The new school year is here for many of us and with it comes the stress of homework for parents and kids alike. Last spring I wrote critically about the negative effects of homework on our kids, and offered some tips for parents to help their children handle the daily challenges of homework. I want to expand on this today and focus on crucial advice that will help kids regulate their emotional states as, night after night, they sit down to do their homework after a full day of school. Use the following three tips to help kids manage their homework:
Yes, it is cliché and yes, it is often associated with the cure for stress and yes, we do it everyday in order to survive. However, most of us don’t know how to do it right and most of our kids don’t either. Most of the families I work with who struggle with homework issues have problems because both parents and kids are at the end of their ropes long before they even sit down to start homework. So, my first tip is for parents and kids to get to a more relaxed frame of mind. Take just a few minutes to do some breathing exercises before you start homework. If done right, breathing alleviates stress. Many of the kids I work with on breathing exercises are amazed how relaxed they feel. Imagine how much easier homework will be if we begin in a relaxed state of mind. Here is a great link to several breathing exercises.
2. Check in with the body:
Mindfulness is a way of paying attention to, and seeing clearly whatever is happening in our lives. Have you ever taken a trip somewhere and upon arrival realized that you don’t remember how you got there? That’s what being on autopilot is like. In our busy multi-tasking lives, this happens more often than you think. Mindfulness is an easy way to slow down your mind and body, and to consciously attend to what’s going on around you in the moment.
The idea of mindfulness has been gaining great traction in networking, decision making, parenting and in some classrooms as a way to help kids gain academic success through emotional security and control. Research on mindfulness has shown it to be “associated with measurable changes in the brain regions involved in memory, learning, and emotion.” So you can see how this might be of value in the homework department given that just mentioning the word “homework” often sends kids over the edge. Here is a great link to several fun and easy mindfulness exercises.
3. Use Tips 1 and 2 independently of homework:
As simple as these tools are to learn and use, it is sometimes hard to make kids learn and use them consistently. In addition, the older kids are, the harder it may be to get them on board. I’ve often heard the favorite teenage adage “that’s so stupid” or comments such as “it’s just breathing; I do that all the time.” Much of the defensiveness that comes with these statements actually stems from concerns about personal independence and individuality, an attitude that claims “I don’t need that dumb stuff to do my work.” A natural counter and selling point to resistant teens and pre-teens is simply this: “Learn how to breathe right and be mindful, and you’ll be able to handle most everything on your own.”
Of course, these tips are not a cure-all remedy to your homework (or other) woes. But in the short term, they will help diffuse some tension associated with and created by the daily homework load for both parents and kids. In the long term, these tips help our kids to manage the stress that life invariably entails by enabling them to tackle any task in a more relaxed state of mind.