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Frustrations over Homework? Practice this Coping Strategy…
“Uuuwwaaaahhhh” I heard from our dining room table and recognized immediately the telltale sign of my son getting frustrated with his homework. “He hasn’t been working that long,” was my first thought. My second was, “this is gonna be a long night.” Children of all ages will experience frustration during homework time. And because we want our children to succeed, our reaction to that frustration might be “oh, come on, you can do it” and also, “dig in, don’t give up, keep going!” But when a child is truly feeling stuck, they may begin to spin their mental wheels getting nowhere. This can lead to a long night of parent-child battles as a parent moves from encouragement to insistence. “You’ve got to get this done!” And the child moves from minor aggravation to giving up. “I just can’t figure it out!”
Research confirms that short breaks help a person’s brain refresh and process. Staring at the page may not produce any new thinking in your child and in fact, staying there when irritated can burn valuable fuel and decrease motivation to put in the hard work necessary to get through the learning process.
But if he walks away, gets some fresh air, or moves a bit, he might feel differently. This small change of scenery can boost thinking skills in powerful ways. He can think more clearly and become a better problem-solver when he returns. He may even gain some new ideas or solutions to his problem removed from the work setting. This functions in the same way that we experience the “shower effect.” Do you get your best ideas in the shower too? Or perhaps your most creative thoughts come when you are driving in the car with no laptop or notepad at the ready? Or maybe when you’ve laid down to go to sleep for the night, your brain starts firing off brilliant thoughts. In order to access our top thinking skills, we require a mental rest. Consider that a short brain break for your child is working with their natural thinking processes to facilitate them, not fight against them.
So although our intention to promote grit and “stick-to-attive-ness” in our children comes from a genuine hope to help them be successful, teaching and promoting brain breaks can help children learn to manage their emotions more effectively while working. And in addition, they may be able to extend their focused attention when they return to work with added motivation from the fuel they’ve gained.
Here are some simple ways to teach, practice, and promote the essential brain break.
Talk about the Brain Break during a regular (non-frustrating) homework time.
Or if homework is consistently frustrating, then pick a non-homework time to talk about how to take brain breaks.
See if you can come up with a few ideas together. What can your child do when taking a brain break? You might ask: “What makes you feel better or gives you comfort when you’re feeling frustrated?” You can share some restorative ideas like walking outside and breathing in the fresh air, doing some jumping jacks or a yoga pose, getting a drink of water, or visiting a favorite stuffed friend. For young children, imitate your favorite animal. Hop like a bunny or jump from limb to limb like a squirrel. For older children, listen to your favorite song or play on a musical instrument. Have your child write or draw their ideas. Keep that paper in your homework location so that when it’s needed, you can remind your child to take a look at what ideas she’s had and pick one. Daniel Goleman’s book entitled “Focus; The Hidden Driver of Excellence” recommends getting outside in nature as one of the most restorative (and just stepping outside your front door counts!). He also writes that checking email, surfing the web, or playing video games are not restorative so avoid those when you are generating brain break ideas.
Discuss school brain breaks.
Yes, brain breaks are key at school too. But does your child’s teacher offer them? Even if they do, they are likely structured breaks for all students and may not serve your own child’s needs at the moment she has them. Help her learn self-management skills by figuring out what she can do in the midst of frustrating moments when she is sitting at her desk completing a worksheet or taking a test. Because mindfulness simply means becoming aware of your body and your thoughts and feelings (and holding compassion for those feelings – not judgement), it can be done anywhere. Your child could count to ten slowly while breathing deeply. Your child could tap each finger on her page individually while breathing noticing the touching sensation. She could wiggle each toe in her shoes noticing how that feels. These pauses can help her bring her focus back to her work.
Set a timer.
Brain breaks should not be long. After all, your child has work to accomplish and especially on school nights, time is limited. So allow enough time to move away and change the perspective but not so much time that your child gets involved in another activity. One to three minutes could be enough to accomplish that goal. Also, put your child in charge of the timer. You don’t want to be the one managing this break. Give your child that responsibility.
Do a dry run.
Practice is important before using it. Include deep breathing in your practice. For young children, try out hot chocolate breathing or teddy bear breathing to practice this important part of the break. For older children, you can merely count to ten while breathing or exaggerate the sound of your deep breathing together. Call “brain break.” Move away from work, breathe deeply, and try out your child’s idea for one restorative practice. This practice will ensure that she is well-rehearsed and can call upon that memory when she’s feeling frustrated and taken over by her flight or fight survival brain.
Notice, remind, and reinforce through reflection.
After you’ve generated ideas and practiced, then notice when you see your child getting frustrated. You might say, “I notice you have a frustrated look on your face. Would a brain break help?” Then after she does a brain break and her homework is complete, reflect. “Did that help you and how did it help you?” in order to maximize her learning.
For parents, teaching and promoting brain breaks with your child can serve as a helpful reminder to us. Yes, we also require brain breaks as we deal with a myriad of responsibilities and attempt to use focused attention with our child, as well as our work, as well as our household and social responsibilities. If you notice you are feeling overloaded with it all, how can you incorporate brain breaks into your own day to help you become more effective? I think I’ll take one…right now.
For Educators, check out this great article on Edutopia on how to incorporate brain breaks and other focusing activities into your daily classroom routines.
Goleman, D. (2013). Focus; The hidden driven of excellence. NY: Harper Collins.
How to Deal with Homework Frustration As a Parent
This article was co-authored by Trudi Griffin, LPC, MS. Trudi Griffin is a Licensed Professional Counselor in Wisconsin specializing in Addictions and Mental Health. She provides therapy to people who struggle with addictions, mental health, and trauma in community health settings and private practice. She received her MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Marquette University in 2011.
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When your child struggles with their homework, they may become frustrated or upset. In turn, this may cause them to act out, and you may wind up frustrated yourself. Fortunately, there are ways you can help your child calm down when they begin to become agitated. There are also strategies you can use to help them work through challenging assignments, and to help ensure homework sessions go more smoothly moving forward.
What to say when your grade-schooler gets frustrated
Kids who learn and think differently might get frustrated more often than other kids.
That can lead them to act out in ways that seem confusing.
Knowing what’s behind the behavior lets you respond in more helpful ways.
When your child pushes your buttons, you might think it’s about testing limits (or your patience). Sometimes that is the case. But for kids who learn and think differently, some things that seem simple can actually be really hard. And that can lead them to get frustrated and act out.
Knowing what’s behind the behavior can help you keep your cool. It can also help you react in a way that makes it easier for your child to cope. Here are examples of frustrations you might see, and ways to respond.
Frustration about following directions
The behavior you’re seeing: It’s time to turn off the TV to get ready for bed. But your child just grins and sits on the remote so you can’t take it away.
Before you understand, you might think: Your child is trying to provoke you.
The frustration behind the behavior: Lots of kids who learn and think differently have trouble going from one thing to the next. They might need extra help with transitions, like clear directions about what to do and when.
A helpful way to respond: “I know you want to keep watching. I gave you a ‘five-minute warning.’ Right now, it’s time to get ready for bed. Turn off the TV.”
Frustration about homework
The behavior you’re seeing: Your child bursts into tears while doing homework and starts scribbling all over the page.
Before you understand, you might think: Your child is trying to get out of doing homework.
The frustration behind the behavior: Homework can make kids who learn and think differently feel very anxious. They might be afraid to make mistakes. Or they might not know how to get the work done.
A helpful way to respond: “I see you’re upset. What’s going on? Let’s try to find a way to salvage this page. Then we can talk about how to make homework time easier in the future.”
Frustration about social situations
The behavior you’re seeing: At the table, your child keeps burping loudly on purpose while other family members are talking.
Before you understand, you might think: Your child is trying to hog all the attention.
The frustration behind the behavior: Some kids who learn and think differently have trouble following conversations. They might not know how to join in without interrupting people. And they may get so frustrated that they act out.
A helpful way to respond: “You’re interrupting. If you’d like to join the conversation or leave the table, say ‘excuse me.’”
Frustration about completing tasks
The behavior you’re seeing: You ask your child to set the table. And 10 minutes later, when you ask why only the plates are out, your child says, “I’m not setting the stupid table!”
Before you understand, you might think: Your child is being rude.
The frustration behind the behavior: Your child might not know what a table should look like when it’s set.
A helpful way to respond: “It may seem ‘stupid’ to you, but I need the table set. Let’s set one place together and you can do the rest. It doesn’t need to look exactly the way it does when I set it. We can always move things around when we sit down.”
Learn more about helping kids cope with frustration.
Routines that seem simple can be challenging for kids who learn and think differently.
How you respond to frustration can make a big difference.
Acknowledging your child’s frustration can help you both keep your cool.
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About the author
About the author
Amanda Morin is the director of thought leadership at Understood and author of “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education.” She worked as a classroom teacher and early intervention specialist for more than a decade.
Mark J. Griffin, PhD was the founding headmaster of Eagle Hill School, a school for children with specific learning disabilities.
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