Children avoid and refuse homework for a number of reasons. An anxious child may fear failure or be caught in a frustrating cycle of perfectionism. He may simply be too emotionally overwrought to call upon the attention and focus needed to complete the work. He may need supervision and reassurance from a parent who is busy preparing a meal, or is tired from the day's demands. It is important to rule out learning challenges or attention deficit disorder (ADD) before concluding that homework troubles are anxiety related. Overlap with other mental health issues are detailed in Chapter 5.
What Does It Look Like?
Typical patterns of homework refusal may include procrastination or dawdling, forgetting assignments or materials needed to complete the work, defiance, excessive need for reassurance, and inability to work independently. Some children become great at the disappearing act by running off to a friend's house or holing up in their rooms. As surprising as it seems, some children may even offer to do chores or help with food preparation in an effort to avoid doing their homework.
What Can You Do to Help?
First, be aware of your child's assignments and obligations for school. Make checking your child's backpack or folder a daily part of your routine, such as when she first comes home from school or when you come home from work. Communicate your belief that your child can do the work on her own, but that you will be happy to assist her if she gets stuck.
If your child routinely does homework in an area with multiple distractions, consider the following tips:
Turn the TV or radio off.
Choose an area that is well lighted and clear of clutter.
Have your child do homework routinely in that area, at about the same time each day.
Try to make sure your child is not hungry or overly tired when tackling homework.
Consider reading a book or magazine nearby so that you are available for support. You are also modeling good study habits!
Encourage younger siblings to draw or do projects in the same area, but only if they do not overly distract your child.
Be positive and reinforce your child's efforts.
When and How to Talk to the Teacher
If your child is experiencing anxiety-related concerns at school, be prepared to increase your level of contact with his teacher. Keep in mind that some teachers are more receptive than others are to emotional concerns, and it may be necessary to enlist the school social worker or other helpers to advocate for your child. Generally, it is a good idea to let your child know that you plan to talk with his teacher. But some children will be embarrassed by this as it can increase their anxiety if they feel the teacher is watching them closely. As such, you may wish to involve your child directly in problem solving, or enlist the help of a therapist who can “run interference.”
My daughter needs help at school but got very angry at me for suggesting I would call the teacher. What do I do now?
The importance of respecting your child and not increasing anxiety makes this a tough call. It is best to explain that, out of love, you will make the call, and that if you did not care, you wouldn't bother. Offer to make the call in her presence, and discuss what you will say. Reassure your child that even though she is upset at this moment, you know that once everyone is on the same page, she will get relief and actually feel better.
If homework becomes a daily struggle, or if you find yourself needing to talk with the teacher more than once or twice a month, it may be time to seek professional help to identify underlying anxiety.