Dear Teen Parenting Coach

Q: Homework Triggers Epic Tantrums from My Child

Sometimes, the mere thought of buckling down for homework after a long day of school is enough to invite meltdowns and anguish from students with ADHD and executive function challenges. You know they are tired and worn out, but still the work must be done — and without nightly terrors. Try these tricks to defuse the situation.

Q: “Many nights, my son falls apart at the mere mention of homework. Or, he convinces himself an assignment is too difficult and gives up – after a major meltdown. He doesn’t want to get a zero for not completing work, but is completely blocked emotionally. He feels like he’s too stupid. How can I help him recover after an emotional breakdown?”

When a child suffers a meltdown at 7pm, we as parents focus on getting through the meltdown. But what we need to do is rewind the day back to 8am, and think of all of the things that led to this point. Where is the break down beginning? What is leading us to this point? Typically these major tantrums don’t happen out of the blue.

Homework doesn’t start when your child sits down to do homework. It starts when he first walks into his first class of the day. Does he hear what the teacher had to say? Does he have his homework from the night before? Does he even know what is being asked of him? Does he need some systems and strategies in place to refuel his executive functions after depleting them all day at school?

My son had a similar issue. He was explosive about getting homework done. Here are a couple things that worked for us:

[Free Download: How Well Does Your Teen Regulate Emotions?]

  1. Play “I Spy” and focus on what is getting in the way of your child’s work. Is it using Twitter during homework time? Or difficulty sustaining effort?
  2. Engage your child in the process of getting started. While you are having a snack after school, ask, “What’s your plan?” Or, “What are your priorities for tonight?” This can prepare his brain for what’s next for the evening without nagging him.
  3. Make it easy to get started. I tried to make things as simple as possible to avoid overwhelm. A sheet of 20 or 30 problems – even if they were simple computations – would put my son into a tailspin. Instead, I would put out one math problem or one vocabulary word at the beginning just to get the ball rolling. Remove barriers to entry by starting small and simple. If your child gets stuck, ask, “What’s your first step?” This can help dial back the overwhelm.
  4. Stop distractions and procrastination. I would sit in the room with my son while he worked. I wasn’t communicating, or helping after he got started, just being there – doing something else, and sometimes re-directing him back to work. Act like a force field to keep your child focused and anchored to whatever task he’s trying to complete.
  5. Get moving. Grab the flashcards and take the dog out for a walk. Ask them as you move around the neighborhood. By the time you get home, the assignment is complete, but it didn’t feel like studying. Do math problems with sidewalk chalk – anything to break up the emotion of the moment.

Not every strategy works for every student – throw a few things against the wall and see what sticks.
This advice came from “Getting It Done: Tips and Tools to Help Your Child Start — and Finish — Homework,” an ADDitude webinar lead by Leslie Josel in September 2018 that is now available for free replay.

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The opinions and suggestions presented above are intended for your general knowledge only and are not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease without consulting with a qualified healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your own or your child’s condition.