Ask the Expert: How do I get reluctant kids to do their schoolwork during lockdown?

It can be hard to persuade schoolchildren to knuckle down in lockdown, especially if their exams have been cancelled

Q: I'm struggling to get the kids to do schoolwork during lockdown – especially my 15-year-old who doesn't see the point as his GCSEs have been cancelled. Have you got any tips to help me deal with them without there being an almighty row?

A: Dr Helen Bilton, professor of outdoor learning at Reading University's Institute of Education, says: "Don't have a conversation when emotions are running high. It's easy to get caught and want to have your say, but really, don't. If anyone is in the emotional zone, nothing is going to get solved. Every bone in your body will be wanting to have its say, but walk away.

"While exams may have been cancelled, the preparation for the next stage of study is still significant. Perhaps instead of enforcing a work pattern that doesn't appear to have a finishing point, you can work together to agree a future target and work towards that. So acknowledge your child's frustration. Listen to what they say, don't try and fix it, just acknowledge their feelings.

"Then ask their advice, ask them what the solution could be. We're not far into lockdown, so don't panic if they don't do any work. If they're not used to being asked their view or opinion they may look at you with a furrowed brow, but keep going. Children are really much cleverer than we give them credit for, even two-year-olds.

Dr Helen Bilton

"Use the language of choice. Ask them what the options are for them and what the outcomes of those options might be. Then keep quiet, leave them alone and they're likely to ponder and consider and make the choice – and usually the best one.

"Someone chowing on at you to do your work is a massive demotivator, especially if you don't think you can do the work and you're scared. Someone showing genuine interest in what they're doing can get them to forget their fear, annoyance, frustration.

"So be interested in what they're doing, sit down, read through the textbook together – yes, even with a hormonal 15-year-old – and show genuine interest in the subject, ask questions about it and they'll soon forget those emotional feelings.

"Finally, and the most important tip, the golden rule – don't take it personally. This is the number one thing all teachers must learn: a child reacting isn't about you, it's all about them. Get over yourself."

It can be hard to persuade schoolchildren to knuckle down in lockdown, especially if their exams have been cancelled

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