Transforming the Homework Animal

With a new school year beginning, there will be the traditional teacher/parent meetings, science projects, supplies lists, endless sports tryouts and schedules. But of all of the routine hurdles and challenges families face in a school year, homework seems to cause the most frustration. How does one transform the “homework beast” as Diane Peters Mayer describes it in her book, Overcoming School Anxiety? Regardless of one’s stance on the homework issue, it is a daily reality for many students. What can be done to alleviate some of the worry and frustration?

How a parent or guardian reacts to homework is crucial according to Mayer; furthermore, there are strategies that adults and children can both acquire to reduce the frustration and ensure success.  Mayer wants the adult to be reassuring, supportive, but firm with homework completion. As well, adults must keep themselves informed as to what their child’s teacher requires. Also, the adult needs to help the child establish the best possible location and schedule for doing homework. Rewards and encouragement go far in reducing the stress. It is the effective management of homework being completed within reasonable work periods with breaks and snacks that is crucial.

Amber P. Keefer in her article for Sylvan Learning Center (2004) begins with a helpful series of questions directed at parents concerned about their child and homework. Answering yes to any one of these questions is a cause for concern, according to Keefer since stress can be a leading cause for  headaches, stomachaches and gastrointestinal complaints. Keefer cautions parents not to be overly supportive of their child’s efforts with homework  which can  negatively impact their self-confidence and ability. Instead, help the child to prioritize their assignments according to due dates, length and challenge level. Like Mayer, Keefer wants the parent to be supportive but not to overdo it. Rather, look for the positive and remind them that making errors is part of life.

Marcia Slattery, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at the University of Wisconsin, remarked in her 2008 article, “Helping Kids With Homework Anxiety” how approximately 50 percent of the children that visit her clinic display anxiety that has a tendency to increase as school approaches. Slattery suggests that anxiety over homework might signal other problems, such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder or an undiagnosed learning disorder. Having an established, predictable routine involving location, expectations, and time go far in reducing the stress. An interesting suggestion by Slattery involves the parent reading or doing some paper work of their own during this time as a way of modeling.

In conclusion, these three experts – Mayer, Keefer, and Slattery – have many strategies in common in making homework less daunting. Being supportive, proactive, consistent, and aware greatly help the child reduce their frustration.  However, one of the most provocative statements was made by Slattery when she describes how exhausting anxiety can be for children who are already stressed by school and need to survive on a daily basis. But on a hopeful note, Slattery states that there is a lot that can be done to help.