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Nine Year Old Stressed With Homework

by Kara Hess
(Charlotte, NC)

My nine year old gets SO FLUSTERED if he can not get an answer right away...... I try to calm him before his brain shuts down but he gets so upset with himself and can not seem to control his emotions no matter how hard I try!

I'd love and appreciate any advice!
Thanks so much!

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Helping Children Cope With Homework Stress - Part One
by: Annie Desantis

How Important Is Homework?

Hi Kara,
It saddens me when children get so stressed about homework. To be honest I don't actually think homework at this age is at all important. Reading - most definitely yes. But anything else, it is far more valuable to spend that time exploring topics and ideas that the child is interested in.

Particularly if it has become a major stress between parents and the child, trying to enforce homework, trying to get them to complete it or in the case of your son, getting so stressed he can't think straight.

I suspect if he is getting so anxious and flustered with his homework, that he has a tendency to get highly anxious in school also - when he might make a mistake, or is asked to answer something. It would be well worth talking to his teacher and finding out if he is finding school very stressful also. If not, then the issue is between the two of you.

Maybe he is feeling very pressured to have to please you, maybe he does not cope very well with pressure. You said he gets flustered if he doesn't get an answer right away - are you testing him? Testing and exams really serve very little purpose. They merely are an indicator of how the child performs on the spot, they are not a good marker of how much knowledge or understanding a child has. If he is already highly stressed at age nine with tests, then he is setting up a really unhelpful pattern for as a teenager when there is far more emphasis on tests and exams.

Learning Needs To Be Fun

Much Much better to make recall tests a game at this age, so he anchors in fun and happy feelings not stress and anxiety. As you say his brain switches off when he is flustered. Mine is the same! I was an A+ student with course work, but always dropped several grades in an exam.

Strong feelings are coming from our reptilian part of the brain, which is about survival. Very important, but to function fully of course we need to develop rational thinking. When we get stuck in panic or anxiety then we can't move to the rational part of the brain and the more he has these kinds of experiences the more it reinforces it.

Part Two Follows . . .

Helping Children Cope With Homework Stress - Part Two
by: Annie Desantis

I would drop any pressure on him to have to perform or to have to comply, and instead focus far more on having fun with him.

There are lots of games that are learning and educational, that he can have fun with you, as well as practice trying out an answer. Be sure NOT to make it a big deal if he gets it wrong, make it fun and he will respond far better and will not be so likely to drop into panic.

Fun Activities Together

The more you anchor in fun activities with with you, where he can still practice getting an answer or giving things a go, but in an atmosphere of fun and laughter, the better. You can even sneak in a few mistakes of your own and make a joke about it, and make sure the emphasis in the game is the fun along the way, not who wins. Playing games as a family is such an important way for families to bond together, and there are so many opportunities for kids to learn along the way.

The game itself maybe educational, but they also learn so much about relating, taking turns, being patient, giving things a go, making mistakes, and even learning to loose gracefully, without it being something that is distressing.

I would really emphasize educational games that you can all play together, or just you and him for some one on one fun, positive time. There are lots of educational toys for children where they work on their own, such as the leapfrog games, but in his case, I suspect he has anchored in some issues with you around the whole homework thing, so clearing that and switching homework
time to play time with Mom, would be much more productive.

You can read reviews from parents about recommendations for the best educational toys and games on our site, but make sure you focus on games you can do together so you can unhook the homework issue.

Part Three Follows . . .

Helping Children Cope With Homework Stress - Part Three
by: Annie Desantis

Really have a look at what is under his distress - of course we want our children to succeed in school, and of course we want them to want to please us and do well. And a certain amount of stress and wanting to strive is a good thing and can motivate us to work a bit harder. But when a child is over anxious and this flustered it is counter productive.

Confidence And Self Esteem

He needs to feel good about himself, he needs to learn to trust in his ability to learn - much more than his ability to recall facts. Knowing how to find out things and being able to read is far more important than simply spitting back the correct answer. There are very few situations in life where we sit a test, and the outcome is important. School, driver's licenses and some pre-employment testing are the few examples. Most other measures of success or mastery are based on a result or a completion of tasks, not sitting a test. So it is a very artificial event, and really of not much use.

Our children need to learn so much more than what is under the umbrella of school subjects. Relationships, and play are all huge learning opportunities for children, and if he gains far more confidence in other areas there will be a spin off effect on his schooling.

He can master lots of things at home - helping with dinner, researching a recipe online, finding out about dinosaurs, planing a trip to the local library after school, writing things down on the shopping list for you, growing a vege garden.

Follow His Energy & Interests

Any time he is interested in something, maybe he sees something on TV, or starts talking about a topic that he is interested in, then you can use that as a springboard for a learning activity
that is fun together. Hop online with him and get him to search for videos or more information about it. This kind of learning is far more valuable to him than having to spit back the correct answers. Going with his energy when he is exited about discovering something, or when he has raised something he is curious about, is a much more powerful springboard for being motivated to learn.

The opportunities for learning and growing are endless, and far more valuable than struggling with homework. I would talk to his teacher and find out how he is managing at school, and if it is an overall issue of anxiety, then really work with him to affirm the things he tries, to praise his ability to figure things out, far more than just success at getting things right. If he gets
too scared to give things a go in case he makes a mistake, then he will shut down his ability to learn.

Part Four Follows . . .

Helping Children Cope With Homework Stress - Part Four
by: Annie Desantis

Great Tool To Clear Anxiety

One really good tool that could work well with him, is EFT. Emotional Freedom Technique, or tapping as we often call it, is a simple but very powerful technique where we tap on points, similar to acupuncture points. I have used it a lot with children, particularly with
anxiety issues, exam stress, fears and phobias.

The best way to use it, is we tap out the strong or upsetting feelings and then tap in affirmations and self belief. When there is clearly a pattern of behavior that is not serving him, then that is a great opportunity to try it out. You can do it prior to homework time, or as soon as you can see he is starting to get anxious, then start tapping out his feelings before he gets flustered. Then of course it is important to tap in some good stuff:
"I can stop and take a deep breath and trust in my brain"
"Even though I start to get anxious, I know I can do this"
"It's OK to make mistakes, learning takes time"
"Mom loves me even if I don't get every right first go"
"I'm a cool kid, and I learn lots of things every day"
"It's OK to get things wrong, no matter what I'm a great kid"

You can read more about positive affirmations for kids on our affirmations pages, and more about Eft Tapping with kids on our site.

You clearly love your son to bits Kara, and want him to relax and be calmer when he is doing his homework. Just focus heaps on building the fun side of your relationship with him, and ease off on any pressure to perform or succeed. The more he feels you believe in him and are confident he can figure things out, and the more you anchor in fun success experiences the more he will be able to move from his fear and anxiety reactions and be more rational.

Feel free to comment back or ask for any clarifications,

all the best,
Annie D :)

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