Managing Homework Anxiety

Health Writer

It is not a word any child wants to hear, "homework." After being in school all day, the prospect of spending time at home doing more work brings dread to many. But for some children, especially those with an anxiety disorder, the thought of doing homework brings fear. Dr. Marcia Slattery, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at the University of Wisconsin states, "There's an inherent quality to homework that evokes a certain amount of stress, and that can be good, because it pushes us to learn. But for some children, the anxiety is so pronounced it basically freezes them." [1]

Homework is such an integral part of our children's education. It helps to reinforce concepts learned during class and gives students the chance to practice what they have learned. But if, each night, homework time is filled with stress, for both you and your child, the benefits are diminished. There are a number of ways parents can help to reduce stress and relieve some of the anxiety associated with homework time:

Make sure there is not an underlying reason for the anxiety. Children with other problems, such as ADHD or learning disabilities may be anxious about homework because they are having trouble understanding the work or keeping up with their classmates. Other anxiety issues, such as social anxiety disorder, may also play a role. Talk to your child's teacher to find out if there are other school issues, for example, bullying, that may be contributing to your child's anxiety.

Create a time and space for homework. Children with anxiety may do better knowing what to expect, and when to expect it. Set aside a specific time each day when homework is completed - routine and consistency help reduce stress. Create a "homework space" that is relaxing and comfortable. Minimize distractions.

Use homework time as productive time for you as well. Use this time to pay bills, go over your budget, read a book, exercise or cook dinner. You will be setting an example that homework time isn't just for kids; that adults must spend time each day doing their homework -taking care of the household or exercising their mind or body. Homework will feel less like a chore and more like a daily routine.

Talk about your expectations for homework. Children with anxiety are sometimes trying to live up to unrealistic expectations or may want everything to be perfect. Letting your child know what you expect, for example you might explain that effort is more important than results, can help lessen stress.  You can also stress that making mistakes helps people learn.

Keep open communication with your child's teacher. If homework time is a huge battle every night, talk with your child's teacher. Is there a way the homework can be reduced but still give your child the opportunity to learn? Are there other problems at school contributing to stress? Are there specific areas your child is struggling? Regular communication with the teacher is the best way to keep abreast of what is going on during the school day.

Be involved in your child's homework. This doesn't mean that you should do the homework or you need to sit next to him or her as she completes the work. But you can quickly go over what he has for homework each night and help him stay organized. For example, if part of the homework is studying for a test, you can break down what needs to be studied each night or helping him create his own flashcards. If he needs to complete a large project, you can create a time line to break the project into smaller tasks. You might also talk about what subjects should be done first; your child may do better if he completes the easier tasks first, giving him a sense of accomplishment.

Always offer encouragement and support. It can be frustrating when your child refuses to do homework or every night ends up in tears. Give your child plenty of praise - even for the smallest accomplishment, "How great that you have completed your sentences so quickly, I bet you can finish your math in no time at all," is much better than, "Finally, the sentences are done, now you have to do math."   Focus on what your child has accomplished or what he does well instead of the areas he is struggling.

Finally, help your child develop stress relieving strategies. Exercise is a good stress reducer. Engaging in exercise every day can help relieve feelings of stress but you can also break up homework time with a few stretching or cardiovascular exercises in between assignments. Rhythmic breathing also helps. Teach your child to learn signs of stress and take a few minutes to stop and do a few deep breathing exercises to reduce feelings of frustration.


"Helping Kids with Homework Anxiety," 2008, Sept 11, Staff Writer, University of Wisconsin, School of Medicine and Public Health

[1] "Homework Anxiety: Some Is Normal, Experts say, But Problems Arise, and Parents Can Reduce Stress to Help Children Get Through Their Assignments," 2008, Oct 8, Doug Erickson,