Prioritize downtime. Kids need time to play, hang out, read or create on their own terms. Unstructured time is the first thing to go when families get busy, and that can have big repercussions for kids.
After school routines should include plenty of time for kids to unwind and engage in free play.
Be present. We worry about the impact of screen time on the developing brain, but we forget that our own screen time use can negatively impact our relationship with our kids. If your child senses a disconnect, he will retreat. It’s important for us to disconnect from our phone and other screens when our kids come home from school.
The best way to reconnect with our kids is to be present when they are in our presence. Make eye contact. Listen with intent. Let your child speak without attempting to fix any identified problems. Often, children need someone to listen while they work through their feelings and problem-solve out loud.
Play together. I often recommend playing a board game or a simple card game with children right after school. Spending time playing quietly together or reading together helps ease kids out of the overwhelming feelings that the end of the day brings and into a calmer state of mind.
Snack it up. Get ahead of the hunger crash by planning the after school snacks in advance. Many children come home starving and dehydrated, even if they communicate otherwise. This is not the time to try new foods, however. Put out snacks they enjoy with tall glasses of water and sit with them while they refuel.
Create a homework routine. Prevent homework wars by setting up a clutter-free spot to work and trying to do the homework at the same time each day. Set a timer and allow for plenty of breaks. If your child is struggling, write a note to the teacher and close the books for the day.
Kids are under increased pressure today. They are learning academics earlier and earlier. They also don’t have enough time to release energy. It’s no surprise our kids return home in a compromised state. It’s important for us to let our kids get back to the business of being a kid to help decrease stress and improve their emotional well–being.
Some homework times can go smoothly and other times can be a nightmare. When homework time gets hard at my house, there can be meltdowns, arguments, and a lack of patience—by the kids and the adults! Each of my kids has a subject or two that doesn’t come easy. I have to admit I often feel relieved when I read my child’s planner and see we have no homework in the difficult subjects and a night off from a homework meltdown.
But have hope… you don’t just have to hold your breath waiting for the misery to be over. Here are 8 tips on how to survive homework meltdowns.
1. Deal with the emotions.
After a long day at school, it is understandable that a child will reject the idea of coming home to do more work. Maybe your child is tired, doesn’t feel smart enough compared to his friends or has a fear of failing. When your child starts a meltdown, it’s important to let him get it out so it doesn’t build up.
Be sure not to engage in a way that causes you to become emotionally out of control too. Stay calm, but remain firm that this meltdown will not get your child out of doing his homework. Be loving and affirming that you know it’s hard, but that you believe in him and that he can do it. Assure him you are here to help and when it’s all over, you both will be proud and feel relieved. This is a teaching moment to let him know that just because we have overwhelming feelings, it doesn’t mean we become angry or paralyzed and not follow through on what needs to be done. It helps him understand that emotions don’t have to control us but rather we can learn to control them.
2. Get in touch with your creative side.
Just sitting down and writing spelling words over and over can be boring, especially for my 8-year-old son. So we play spelling soccer. If my son spells the word wrong on the whiteboard, I get to attempt a penalty kick against him. If he gets it right, he gets to try and make a point while I’m the goalie. This makes a huge difference in his ability to focus and makes our time much more enjoyable and productive.
Find something that fits your child. Maybe go outside, download a fun learning app, make up a cheer together, have a special homework date somewhere, or create an art project out of it. Tying in something your child likes can make things go much smoother.
3. Set a realistic bar.
Be realistic about what your child can accomplish in the homework arena. Also, be realistic about the fact that most kids will hit a frustration point with homework. Even if your child is amazingly smart, it’s okay if she struggles sometimes. If your child is consistently struggling, she needs you to stay patient, keeping in mind what’s realistic to expect from your child. Affirm them that it’s okay if something is hard and that you will help them figure it out.
4. Lean on the team.
If you notice your child is having a chronic struggle with a school subject, it may be time to get the teacher’s input. Remember that parents and teachers are a team. I did this at the beginning of the year for one of my kids and the teacher sent me a whole packet of ways to practice at home. These have been a lifesaver to help us make homework time easier.
Keeping your teacher in the loop can also help her keep an eye on your child. If she knows something is a struggle for him, she can watch for chances to give extra help or send home some tips that can help.
5. Pray together.
Prayer is an important part of our family. It can calm me and keep me focused on what really matters. The times I have prayed out loud with one of my kiddos before a hard assignment, things went more smoothly. Prayer helps us stay centered and lift the stress. Here are 10 ways to pray for your child at school.
6. List of coping skills.
As a therapist, having a list of coping skills is a go-to tool in our house. We have a list that stays out on the table while doing homework. Items on our list are:
- Remember you are loved even if you don’t get them all right.
- Take a couple minute break.
- Say Philippians 4:13.
- Say aloud, “I can do this.”
- Count to 10 slowly.
- Ask for a hug.
- Remember all the people who didn’t give up.
This list is something we came up with together as options that could help when on the verge of a homework meltdown.
One of my favorites is the last one: Remember all the people who didn’t give up. My son has some sports figures he looks up to. We’ve talked to him about all the times they have messed up or struggled and that if they had given up the first time it was hard, they never would have made it to the level they are now. This helps him know that learning from our mistakes is better than just giving up.
7. Hit the Pause button.
Sometimes everyone needs a break. When things are getting hard, there is no reason to push it. This is not about letting your child turn on technology or going outside to play with friends. Doing that could teach your child that they can get out of homework when they have a meltdown
Taking a break could be setting a timer for 10 minutes to color, read a favorite book, or play a game. This should just be a small break to help everyone breathe and get ready to finish homework. Make sure your child knows that when the timer goes off, you will have to get back to work.
8. Look deeper.
Sometimes when homework time is hard, I have to take a step back and figure out what is really going on. Is this a situation that needs discipline because your child is being defiant?
Is your child a perfectionist and setting too high of expectations on himself? If so, this means he needs help to work through anxiety and setting realistic goals.
Is homework time hard because something more is going on? Does your child have a learning disability or does he need tutoring to help?
When we assess for something deeper that could be going on, it helps us find better ways to help our child not struggle so much with homework time. When you do find a deeper issue behind the homework struggle, address it as soon as you can to help your child get back on track.
Tell us! What are some ways you and your child make homework time positive?