Parents of kids ages 5-18 are well aware of the phenomenon known as “the homework battle.” Getting kids to start their homework, turn it in regularly, and put effort into it are some of the greatest challenges of parenting a school-aged child. Unfortunately, the homework battle doesn’t end there. Homework help is another sore subject in most parent-child relationships. Helping kids with homework can be so difficult, it is often tempting for parents to just do it themselves and bypass the dreaded homework battle. If you are the parent or caregiver of a school-aged child and are familiar with the homework battle, this post is for you! Below are some tips and tricks to help you and your child resolve the homework battle and stay calm while tackling homework.
The first step in addressing the homework battle is validating your child’s thoughts and feelings about homework. You can validate your child’s thoughts and feelings even if you don’t agree with them. For example, it is often tempting to say something like, “I don’t understand why you’re making such a big deal out of this, it will take you 5 minutes!” Instead, try validating your child’s feelings by saying something like, “It’s frustrating to start homework after a long day of school.” or, “I know you are feeling a little lost in math. It’s hard to start an assignment when you feel confused.”
Next, have an honest conversation with your child about avoidance and anxiety associated with homework. It is normal to dislike homework, and it is okay to tell your child this. Validating the child’s dislike of homework will go a long way when discussing homework with kids. Homework is often associated with negative feelings, drudgery, and missed opportunities for fun. Avoidance of these thoughts and feelings is human nature and is something all humans experience. We avoid dreaded tasks because avoidance provides immediate gratification. As one continues to avoid a task, negative feelings associated with the task build. Avoiding bigger negative feelings provides the person with a greater sense of gratification. It is important to acknowledge that your child’s desire to avoid doing their homework is not laziness, it’s simply human nature. Helping your child identify why they are avoiding homework will help them understand their thoughts and feelings about it. Understanding and processing feelings such as dread, anxiety, and frustration will help your child to tolerate these difficult emotions in the future and learn that these feelings (like all feelings) are temporary.
Creating a Homework Space
To reduce negative feelings and the desire to avoid homework, help your child set up a comfortable environment for homework. The best way to do this is to create a space that is pleasing to the 5 senses. However, it is important to make sure the environment is not over-stimulating or distracting.
Give your child choices of things to include such as:
1-2 small, quiet fidgets for breaks
A pleasing poster or piece of art
A candle or scent diffuser that can be changed out
Cold glass of water
Mint or piece of gum
White noise machine or soft music
After discussing homework avoidance and setting up a homework space, it is time to help your child start their tasks. The key to preventing your child from feeling overwhelmed and reducing avoidance is collaborating with them to break assignments into small steps. Completing small, manageable steps allows the child to feel accomplished and reduces negative feelings associated with difficult tasks. When the child feels a sense of accomplishment after completing a small task, they are less likely to seek instant gratification from avoidance.
To help your child break down a large assignment into smaller, manageable parts:
First, identify a very small, manageable “first step”
Read the first set of instructions
Open a word document
Choose a pencil or pen
Then, identify multiple 5-15 minute segments to break down an assignment:
Read one paragraph/5 pages/10 pages (based on age and grade level)
Choose a paper topic
Watch a 5-minute how-to video
Find one online source
A crucial part of this step is to enthusiastically praise (and describe) all effort! You can praise even the smallest steps in the right direction. Describing what the child did correctly will reinforce their positive behavior and demonstrate that you are noticing their efforts.
Say something like:
“I noticed you got your backpack set up in your homework spot. Great job organizing!”
“Nice work choosing a pencil for math, that will be helpful if you make a mistake and need to erase!”
Tips for Parents
Even after incorporating all of the above suggestions, there will still be times when homework help is frustrating for you and your child. It is very difficult for parents to help their children navigate a stressful situation when they themselves are stressed. If you are feeling stressed about helping your child with homework, take the time to regulate your emotions first.
To regulate your own feelings of frustration:
Take a few deep breaths
Eat a snack, get a glass of water
Talk to your child in a soft voice, they will match your tone
Identify your own feelings and ask about your child’s
“I feel frustrated/tired/overwhelmed. How are you feeling?”
Model self-soothing for your child
Take a break, grab a fidget, walk around the block
Helping Your Child Stay Calm
Below are a couple of tried-and-true methods to help your child regulate difficult emotions like frustration, irritability, and nervousness.
Practice self-soothing with the 5 senses:
“Let’s listen to an upbeat song before you start!”
“Here’s some water with lemon to sip while you’re working.”
“Take this squishy stress ball to squeeze when you feel stuck.”
“Let’s pick out a scented lotion to keep at your desk.”
“When you need a mental break, look at pictures of places you want to travel!”
Progressive muscle relaxation is another emotion regulation method. It is a technique to help your child identify tension and stress in their body and intentionally relax their body. Progressive muscle relaxation helps your child understand the mind-body connection and is a fun way to take a break from a challenging task. Some of the steps can be practiced discreetly at school or in any stressful situation.
Directions for Progressive Muscle Relaxation:
**Hold each position for 5 seconds and relax for 5 seconds.
Squeeze your fists like you’re squeezing a juicy lemon
Stretch your arms high above your head like a sleepy cat
Shrug your shoulders like you’re a turtle hiding in his shell
Open your mouth wide like you’re about to bite down on a big piece of gum/jawbreaker
Crinkle your nose like a tickly fly landed on it
Hold in your stomach like you’re a circus performer and an elephant is about to step over you
Curl your toes like you stepped in a sticky, gooey mud puddle
For additional information on communicating and addressing conflict with kids, check out my previous posts: Tips for Communicating with Kids and The Power of Active Listening. If your child is facing academic challenges, experiencing organizational difficulties, or is having trouble managing big emotions, it can be helpful to talk with a therapist!
At Balanced Minds Psychology & Wellness we specialize in assisting young adults, teens, and children with navigating life’s challenges. To learn more about me and the services I provide, checkout my profile. If you are ready to start the therapy process, contact us today to start a free consultation, either over telehealth or in person!