5 Ways to Combat Homework Angst

by | Mar 16, 2021 | Family, School, Tips

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by Lisa Reichelt, M.Ed. Parent Coach

girl meltdown over homework at computer

Does your child experience homework angst? You know, the refusal, avoidance and uncooperative attitude that happens when homework is overwhelming. Read on to find 5 ways to combat homework angst.

Once upon a time there was a fifth-grade girl who struggled mightily with her math homework. Her mother, who just happened to teach fifth grade, attempted to help her frustrated daughter. But the young girl was unwilling to accept assistance. She even accused her mother of not “getting” fifth grade math! This astonished the mom (remember she taught fifth grade math!) …

I share this real-life story to make a point: it is often difficult to help our children with their homework (even when you are a teacher.) If you have ever dealt with a frustrated child, you understand the pain! Teachers and parents collaborate more now than ever in the past, but figuring out how to complete assignments can create challenges. In this article I will lay out 5 fixes for frustrated students so that you can be armed with strategies when your child says, “You just don’t get it!”

5 Ways To combat homework angst

  • Scaffolding
  • Students as Teachers
  • Think Out Loud
  • Check For Understanding
  • Wait Time


Just like the scaffolding that construction workers use to boost them to a higher level, educators use scaffolding to build a student’s understanding so they can move to higher levels of learning. Scaffolding is assembled by putting pieces together. To scaffold for education, you break the learning up into smaller pieces. The scaffolding strategy can be used to help with homework.

Start by showing your child some pictures of scaffolding and how it is assembled. Talk to them about how important it is to place everything together piece by piece. Then challenge them to use that technique with their schoolwork.

            Examples: Math – break a long assignment into sections and complete one at a time, taking a break in between. Start with the easiest part of the assignment, even if it isn’t the first problem on the page.

                        Reading – for young readers, take turns reading (adult reads a page, child reads a page) for older readers – if there is a book they need to finish in a week, divide the pages by seven and challenge them to read that many pages each day.

                        Projects – look over the whole project and together with your child, separate it into more doable parts. Put due dates and deadlines on each part. Make a visual to guide completion of the project.

frustrated student homework

Students As Teachers

There is a saying “While We Teach, We Learn.” It may not make sense to you to ask your child to teach something that they are struggling to complete at home, but it just might work. If you become the student, you can ask them probing questions about the subject that just might help them to discover how much they really do know.

            Examples: Math – your child is struggling with 2-digit multiplication. You become the student and ask them to show you the steps involved. They may make mistakes, but you should go along until they finish. When they are done, you can revisit the example and help them see how to complete it accurately.

                        Reading – your young child is struggling to decode words. Pick a few (5-10) words similar to the ones your child struggles with. Let your child teach you using flashcards of these words. Read them slowly, over-emphasizing the decoding process.

                        Project – your child is overwhelmed with all the parts of the project. You take on the role of the student and have your child tell you which part of the project you should do first, second, third etc…

Think Out Loud

This is a great strategy and I wish I had thought of it when my daughter was in fifth grade. Use this strategy to demonstrate to your child how to do the assignment. This works by talking through everything you are doing as if you were the student. You could even make it fun by having your child video record you as if you were making a youtube video.

            Examples: Math – not sure how to multiply fractions? Write the problem on a large piece of paper and proceed to solve it while talking out loud about every step you are doing.

                        Reading – difficulty decoding words? Read several sentences out loud while you stop to sound out multi syllable words. Your child will delight in seeing you perform this!

                        Project – not sure where to start? Pretend you are the child and talk through steps and make a plan for completing it. It is important that you talk as if you were alone so that your child doesn’t think you are preaching at them.

Check for Understanding

Teachers use this strategy all the time to see how students are progressing. You can use it at home as well. The key to using it well is to check for understanding frequently. Checking for understanding means more than asking “Do you understand?” A more effective way to check is to ask your child to explain something to you.

            Examples: Math – your child is struggling with long division. You help explain it and they seem ready to go. Before you step away, ask them to explain the process to you, step by step. You may also have them guide you in completing a sample problem.

                        Reading – your child struggles to comprehend a story. You set a timer to repeat every 3-5 minutes and each time you ask them to retell what they have read so far. If possible, preread the story so that you can be sure they are correct.

                        Project – your child has worked on a lot of parts of the project but hasn’t put it together yet. Ask them to revisit the overview of the project. Ask them to explain what they would like to accomplish today only. Help them to understand the need to focus on a small part of the larger project.

Wait Time

Teachers use Wait Time throughout the day to allow students to think about their response before speaking. The teacher will ask a question and pause as students gather their thoughts. This helps the students to feel more confident when they reply. Parents can use Wait Time effectively at home as well. When you child needs help with their homework, ask them a question and tell them to wait 5-10 seconds before answering. It will seem like “forever” but it will help in two ways. Their emotions will ease and they may have discovered they really do know what to do.

            Examples: Math – your child can’t figure out how to solve for area and perimeter. Ask them to teach you how to solve for perimeter. Make them pause, count to 10, then answer. K

                        Reading – your child struggles to read smoothly. Wait Time is very important here, but be sure not to wait too long. Offer help smoothing out the sentence after they have paused and tried a second time.

boy with hands on head, homework meltdown

                        Project – your child is frustrated with the illustrations they need to complete. Ask them to give you 2 reasons for their frustration. Make them pause, count to 10, then answer. Once you can pinpoint their critique, you can help them to overcome frustration.

The emotions of a frustrated child create all kinds of reactions from parents and may cause anxiety for your child. It is challenging to keep calm. Hopefully by using a few of these 5 ways to combat homework angst you will have a more productive and peaceful home life. By the way, that frustrated fifth-grader is now a mother of two. I wonder if they will ever challenge her about completing their homework?

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