Back to school means back to schoolwork and homework. The start of another school year can often be overwhelming for both children and parents. Making the transition from a carefree summer to a structured school routine proves difficult for everyone. The combination of more complex academic topics and additional hours of homework can lead to anxiety for children of any age. This fall I sent my youngest off to kindergarten and my oldest to the 4th grade. Since the day they stepped off the bus with backpacks laden with homework, we've had our fair share of homework challenges and schoolwork anxieties.
For the sake of my sanity, I implemented several effective techniques to help ease the stress of daily homework assignments and devised some tips for coping with school work anxiety.
1. Set clear expectations
Determine when and where (see #2) homework is to be completed. Decide if your child will complete it immediately after school, following after school activities, after playtime, or after dinner. Be firm with your decision unless there is an extenuating circumstance.
2. Designate a space as a homework "spot" and eliminate distractions
Create an area specifically for completing homework assignments. Set up a desk with a comfortable chair and organize supplies in an accessible location. Turn off the TV and put away electronics and video games until homework has been completed.
3. Set time limits
When my daughters come home from school, we empty their backpacks and go over their homework assignments together. I can easily get an idea of how long it will take each of them to complete their homework. I determine a time limit for each of them and set a timer for the appropriate amounts of time. They are given ample amount of time so as to not feel rushed. The goal here is not to see how quickly they can finish the homework, but rather that they do it with focus and freedom from distractions. This system works spendidly with my oldest. If I didn't give her a time constraint, she would take an hour to complete assignments that can be done in 20 minutes. She's easily distracted by her own thoughts.
4. Give praise where it is due
When your child completes his or her homework while sticking to the above guidelines, be sure to praise the achievement. It's not easy for little minds to stay focused. When they do, it's important to let them know how proud you are.
The work our children come home with is a very small fraction of what they do in the course of a day at school. There is an entirely different set of fears and anxieties that surround school work as opposed to homework. Here are a few of my tips for coping with school work stresses:
1. Stay relaxed yourself
If you worry about your child's performance at school, your child will worry as well. If you have concerns, make an appointment with your child's teacher to discuss your child's performance. The teacher will give accurate feedback and make suggestions for how you can best be supportive at home.
2. Be supportive through difficult times
If your child receives a low grade or negative feedback, use it as a learning tool. When my daughters are having difficulty grasping a subject or a particular topic, I try to help them make a connection to the real world. It often makes learning easier when your child can relate it to a life experience. Tell your child that you are in this process together and you plan to help him or her through the difficult aspects of school. When you do so, your child will know that he or she is not struggling alone.
3. Affirm the value of outside of school activities
When your child is struggling in school, it's always helpful to affirm the achievements that are made outside of school. Celebrate the skills displayed when playing sports, a musical instrument or in an art class. Also, praise the great qualities your child possesses such as kindness, generosity, and responsibility. I let my daughters know that it's just as important to be socially adept as it is to be academically adept.
4. Communicate. Communicate. Communicate.
I can't stress this enough! Recognize that your child may feel under pressure to perform at school and give him or her opportunities to express their fears and worries. But at the same time, respect that your child may not always want to talk about it. I have been guility of minimizing my children's fears, but it's important to recognize that those fears are relative. Being in kindergarten is a big deal to my 5 year-old, and completing one page of coloring is hard work for her little fingers. Be supportive and understanding and communicate that to your child.
You can help your children tremendously by being supportive in good times and bad. Praising in the good times and offering assistance in the bad times will prove your commitment to your child. Offering your child a chance to disconnect from school is necessary, too. You can set up your child's day by setting the right balance between serious work time and enjoyable play time. Just as adults need to strike the perfect balance between work and play, children need the same, and rely on us to create it for them.