Homework: from Stress to Success

Categories: ASD and DD, Child-focused

After a long school day, students are often faced with more work – homework! Between time constraints with extracurricular activities, difficult subject matter, and differences in learning ability, homework can be stressful. This article provides strategies to help reduce the stress homework can create for students and parents. These suggestions can be effective for typically developing children as well as children with special needs.

Choose a workspace
  • Find the place that allows the student to do his best work.
  • This can be a certain room at home, an after-school program, or the local library.
  • Try different locations to find what works best.
  • Make sure basic needs are met. Being hungry or thirsty makes it hard to concentrate.
  • Reduce distractions such as clutter, TV in the background, and phones.

Create a schedule
  • Schedule breaks between assignments. These can be fun activities or chores. I never enjoyed cleaning my room more than when it got me away from math!
  • For students who aren’t yet readers, try using a visual schedule with pictures to outline the sequence of assignments and breaks.
  • Maximize buy-in by scheduling something the student loves as a reward for completing all assignments, or have a basket of motivating items such as stickers she can choose from.
Give choices
  • Let the student take control. Ask him, “Which assignment do you want to do first?” or, “What would you like to do for your first break?"
Break it down
  • A checklist item that says, “write essay” seems overwhelming. A checklist that says, “make outline,” “think of a title,” and “write introductory paragraph” appears less daunting.
  • Consider breaking down the time spent on task. If “finish 10 math questions” is unmanageable, try “spend 20 minutes on math assignment.” You can use a kitchen timer for this strategy if the student isn’t able to tell time.
  • Check off each item as it’s completed. This highlights the progress made and creates a visual of the workload decreasing.
Make it a family event
  • Schedule a regular “work time” for the entire family. Find a quiet task to work on next to the student: Read, pay bills, look through email, update fantasy teams, look through social media, etc.
Build confidence
  • “I’m impressed by how hard you’re working.” “You’re doing a fantastic job being patient with such a tough assignment.” “I’m so proud of how you’re sticking with it.” Words of encouragement go a long way.
  • If you can see the student getting discouraged, remind her of a time she did something really well, or have her take a break doing something she enjoys and does well.
Use the Internet
  • Curriculums change, and it is often the case that parents were taught a subject differently from their child. When the textbook isn’t helping, use the Internet to find websites to provide step-by-step tutorials on different academic topics. There are also many academic games online.
Have the student teach
  • If a student gets stuck, it can be hard for him to explain exactly what he’s having trouble with. Having him try to teach you can help you identify where the breakdown is, and could also help him work it out himself by talking it out.
Learn at home
  • Find fun ways to incorporate learning into everyday activities. Practice counting by throwing items into a target. Work on fractions while cooking together. Bring a spelling list to practice during a walk.
  • A little creativity and some advanced planning can go a long way toward making homework less stressful for the whole family!

By Ashley Clarke, M.S., OTR/L

May Institute is a nonprofit organization that is a national leader in the field of applied behavior analysis, serving individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other developmental disabilities, brain injury and neurobehavioral disorders, and other special needs. Founded more than 65 years ago, we provide a wide range of exceptional educational and rehabilitative services across the lifespan. May Institute operates four schools for children with ASD and other developmental disabilities, including one in Randolph, Mass. For more information, call 800.778.7601 or visit