When Your Child Doesn’t Care about Their Test

This is a tough situation for any parent and my sympathy is with you. Before I give you my answer, though, there are two different types of not caring. There’s not caring and doing the work and not caring and not doing the work.

If it’s the former, know that pretending not to care is one of the most common ways kids deal with stress. It was my own go-to method when I was young, and now I see it in students I tutor. If your child says they don’t care, it might not be true, and I wouldn’t push it. If they’re doing their work and studying, that’s enough. They don’t have to admit to caring.

If they’re not doing their work, you need to enforce consequences. Choose something they like and take it away. In addition, have some version of the following conversation with them. It was told to me by a tutor who’s also a parent:

My advice to parents is to be up front with their kids. Be honest and say, “If your goal is to get into a good college or be in a great music program, there’s this part of life where you just have to ‘play the game.’ And the game for you right now is this test. You have to do well on it. And not because it’s fair or it’s right, but because the people who decide whether you get into their schools judge you by it. That’s the game.”

“We all play it. We all have jobs and responsibilities, and your job right now is school and studying for this test. If you perform well at your job, it opens up doors for you to do what you want to do.”

“But if you don’t perform well at your job, it creates an issue for us, because I wouldn’t be doing my job as a parent if I let you get away with it. I’d be failing, and that’s something I won’t do. And you can’t be feeling great about doing poorly. So look at school and test prep as your job and take them seriously.”

“I know you want free time to do what you want, and frankly, I want that to. At seven or eight at night when you want to go online, or a friend calls up and wants to do something, I want to be able to say yes. I don’t want to have to ask if you’ve done your work, or worse, tell you that you can’t go because your work’s not done.”

“So I’m not saying you have to work all the time, but work smarter. Don’t spend half an hour arguing about doing work that would have taken ten minutes to do. You’ve just wasted half an hour and you still have to get work done. And this work has to get done. This is not the battle to choose to get defiant. You don’t want to clean your room, fine, we can argue about that later; but accept that this test is important because it doesn’t just affect you today, it affects you years down the line.”

“I’m trying to relate to your common sense, which I know you have, but if you don’t relate to that, we have to get into consequences, and I have to think about what I’m taking away from you instead of what I’m giving you. So let’s get rid of the back and forth. Put this time that we would spend arguing now into doing your work. You’ll have more free time.”

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