My name is Claudia and I'm a teacher who helps parents with their kids remote and distance learning as well as well as how kids can best learn online and with technology!


Motivating kids who are refusing to do remote learning

Updated: May 26, 2020

a girl focuses on home learning using a laptop

Why kids refuse to do home learning

Over the past ten weeks of teaching online, many kids have put up quite a resistance and just refused to do our remote learning and I have spent a lot of time explaining to parents how to help and encourage their children to learn remotely and helping with parenting and technology issues. We all know that kids can be stubborn sometimes but there are things that us grown-ups can do to help kids come around to our way of thinking and change their minds. You won’t succeed every time but there are lots of things you can do to motivate kids who are refusing to do distance learning.

Children refuse to do as they're told all the time. For some, it has become a routine behaviour and for others, it might come, seemingly, out of nowhere. Usually, kids don’t refuse to do as they are told just to aggravate you, although it may seem that way sometimes! Similarly, they don’t intentionally choose the worst possible moments to refuse to do what you tell them, although they may be incredibly good at picking that exact moment. Children refuse to do as they are told for many different reasons. Sometimes kids refuse to do the most bizarrely trivial things for no apparent reason. (Why don’t you want to put your socks on?) Most of the time though, kids have very valid reasons for not wanting to do things which we can use to our advantage when encouraging kids to join in with their remote learning.

How to get kids to talk about school

Just because their reasons aren’t obvious to us, doesn’t mean there aren’t any and we will need to know what they are so that we can help to change their minds. Investigating why kids are refusing to do something needs to be done gradually and definitely not in any kind of heated moment. Often, finding out the reasons behind a child’s refusal can be as easy as asking them. Have you asked? Have you actually asked your child “Why don’t you want to do this?”? You have? Consider these questions then: Do you frown when you ask? Does your voice get a little sterner? Are you asking or demanding? It’s so easy to show our frustration in the way we talk and act but doing this is not likely to get a useful response from kids.

Pause before you react when your child initially refuses or shows signs of reluctance. Kids can tell when their parents are angry even if they don’t say anything and so if you tense up, put your hands on your face and start to use jerky, sudden movements then your child can see that you are angry and probably won’t want to reveal what’s going on.

Positive ways to talk to your child

Sometimes, as much as it may kill you a little inside, asking your child why they are refusing to do something in a gentle, interested tone with a bright smile on your face may actually get the result that you want. I know this sounds like the complete opposite of what you feel like doing when your child dismisses their online learning again but trust me. Upon refusal, pause to put on your happy, smiley face and ask them as nicely as you can why they don’t want to. Ask them as if they were an adult, not a child. Think about how you would like to be asked if you were them. You can do it. It might not work the first time - your child might be so taken aback by their strangely serene parent that seems to be fine with them saying no that they don't know what to say - but your child won’t be able to help but feel at ease enough to eventually express their feelings.

If you do feel like a confrontation is about to start then try again later. Just say “okay” and shrug off your child’s refusal and go and do something else. I know that this isn’t always possible depending on the situation, but the key is to not let a confrontation start no matter. Later on when you’re watching TV together or at bedtime maybe, you could ask again very gently and without a trace of concern on your face and you might be rewarded with some answers.

My child won’t tell me what’s wrong

Saying something like “Why do you constantly refuse to…?” to a five-year-old is unlikely to get you anywhere because young children probably won’t know what the words ‘constantly’ or ‘refuse’ even mean. Phrase your question in simple terms and try rephrasing it a few times so that your child has more chance of understanding your meaning. You could ask “Why don’t you like it?” or “How come you don’t want to?” or just "Why?".

Speak slowly to make it very clear what you are asking and use positive gestures and body language that show that you would welcome a response from them and are keen to hear it. (Smile broadly and lift the palms of your hands and your shoulders in an asking gesture.) Remember that kids need time to formulate their response - much more time than an adult does. Don’t think that your child isn’t going to answer you just because they don’t reply straight away. My whole class and I have waited whole minutes in painful silence for a child to say what they want to say before.

You might have heard a child excitedly say that they want to tell you something and then take a few moments to actually put the words together mentally to express what they’re so excited out loud. You should try to avoid putting words in kids mouths by using open questions and avoiding suggesting answers for them. Remember though, if your young child won’t tell you what’s wrong they might not know why or they may not know how to explain why.

Positive ways to get kids to respond

How to motivate a child to learn online

A manager who wants to increase the motivation of their workforce might start by considering their employee’s needs. Employees are likely to be demotivated if their physiological and safety needs are not met. Would you still go to work if it didn’t earn you the money you need to pay for food and water and a safe place to live? Children’s motivation for learning is similar because kids have these needs too and, left unsatisfied, they won’t feel up to a Zoom lesson or an online quiz.

Sometimes young children aren’t good at recognising their own needs and so they probably not going to be letting you know that they aren’t feeling up to a Zoom lesson because they didn’t sleep well the night before and now they are tired. In the hustle and bustle of daily family life, it’s easy to overlook these needs but it’s important to keep them in mind because they are very demotivating when left unsatisfied but easy to fulfil. Consider whether your child could be hungry, when did they last eat and how much was it? Are they tired? Could they have had a bad night's sleep? Are they ill or coming down with something?

Even your teenager, who can never be bothered, could be feeling tired from staying up late or maybe lethargic from not drinking enough water which could be putting them off doing their distance learning. The UK early years curriculum puts a great emphasis on children’s self-care and recommends that adults help children as young as three years old to manage their own needs and promote an understanding of the effects diet, sleep and exercise can have on their own bodies. If you encourage your kids to be mindful of their own health and how it affects their learning then they are more likely to be able to understand their own lack of motivation and let you know why they don’t feel like doing their remote work.

There are countless other reasons for your kids to be refusing to do distance learning. Some may be related to a sudden transition to learning online, or it could be something about the distance learning itself that they don’t like. Your child might be refusing to do school work during lockdown because of effects being in lockdown have had on you and your family’s lives.

What does distance learning look like?

Distance learning programs can be unique to each school. Some schools provide a sequence of lessons that looks similar to how a normal school day might and for some these might be led by a teacher who is live on camera. Some parents are being provided with lessons to teach their children themselves and some children are connecting directly with their teacher via platforms like Class Dojo or Google Classroom to receive daily tasks and activities in a less structured format. There are varying degrees of emphasis on the parental role vs. the teacher’s role, various levels of direct communication between children and teachers, and varying amounts of work that children are required to complete, depending on your school.

Kids refusing to do online school work

If your child is refusing to do online school work, you will need to take into consideration what your school’s online learning provision looks like as well as how well suited it is to your child in particular. If you’re still in the dark about why your child is reluctant to do online learning, it might help to consider the following questions:

  • Is the work too hard? How can you help them with remote learning?

  • Are they getting too much distance learning work?

  • Are they finding it boring? Do they not seem interested in learning?

  • Is there something they’d much rather do?