Homework is a necessary evil, and homework anxiety is a common experience. While it helps children retain the things they’ve learned at school and develop good study habits, it is also a common stressor for many children and adolescents. How can you as a parent determine whether that stress has progressed beyond its norm into a realm of unnecessary anxiety? And, if it has progressed that far, what are you supposed to do about it?
Signs that normal homework stress has progressed into homework anxiety:
- Your child is routinely procrastinating on homework that needs to get done
- Your child is being vague, sneaky, or secretive about the homework he/she has, which may include lying to you, including telling you there is no homework or that homework is already completed
- Your child is complaining about not feeling rested or not sleeping well at night
- Your child is making excuses to avoid school or specific classes
- Your child’s grades are slipping
- Your child is presenting with increased irritability, is more emotional, more sensitive to feedback, etc.
- Your child engages in a push-pull with you when you offer help. He/she may say help is needed, yet then become agitated or defiant when help is offered.
Ok, so you’ve figured out that your child has homework anxiety. Now what? One of the best things you can do is help get your child organized. This has several different components to it.
Help your child compartmentalize and take things one at a time,rather than trying to handle the “big picture” all at once.
Oftentimes, overwhelmed feelings come because we are simultaneously trying to juggle everything we have to do at once. While looking at the big picture can be beneficial in some situations, it has its time and place—and when your child is feeling overwhelmed, that is NOT the time to try to manage things all at once. Instead, help your child break tasks down and focus on one at a time.
Help your child prioritize tasks.
As a general rule of thumb, assignments that are due the soonest should take priority over assignments that aren’t due for a while. Assignments that are more complex in nature, will require more research/computer time, and/or will require special materials (such as a poster board presentation) should also be prioritized over simpler tasks that have no special requirements, because the more complex tasks will require some planning ahead (i.e. time to go buy supplies, time to use a computer when it is not in use by someone else, time to check out a book at the library, time to do an internet search on a specific topic, etc.)
Help your child create a schedule and timeline for the day.
This should be done one day at a time and should only include tasks that need to be done that day. The more specific you can be, the better. For example, if you and your child have decided that math homework is the top priority, that should be #1 on the schedule, along with an estimation of how much time that will take. Let’s say your child is starting on homework at 4:00. If the guess is that it will take about 30 minutes to complete the math homework, then it would be scheduled for 4:00-4:30. Whatever assignment is next would then be scheduled starting at 4:30.
Remember to schedule in breaks!
You as a parent will have the best idea on how long your child can go before taking a break, but a natural “break” time would be in between assignments. Breaks should be kept short (10-15 minutes) and should typically not include electronics because they can be especially hard to transition away from. When feasible, breaks should include activity or movement of some sort, should include being outdoors when possible, and may also include having a snack if needed.
It is important to help your child be realistic in terms of what can get accomplished in the time frame you have.
For example, if you know that your child has an essay that will require doing some research and outlining before actually writing the paper, scheduling only 30 minutes to work on the essay is probably not realistic (unless of course your child plans to work on it for 30 minutes several days in a row up until the due date).
One final note: As a parent, it is generally important that you are aware of your child’s upcoming due dates on assignments, test dates, etc.
This level of involvement will of course vary depending on the age and ability of your child to track and be accountable for assignments. A parent with a 10-year-old, highly disorganized child will need to stay more on top of assignments than will a parent with a 16-year-old who is well-organized and has never turned in a late assignment. Regardless of these individual differences, it is almost always to the benefit of your children for you to be involved and aware of what they are doing. Not only will this let them know that you can and will hold them accountable for what needs to get done, but it also will let them know that you careabout what they are doing. This in itself can be a big motivation for your children, because the more support and understanding they have from you, the more willing they will be to comply with what needs to get done, and to reach out for help when they really need it.
Author: Christina Stai
Dr. Christina Stai is a licensed clinical psychologist in both California and Iowa. She specializes in young children and received her doctorate in Psychology (Psy.D.) from Azusa Pacific University, an APA accredited school near Los Angeles. She completed an APA accredited internship and APPIC accredited postdoctoral fellowship at a residential emergency shelter with abused and neglected foster youth. We are proud that she has joined Hope Springs.