Children are receiving homework as young as the kindergarten age, and some students report spending up to six hours a night on it. Many kids learn how to cope and manage the homework load, but what about children with anxiety? Anxiety negatively impacts concentration, inhibits learning, and can make it difficult for an anxious child to display her true knowledge and grasp of the material. Following are a few anxiety-ridden scenarios and how to help.
Anxiety: “My logical, problem-solving brain won’t work and I feel stupid.” When children are operating from an anxious brain, their logical, problem-solving, executive functioning brain is out of reach. Can you imagine trying to complete a math problem without the ability to use logic? In addition, anxiety creates added stress, which interrupts the ability to sustain focus. A child may be able to demonstrate her true knowledge when she is operating from a calmer state, but can’t recall the information during an anxious moment. In this anxious state, 30 minutes of homework takes 3 hours, frustration rises, exhaustion enters, and your child ends up feeling stupid.
How to help: If anxiety is impacting your child’s ability to demonstrate knowledge, is causing your child to spend more time on homework than his peers, or is adding significant stress after school, you may ask your teacher for some accommodations to support your child. Homework may be shortened or broken down into smaller parts, a time limit may be implemented on how much time a child may spend on homework, and in some cases, homework can be completely waived.
Anxiety: “I worry so much about turning in a perfect paper that I end up procrastinating.” Children and teens will often cope with their fears of inadequacy or making mistakes with procrastination. Parents and teachers may inaccurately label these kids as lazy or tell them to try harder. This only puts more focus on the child’s struggles and shines a light on the child’s need to seek external achievements and rewards to gain self-confidence.
How to help: Use your relationship to notice what you see. Say, “I notice you have a hard time finishing your homework. What’s the hardest part?” or “I wonder if you worry so much about being perfect, it’s hard for you to get started.” By opening up a nonjudgmental conversation, you may help your child gain some insight into their anxious response to homework.
Anxiety: “Homework takes away from my play, and I need play to learn, relax, and reduce my anxiety.” Children learn through play. If your child compromises her free time for homework, then your child is at risk for increased anxiety, stress, learning challenges and health issues. A relaxed and rested brain is a brain that is open and ready to learn.
How to help: Create a routine in which your child is able to relax his mind, body, and burn off energy he may have had to hold onto during the school day. Discover a homework routine that works best for your child. Your child may need to get some physical exercise immediately after school before diving into homework. Alternatively, your child may need to start homework immediately, but utilize sensory supports such as fidgeting, music, or bouncing on an exercise ball while working. Break homework up into small parts and allow frequent breaks. Never sacrifice a child’s after-school play or relaxation time for homework. Be the support network. Homework is mistakenly thought of to be an independent time of study. I encourage caregivers to look at homework as an opportunity to connect and spend time with their child. An anxious child’s brain will calm with your presence and support. You will also discover exactly what parts of homework are difficult for your child and in turn help your child more. You will have the opportunity to teach your child the skills she is lacking and help develop positive coping tools.