Top tips to de-stress homework time
Homework can be a source of enormous stress, angst and tantrums - for children and parents alike.
It can trigger some of the worst fights and arguments that we have with our children, and we’re constantly looking for solutions to help reduce tensions and get it done without arguments.
We spoke to mum of three and primary school teacher Grainne McElroy to get some tips for how to de-escalate the stress around homework.
Set up for success
Create the right atmosphere
We can’t expect our kids to focus if there is a lot of noise and distraction, for example if younger siblings are playing or if the TV is on in the same room. Make sure there’s a space for homework that’s calm, quiet and free from distractions. Sitting on a chair at a table not only helps massively with concentration but also enables children to write clearly and present their work as well as they possibly can.
Lots of children will take advantage of any excuse to jump up from the table. Try to have everything in place and easy to reach, from rubbers and sharpeners to a glass of water so kids can settle down to business.
Get in the know
Make sure you know about the school’s homework policy. This way you’ll know what the school expects, especially the length of time kids should be spending! Go to any parent information sessions, or get the school to send you the info if you can’t make it, as this will keep you updated with the techniques being used and help avoid the cry of “but that’s not the way my teacher does it!”
Concentration is tricky when tummies are rumbling. Hunger can make us all cross and irrational - it leaves us in a poor state to do any learning, making homework a bit pointless when we're feeling this way. Give your child something to eat before they begin, or set the child up with a healthy snack that they can nibble on as they work.
Be clear about expectations
Pulling your child away from a fun activity to do homework can unsurprisingly raise their hackles. If children know what is expected of them with regards to homework, they are less likely to be disappointed or upset when they have to stop playing and get stuck in.
For those who are reluctant to do homework, try to turn it into a game, or schedule a fun activity for after homework. Say “Homework first, then we can do something you really love.”
Perfect the routine
Tiredness is a big obstacle to homework and with most kids exhausted after their day at school, it can be tricky to work around. For some, scheduling a bit of downtime before they jump straight in to homework will help refresh them. For others, getting stuck in when they’re still on a roll from school will get it out of the way before they get really tired at the end of the day.
Experiment to see which works best for your child. It’s really worth investing time and energy in finding a routine that suits, and it will also help establish good work habits for the future.
Kids enjoy when someone takes an interest in what they are doing and of course, they love praise - focus it on the effort they’re putting in and their own creative approach to things rather than their outcome.
Remind kids that homework isn’t a punishment but functions to help them properly store what they’ve learned that day in their memories as well as an opportunity to show off what they can do!
Give them some control
After a day of being told what to do it can help to give a sense of self-determination and power back to your child. Let them choose which piece of homework they are going to do first, or at what time they’re going to start. NB you'll need to be realistic with this one, but even letting them choose between 3.30 and 3.35 can make a difference!
Just be there
Sometimes children just need to feel connected with you. This doesn't mean standing over them while they do their homework, or even more pointless, doing the homework for them, but can be achieved by making yourself available and reinforcing that you are on their side.
When emotions run high
Calm the storm
It’s hard, we know. You’ve most likely had a busy day too, and there’s often not much time to get the homework done between all the activities, pick-ups and other tasks that pepper the post-school routine. The pressure, combined with exhaustion and all the big emotions that children experience can cause them to just flip their lid.
Take five minutes out to help your child process what they are feeling and connect with them, emotion to emotion. When kids act out, it’s because they’re saying ‘I don’t know what to do with these emotions I’m feeling.’
Name it to tame it
It can help to label their emotions for them - frustration, worry, anxiety, tiredness - as just saying the feeling out loud can go a long way towards dealing with it.
Model a good response yourself to show them how it should be done. Say: “I’m feeling really frustrated about this too, so I’m going to take some really deep breaths for a minute, and then try again.”
It can sometimes seem like your child is deliberately dragging out their homework tasks, but often what seems like an attempt to antagonise us parents is actually our children struggling to deal with everything they have going on in their lives - not necessarily just the homework tasks in front of them.
If your child has completely lost it, there’s little point in attempting to push on with homework in the midst of a tantrum as their capacity to learn and benefit from it is fairly small.
Physical activity is a great way of helping children come down from those high emotions and start to become calm again. Different things work for different kids, but a bounce on a trampoline, a go on the swing, or a run around outside can make all the difference.
Other kids may benefit from a short play with a favourite toy, or if you’ve time and emotions are really high, how about an early bath? Water play is a fantastic way of bringing children down from a tantrum - and then attempt to tackle the homework tasks once they’re calm.
Know when to let it go
If it's all too much and too late, get ready to write that note to teacher explaining that you couldn’t get everything completed, just this once. As long as it’s not a regular problem, they’ll understand!
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