skills in fine motor coordination, pattern analysis, and quick reaction time – to say nothing of his facility with computers! – And also he often engages in interactive games with his friends, which are collaborative as well as competitive and highly social. The main problem is that he does not do his homework. As soon as he comes home from school, he rushes to his computer and begins a game. When it is time for homework, supper, or bed, he refuses to get offline. (In response to a NY Times column about the subject, I found interesting comments from parents.)

It is not that Jerry does not care about school. He is very ambitious and conscious of the success of his slightly older sister, with whom he is highly competitive. He is discouraged about his school record and dreads receiving his report card, but he seems unable to accept help. When his teachers offer him extra help, he usually politely thanks them but does not show up for the scheduled session. He refuses any regular tutoring assistance. Last year he would ask his mother or father to sit in the room with him while he did his homework – although he would not allow them to help him in any concrete way – but this year he refuses any support from them. This drives them wild with feelings of worry and helplessness.

Jerry has always been an active, rather disorganized child, interested in sports and fairly good at them, but intense and prone to tantrums. He has such a short fuse that his parents and sister have tended to monitor his moods closely and when he is in “a bad mood”, “walk on eggshells” to avoid an outburst. His parents have extended themselves in many ways to try to make things better for him. They have helped him play the sports he choses and attended all of his games. They have advocated for him fiercely at school. Still, family life has been hard.

His mother says that when he is on the computer he is happy and excited, and completely involved. When he gets off the computer, he falls apart – becomes irritable, disorganized, infantile, and sometimes aggressive. When he acts like this, she tries to negotiate with him, but his negative behavior just escalates until a blowup. After that, when she tries to talk to him about what just happens, he either blows up again, or he leaves and slams the door behind him. His father sometimes has more luck with soothing him when he is irritable, but he is not much better at getting him to leave the computer or do his homework. His mother feels that she is always “the heavy” and expected to set limits and keep order in the home, while her husband comes and goes when it serves him. Sometimes she thinks that if he were “more present” as a father, Jerry would not be in trouble – and when she is at her wits’ end, she will tell him so – but other times she acknowledges that there is no simple answer for Jerry’s difficulties.

Both Jerry’s parents came from modest backgrounds and were exceptionally high achievers as children and adolescents. They now both have successful professional careers, though perhaps not at the level or degree of satisfaction that they had envisioned. Whereas his father had studied at Julliard and had imagined a career as a performing musician, he now teaches at a private school and works at composing music in his spare time. His mother, who had won national prizes as a figure skater, is now a coach.

This story is an elaboration of the “transition to school” posting, since it also involves homework. There is an excellent set of posts on the Child Mind Institute  on transition to school that can be helpful to caregivers. They include good strategies to try first. A colleague has written a thoughtful blog post about the transition to kindergarten. Many of the children whose parents consult me have tried or could try these strategies without success. The story of Jerry is an example of such a case. My posting is to remind caregivers that each child is unique and has an inner world of his own, so that general strategies – no matter how intelligent or thoughtful – are sometimes not the answer. Rather, trying to imagine what is going on inside the child’s mind is the best way to start every effort to scaffold a difficult transition. Let me know what you imagine about what is in Jerry’s mind.

Read this blog in Spanish.

Threat of Loss and Change

Conversation Between “S” of the Home and Sarah Measures




Sarah spoke to S on Friday about the two ten-year-old twin brothers. Recently the boys have been acting up more at school, but not at home. Behavior issues include: not listening, swearing, disrespect of other children. Although the boys are in different classes, the behavior seemed to begin with one boy, F. and spread to K. At home they continue to do their homework quite well and are able to complete it independently, once they get started. When asked about these behaviors the boys tend to become defensive and say that other people instigate it.

Both boys are skilled and passionate about soccer. They have trained and played in a local team at the park for the past year. K wanted to switch to the school team, but logistically this was not possible for the home. They also like to play computer games. They are less interested than other children in the home in other activities such as going to the park or skating. 

There is a correlation between the timing of these behaviors and children beginning to leave the home. Two girls, M and N, are scheduled to leave in a month. The boys are particularly close to N, a slightly older girl.   The boys are unlikely to leave the home themselves because their placement was the result of court action. When asked about the increase of visiting days to twice instead of once a month the boys appeared neutral. 

S and Sarah discussed talking with them about their feeling around the changes going on in the home, and the departure of their friends. In addition to the emotional loss this embodies, they may also be feeling anxious about their own futures. This may also be discussed within a small group of children.

S plans to talk further to the boys’ two teachers concerning:

a) Their existing strengths, interests and connections and how to foster them. 

b) Possible reasons why the twins may be more troubled than usual at the moment. 

S might then follow this conversation by offering the teachers contact and brainstorming opportunities with me by e-mail or phone. (The boys have two teachers, one English speaking, the other Spanish speaking. This is likely to be useful to the English speaker.)

An intervention, might begin by understanding the root of their feelings, the reasons for their actions, and then helping them to understand their feelings and replace their negative behavior with more positive, self affirming actions. Eventually, after gathering more information about causes and supporting success we could discuss some positive behavioral strategies.


Read this blog in Spanish.