The Homework Worriers: 13 Ideas

As a child psychologist, every week, I meet a “homework worrier”: a child who gets very anxious about getting homework done, and getting it right. Homework Worriers do things like:

• Spend excessive amounts of time on a simple homework task
• Cry or be teary before and during homework
• Ask for lots of help and reassurance during homework, more than expected for their age/the task
• Act irritably or get frustrated when someone tries to help
• Say, “I can’t do it!” or “it’s too hard”, or “I’m not doing it right”
• Complain about reminders to start homework, or try to avoid it
• Get very upset if they get something wrong
• Worry that their teacher will be disappointed in them or get angry with them

Some parents get very frustrated with homework worriers and there are fights, tears and storming off (from both parents and children!). Other parents don’t get mad, but are very anxious themselves about their children’s anxiety. Usually the homework worriers sense their mum/dad’s worry – which makes them more anxious. Neither the “angry” nor the “worried” approach from parents helps very much. Where possible, parents should try to be calm about their child’s homework worries. The reality is that most schools set homework, and learning to cope with it is a big life task – but children can survive this.

There are a few things that parents can do to help homework worriers cope. I have listed 13 ideas below. Be warned, none of these ideas are instant solutions. Homework worriers need slow, steady and patient support. But hang in there, with persistence, even the most frantic homework worrier can learn to calm down.

1. Empathise with your child. Homework and assessment is understandably tough at times. Just for a minute: remember the last time you were assessed on something at work, had someone grading you or looking at your performance. It was somewhat nerve wracking right? Homework can Do my Homework for me be similarly scary. Say “I’m sorry you feel so stressed about this” or “I can see you are feeling a bit worried about this” or “It’s tough when the work is hard isn’t it” or “I’m sorry that you are finding this a bit scary”. Brief, calm statements of care and understanding can help children feel heard, and sometimes this is enough to help them calm down.

2. Help the child to calm their body. Ask them to take three deep, slow breaths. Do it with them! Slower and deeper breathing leads to less “anxiety chemicals” in the brain which means they will learn and remember better.

3. Occasionally, try to help your child figure out exactly what worries them about homework. Ask questions like: “What do you think might happen if you don’t finish this/get this right?” or “What is something you really don’t like about making mistakes” or “what is the hardest or most unpleasant thing about doing this/handing this up?” or “What do you think your teacher/friends/I might think if you don’t finish this/get this wrong?”. Write all your child’s worries about homework down on a piece of paper with them. This will help you know how to reassure your child, but more importantly will help your child think about their anxiety more clearly.

4. Ask your child to help you think of some “calm sentences” about homework. For example, “My teacher hardly ever gets mad with me, and even if they do, it’s not the end of the world”; “I can do SOME of this, and it’s okay if I can’t do it all” or “I’ll just try my best and ask for more help tomorrow”. Again, write these calm sentences down. Writing has more impact than just saying it out loud. Put the calm sentences on cards that the child can read through themselves when they are worried. This helps build the child’s own skills in dealing with their fears rather than always needing us to be reassuring them ourselves.

 

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