It’s that time of year when many of the sessions in my private practice involves a discussion with my child or teen clients about strategizing ways to catch up a long list of missed assignments and end the school year successfully.
As a child psychologist and Modern Parenting Expert, I’ve unfortunately seen this scenario play out with many of my clients every year and it breaks my heart. It makes sense that many kids find themselves overwhelmed by late work in the second half of the school year. The first half of the year takes off slowly, allowing the child or teen to ease on in to homework, projects, and the material. Then, Christmas break happens and the child gets used to a slower pace for a while, and then January hits with a BANG!
Teachers mean business after the holidays are over. There is no more easing into the material and work, and the expectations are very high when it comes to producing work. In addition to this less-understanding attitude of the teacher, the academic material naturally becomes more complex and intense too. This scenario oftentimes creates a situation where it becomes very easy for kids and teens of become overwhelmed by the new demands of the second half of the school year.
But I have good news for you: even if your child is SUPER behind in their schoolwork, they can still end the school year on a positive note (and pass all of their classes!) by using the 10 strategies below. These are the same exact strategies that I use with all of my private practice clients, and I’ve seen many families rejoice with relief at the end of the year when their child brings home their well-deserved good grades.
Strategy #1: If you haven’t already, talk to your child’s teacher(s) to get an accurate accounting of the missed assignments and ask for extra time to get these assignments turned in.
For younger kids, the parent definitely needs to take control of this. Kids who are in elementary, middle school, and junior high just don’t have the communication skills necessary to have this important conversation with their teacher(s) and then report accurately back to mom and dad. Do yourself a favor, and take charge of this conversation yourself.
For kids who are in high school, these older kids can be encouraged to have this discussion on their own; however, if your child has a history of procrastination, lying, or academic anxiety, then it is probably better than you get involved in this conversation as well.
The point of this conversation is to get an accurate accounting of what assignments are actually missing. I know that when both my kids were in school, the online grading programs were not always accurate (we used Aries), so talking to the teacher(s) is the only way to ensure that you are getting an accurate idea of the amount of work that needs to be made up.
In addition to discussing which assignments are due, also see if the teacher is on board with your child turning in the assignments late. I’ve found that most teachers (even the grumpy ones) would rather a student turn in their work late than not at all, so most teachers will work with you on a new timeline for missing work.
Strategy #2: Make a realistic weekday AND weekend plan for completing missing assignments.
Now that you know exactly what you child is up against, sit down with them and create a realistic plan for getting it all done. What does realistic mean? It means that both you and your child need to come to terms with the fact that this won’t get fixed overnight. This will take time.
I recommend starting off slow because most kids at this point are so overwhelmed with the idea of making up so much work, that they need to first see that they are capable of tackling this big task. Many parents (and sometimes kids) want to start off by planning that the child or teen will spend all of their free time on homework.
This is just setting your child up for failure.
Look at your list of missing assignments and due dates. Plan to have your child work on 2-4 missing assignments per day on the weekday and more on the weekend (depedning on weekend family activities). Don’t expect your child to complete more that this even if they were able to complete 4 assignments in a half an hour and they have tons of time left in the day. Make a plan and stick to it. The point is to help your child see that they can take a problem, devise a solution, and work consistently on the solution successfully.
Especially with kids and teens who also experience anxiety, this step of the plan helps to manage the anxiety surrounding the missed work. When kids are using all of their cognitive capacity to worry about their academic work, they don’t have much cognitive energy left to actually work on their assignments. By creating a realistic plan, managing the anxiety surrounding the academic stress, and then plugging away every day at the plan, your child or teen will actually be able to work on their assignments more efficiently.
Strategy #3: Go For The Quick Win.
This step is counterintuitive to what most parents instinctively want to do. I’ve seen many parents set their child or teen up for failure when they encourage their child to work on hard assignments first, but this ALWAYS backfires.
For example, let’s say your plan is to have your teenager tackle 3 missing assignments per day and you tell your child to work on a science report that is worth a lot of points as 1 of their assignments for the day. More than likely, this assignment takes a long time to complete because it is really involved. Many kids and teens get discouraged at this point because they don’t see the plan working.
Instead of going for those larger projects first (and I totally understand the reasoning behind why you would want them to start with these projects) start with the “easy wins” first. Choose short assignments, Or assignments in the classes that your child likes or finds easier than other classes.
The point here is to allow your child to experience progress and success. If they see the plan working, then they are more likely to continue with the plan and have a better attitude about working on their missing assignments.
Strategy #4: Create a New Habit Routine – And Don’t Forget The Reward Phase.
Scientific research shows us that creating a “Habit Loop” is the best way of establishing – and keeping – positive behavior patterns. The image below illustrates Charles Duhigg’s Habit Loop. A new behavior needs a reminder (like a particular time of the day) which influences the desired behavior. In order to keep the habit going, the subject must experience some kind of reward after performing the behavior such as some well-earned video game time, the ability to facetime a friend, etc.
Most of the time, I recommend that the reward be something that the child likes to do in their down time.
Strategy #5: Take Care of HALTS Before Starting Homework.
It’s hard for anyone to concentrate if they are Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired, or Stressed; as such, be sure these common discomforts are addressed. I always recommend that kids should have a snack before starting homework – and research backs me up here. A healthy and quick snack increases their glucose level (the energy needed for your child’s brain to function well), so ensuring they are not hungry goes a long way in helping them get their missing assignments done.
If your child or teen seems angry – or bothered by any other negative emotion – then allow them to deal with that emotion. For example, if your child is angry that they need to do homework instead of play outside with their friends, allow them to talk about their anger and then have a positive discussion with them that they can play with their friend as soon as their homework for the day is finished. If you allow your child to “push down” their emotions, then they’ll just sit there giving cognitive energy to their emotions instead of their homework.
Likewise, if your child is lonely, offer to sit with them while they work – or have the family dog or cat keep them company. If they are tired, re-evaluate their bedtime. Maybe they need to go to bed a half hour earlier. And if they are stressed about their homework, help them decrease their stress levels by using this technique.
As you can see, taking care of your child or teen’s physical and emotional needs goes a long way in meeting the goal of catching up with their missed assignments.
Strategy #6: Consider Pausing Extracurriculars For a While.
If your child or teen has a long list of work that needs to be made up, it might make sense to pause their extracurricular activities. This really isn’t meant to be a punishment per se, but it is a natural consequence of taking care of major responsibilities first. You know your child and the situation regarding their extracurriculars best, so if it makes sense to “pause” their extracurriculars, then go ahead and do so.
Strategy #7: Deal With The Overwhelm.
Dealing with overwhelm is a life skill that most kids haven’t learned yet. Yes – this is a LEARNED SKILL.
It can be very frustrating working with a child or teen who only focus on the goal (getting all the missing assignments completed) and not the small steps in attaining that goal (working on one task at a time). Many young clients sit in my office and focus only on the overwhelming idea of a mountain of work that must be done. When I begin working with them about developing a plan to address their missing work, they shut down and can’t seem to even concentrate on thinking of a plan. They tell me, “That will never work – I have too much to do,” and I have to remind them, “Yes, but you can’t do it all at once. You can only do one task at a time, so which task should you concentrate on first?”.
When your child starts “spiraling” at the thought of so much work that needs to be done, bring them back to reality by reminding them that they can’t do every task right now. Ask them to choose only 1 task to think about (and try to make it a quick win – see strategy #3 above).
Strategy # 8: Get Educational Support For Your Child.
Many kids ignore assignments because they are too difficult for them. Every child has their own unique strengths and weaknesses, which means that most kids won’t be great at every class. If your child is struggling with a particular subject (especially in the last half of the year when the subject matter becomes more complex and difficult) then consider a tutor.
Now, a tutor can mean several things. One type of tutor is someone who has been trained in education and makes a living helping kids overcome their educational struggles. This can be very expensive though. I often ask parents if they have a teenage or college-age person in the family who might be able to come and work with the child for a short period of time. Older kids often like mentoring younger family members. Not only is this a cheaper alternative, but I’ve seen this situation really be effective.
If you need to, get creative with looking for someone to act as a tutor for your child.
Strategy #9: Remember To Take Breaks.
Adults have learned to “power through” things, but kids and most teens still have not developed this life skill yet. Because of this, they will need to take frequent breaks when working on long session of homework. I recommend that kids and teens should take a break every 45 minutes, take a 10-15 minute break, and then get back to work again.
A great technique is the pomodoro method, and this method has some scientific backing that it is very useful. All you have to do is set a timer (there are even tons of pomodoro apps for your phone!) for 45 minutes. When the timer goes off, let your child take a break. They can look at their phones, watch a short Youtube video, go to the bathroom, etc. Set the timer for again for the break time (10 or 15 minutes). When the timer goes off again, that’s the signal that it’s back to work. Set the timer again for 45 minutes and repeat.
You can even challenge your child or teen to work through several pomodoro sessions. This method works well because the timer never lies, and the child learns to take their cues from the sound of the timer.
Strategy #10: Contact a Child Therapist To Help Your Child Work Through Difficult Feelings That Are Holding Them Back From Achieving Their True Potential.
There’s nothing I hate more than seeing kids or teens not living up to their full potential, but this happens a lot when they are also dealing with feelings of anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, or difficulties with concentration (such as ADHD). The only way for your child or teen to move past these feelings that are sidelining them is to deal with them in therapy.
In my private practice, I am passionate about helping kids reach their goals. As a child psychologist and Modern Parenting Expert, I have specific training in helping kids overcome obstacles that are common to this generation of young people. I have helped kids and teens overcome problems with motivation, low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, and many other issues.
Call (909) 326-2562 today to schedule a free 20-minute phone consultation to see if I am a good fit in working with your child. Or click here to use my online scheduler to schedule the phone consultation today.
Your child or teen CAN overcome any obstacle with the right support!
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Dr. Becca Ballinger is a clinical psychologist practicing in Redlands, California. She specializes in therapy for teens, tweens, young adults, and families. Call (909) 326-2562 to schedule an appointment.
The resources presented on the Modern Parenting Solutions website are not intended to replace therapy – they are for reference and educational purposes only. As every family is individual and unique in their strengths and weaknesses, the resources and advice supplied on this website are general in nature and should never replace any medical or psychological services that you may be currently engaged in. Please contact a mental health professional if you have any questions.
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