Just like adults, kids face pressure and stress every day. A small amount of stress can be good, but when stress rises, it can cause a wide range of symptoms in children. Common stress-related symptoms include decreased appetite, headache, sleep problems, stomach aches, emotional issues and more.
In 2012, research detailed in the Journal of Neuroscience found that children under high levels of stress couldn’t perform as well on spatial memory tests as those who were relaxed. It also suggested that, in some cases, stress can hinder cognitive development and impair learning.
Impending homework deadlines aren’t the only thing that causes increasing anxiety in our kids. “Yes, we need to teach our children better methods for managing their stress, but we also need to be cognizant of any stress we may be manifesting in their environment,” says KwiYun Cassie Yu, M.D., a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Swedish. “Stress management for our children starts with us.”
Here are some simple steps that parents can take to help de-stress homework for kids.
Teach time management skills.
If your children have heavy loads of homework, it will be beneficial for you to help them learn some time management and organizational skills.
Encourage your kids to spread the load when possible, allocating a little bit of work every night instead of squeezing it all into one long homework session. Using planners or schedules can help them track assignments and allocate time each evening to focus on homework. These tactics can help them develop a homework habit that can ease stress.
Have a clear beginning and a clear end.
Some kids love homework. Some kids don’t. Either way, knowing that a task has a definitive start and end helps reduce stress associated with the work. Encourage your students to set a timer when they start a task. The maximum length of time that a child can focus one thing varies with age, maturity and temperament. On average, sources suggest two to five minutes per year of age is a reasonable attention span. This means an 8-year-old may have a maximum attention span of about 16 minutes.
Praise for effort, not results
Applying newly learned skills to events, such as a math problem, creates a certain amount of anxiety for children. Will they get the answer correct? Have they learned the process properly? Learning theory supports the view that providing praise during an event is far more effective than rewarding after it has finished. In fact, extensive research on effective parenting has shown that rewarding the result, rather than the effort, can impede self-esteem, particularly during the learning process.
Create a distraction-free homework environment.
Having music on in the background or attempting to solve a difficult chemistry equation while mom is clanking pots and pans in the kitchen is a recipe for stress. Ensure your children have a quiet workspace, free from distractions, such as loud music, TV and conversation. The ability to focus on the task at hand is imperative to the learning process and can allow the child to work more quickly and efficiently, freeing up time for something more fun.
Make time for fun things.
All work and no play would stress out anyone. Ensure your children have time each day to do something they really enjoy. Whether it’s a bike ride with neighborhood friends or a game of hoops with dad, taking time to relax and stretch their muscles makes all the difference between learning and cramming. Activities that include physical exercise or creativity, such as art projects, release endorphins in the brain and reduce the levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) in the blood.
Do you have any great ideas/tips to help manage homework stress? Let us know.