Homework Temper Tantrums
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Homework Temper Tantrums

Jan Faull, MEd, counsels a mother on getting her child to complete homework and related tasks without throwing a fit.

A Two-Pronged Approach

Q. "My first grade daughter believes she should know things without ever practicing them. We have tantrums at our house nearly every day after school when I ask her to do homework (similar behavior occurs for piano lessons, shoe tying, just about anything that requires practice). I sit with her, assist as needed, and encourage her, yet she screams, cries, and says "I hate homework, I hate school!" "As a teacher, I am frustrated by her behavior. As a mom, I'm ready to throw those tantrums myself! What can I do to encourage her without adding to her (and my) frustration?"

A. It seems you need to adopt a two-pronged approach. First, you need to establish a way to guide your daughter and help her manage her emotions. Right now, her frustration only leads to anger and temper tantrums. Second, you'll need to establish a means for problem solving with her that helps you both address her need to practice playing the piano, tying her shoes, and -- more importantly -- completing homework assignments without tantrums or fits of anger.

Rein in Her Emotions

When she becomes angry, take a few deep breathes and don't react to the situation. You don't want to make it worse by becoming angry yourself, and you want to communicate with her as clearly and respectfully as her age warrants.

It's important to rein in her emotions before they erupt into a full-blown tantrum. There is no way to communicate with her when she is so angry. Once she's calm, acknowledge her frustration; then ask what's going on and what you can do to help. Get down on her level -- literally. Hold her hand -- if she'll let you -- and tell her that you understand. Keep talking with her until she can fully convey to you what it is she is feeling and why, but don't goad or chide her.

Next, ask her what she'd like to do about the homework situation. You can both offer up suggestions on how to handle homework and practice, but it's important for you to let her know that you expect her to be responsible and complete her assignment. If she indicates she's having problems because she doesn't understand, offer your assistance. But you need to make it clear that you can only help her when she is calm and not throwing a tantrum.

Dealing with Your Angry Child

If she persists in her anger, even after you attempt to find a compromise, give your daughter time to calm down, but let her know that tantrums do not exempt her from her homework or practice. However, never tell her, "There's no reason to be angry" or something similar; this shows a disregard for her feelings, which will only add to her anger and frustration. Finally, try not to become angry with her, or if you do, don't show it. It will only intensify her already hot emotions, like throwing fuel onto a fire.

No one can think rationally or reasonably when they are emotional and out-of-control, and trying to get your daughter to practice or complete assignments is futile when her emotions are so high. When she flies into a tantrum, don?t desert her. Stay with her and talk her down from her hysteria. This allows her intense feelings to subside, freeing her up to think through the situation at hand. This approach should work in other situations that lead to temper tantrums.

Finally, evaluate the stress your daughter is under. First grade is a challenging time. It's when children learn to read, write, and do math, while also learning how to manage themselves socially, be it in the classroom, on the playground, or on the school bus. All of this can be very stressful for a 6- or 7-year-old. The completion of homework is an additional task that is not only experientially new, but can range from the mundane (practicing penmanship) to the complicated (mastering addition and subtraction). By evaluating your daughter's stress level, you can gain a better understanding of what may really be at the root of her frustration and anger.