Do you often feel that you need to push your child to get started with homework? Are you finding that your child forgets to record certain tasks, books or schoolwork?
Some schools start homework as early as prekindergarten, so our children are being challenged at an early age to learn responsibility, organization and multitasking. As children move to higher grade levels, they often find it more difficult to multitask multiple subjects and keep up with the workload. Most often the issue is not that your child lacks the mental ability to keep up with the work, but rather that the load feels overwhelming and intimidating to him or her.
Most often I hear from preteens and teens that they tend to leave homework and studying for tests until one or two days prior to their exam. This is a great example of procrastination and avoidance. “If I just don’t think about it or don’t look at it, I will not have to worry.” It is easier to avoid a task than to tackle it. However, this avoidance is a form of denial and the internal emotions transform into anxiety, stress and unnecessary worry.
For example, I worked with a sixth grader who had three books to read over the summer. Each book was 80-100 pages long, and by the time he let me know about the assignment, he only had six weeks left before he was going to be tested on the content of all three books. He hadn’t even purchased the books, saying that there wasn’t enough time to get to them before school started, and it wasn’t worth the hassle. He saw this as an impossible task to accomplish in such a short amount of time.
As he was sharing how he felt, he appeared calm and unconcerned. He had accepted that he was most likely going to get a poor grade, and had come to terms with that. But I was able to help him see that, as difficult as it appeared to be, he had enough time to accomplish this reading task. I gave him a calendar for the month of July and showed him how this task was going to be broken down. We totaled the number of pages for all three books, counted the number of days left until his goal date, and found that by reading 11 to 12 pages per day, he could get the job done. The shock and astonishment (which, in fact, was a sense of relief) on his face, made my day.
In the end, he met his goal, received an acceptable grade and acknowledged how easy it was.
Everyone struggles with their own internal emotions and reasons for not starting a task. If procrastination, low motivation and low self-esteem start to affect your child’s academic performance, try these simple steps to help her or him avoid procrastination:
Start with a calendar. Print out a monthly calendar or use a dry-erase board to record tasks that need to be accomplished for each day.
Build good habits. Check daily with your child about assignments and upcoming tests, and demonstrate how to record the tasks on the calendar. Most kids have school planners, but rarely use them. I personally prefer a big calendar or white board that is highly visible and allows space to take notes or write in reminders. After you have demonstrated this technique, help your child make a habit of recording assignments daily.
Break down assignments. Help your child see that an entire chapter cannot be processed overnight, and that starting early allows time to break the reading into smaller sections. It is better to read two pages a night and understand the material than to tackle 15-20 pages at once. As a parent you can also process with your child how it feels to divide each task into small goals, and see how their feelings about homework have changed.
Offer rewards. Consider allowing your child to work toward a reward at the end of each week. Praise your child for their accomplishments and recognize the amount of effort they put in to completing their work (rather than only focusing on grades).
The goal is to teach your child healthy studying and organizational techniques. These techniques will not only help them during their education, but in their future work career as well. When one feels a sense of organization and the ability to divide tasks, the amount of stress immediately decreases and better overall health and happiness is created.
Regine Muradian, Psy.D., is a clinical psychologist who uses evidence-based treatments for children, adolescents, adults and couples with a wide range of emotional, behavioral and adjustment problems such as obesity, eating disorders, depression, anxiety, relationship issues and ADHD. She provides workshops in positive parenting, teen issues, anxiety, depression, substance abuse, family conflict resolution and organizational management. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and three children. Learn more at www.reginemuradian.com.