Homework Strategies for Moody Kids — 5 Minutes for Special Needs

Homework Strategies for Moody Kids

by Laurie


A few weeks back in school and all the old frustrations are in full swing.

The pencil-breaking. The paper-ripping. The weeping. The gnashing of teeth. You’d think schoolwork was, in fact, hell on earth. But really it’s just hell to a child with a learning disability. Especially one that’s at the mercy of bipolar mood swings.

My 4th grader, on an IEP for auditory processing and working memory difficulties, made great strides last year with her resource specialist’s help. That was after 3 years of working with her on homework, only to have her shred her assignment and stomp off, screaming, to her room. It took me 3 years to figure out how to help her succeed with homework. Here’s what I’ve found that works:

  • Read Ending the Homework Hassle, by John Rosemond. It’s written for mainstream students, but can easily be adapted for kids with attentional, mood or learning challenges. The gist? To get homework back on the child’s list of responsibilities… and off of mom and dad’s.
  • Don’t engage the tantrum. When it starts, respond with, “I’ll talk to you when you’re speaking with respect.” And truly wait through that until your child finds their respectful, calm voice.
  • Define and enforce a homework space for your child. Make it fun and stock it with their favorite paper, pencils or other supplies so their work space has a flavor all their own.
  • Talk with other parents about what works. Ask them what routines, locations, times of day, and other support structures  help their child succeed. That accomplishes two things: gives you some new ideas, and reminds you you’re not alone.
  • Open communications with her teacher. Invite them to coffee (or bring them a mug full) and have a meeting to give some of the back story. Establish expectations for everyone involved in your child’s school work – parents, teachers, resource specialists and counselors alike. Develop common expectations and language about homework, what’s due, when it’s due, etc.
  • Hold your ground with your child. My daughter comes up with every reason in the book why she doesn’t have to do X or Y problems, or study for spelling tests or read certain passages in her books. It’s up to me to smile, nod, note the comment, and get her moving on it anyway. It’s one of our kids’ jobs in our family. Everyone needs to do their job and tow the line in our life as a family.

And when they’re not in the heat of the homework moment… help her see that beyond learning, reading, and simply following the teacher’s directions, homework provides three independent living skills all kids need:

Discipline to hunker down and do what’s necessary, even in the tedious or challenging times in life.

Delayed gratification and the ability to wait patiently through situations.

An opportunity to self-assess and check progress. Self-awareness is crucial as adults, especially ones who already struggle to overcome social and mental obstacles.

What helps you and your child get through homework from their school?


Email Author    |    Website About Laurie

I'm a wife and mom of four girls - two with bipolar, ADHD and developmental delays. It's a daily journey to live this life well and help my girls do the same. As a speaker and life coach, I'm committed to helping other parents thrive in this wild ride too!

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1 Kelly September 20, 2011 at 3:24 pm

This is such a helpful post. We struggle a lot with homework with my 9yo who struggles with reading. We’ve used some of the ideas, but will definitely try the ones we haven’t.

2 Joeymom September 20, 2011 at 4:20 pm

Our biggest challenge is time. With our therapies and sports (which is kind of one of our therapies, since getting PT is such a problem here), there is no time left, yet they have 30-40 minutes of homework every night (second and fourth grade!). Its not a question of doing it, it is a question of when!

3 Laurie September 21, 2011 at 11:08 am

The time thing is really tough. We’ve solved that with one of the accommodations on the IEP being reduced homework and parent discretion of when things need more time. This helps us a lot with the mood swings in our kids.

4 Marita September 20, 2011 at 4:40 pm

Great post 🙂

I try to make sure that everything the kids will need for their homework is on hand.

Also making it fun really helps. We have a huge collection of buttons and use those as counters for maths work.

Learning new words becomes a matching game.

Reading outloud is a chance to sit and cuddle with Daddy.

And being on the same page about homework is vital.

5 KDL September 21, 2011 at 2:58 am

After a rough start we’re doing better with homework this year. I decided to move it earlier in the day…and also before TV time. It also helps that we got a teacher who makes it very routine each week – new spelling words, and math problems, but basically the same assignments with new content. That builds in a routine. I also got back on the positive praise bandwagon. If we can make it through the homework each night without arguing I write a smiley on her paper…not for doing it “correctly” but for doing it with a good attitude!

6 Laurie September 21, 2011 at 4:53 pm

Love that support of not only the work but the attitude (which, for some kids, is more work than the work!) Research shows it’s praising our kids’ effort, more than their accomplishments, that builds self esteem. Way to go!!

7 Barb September 21, 2011 at 11:19 am

Ugh! I do not like homework time with my 7 year old. He can do the work, however, he doesn’t want to actually do the work. He wants to rush through everything. My staying close by and checking everything and talking to him has helped a bit. When he was frustrated with math yesterday, I suggested that he do the math facts he knows first, and then go back and do the other ones. We were wailing-free for about 10 minutes. 🙂

I’ll try out the tips and see how it goes. It may just be a matter of time and routine before he complains less.

8 nicole September 21, 2011 at 12:55 pm

great read! think i’ll be adding Ending The Homework Hassle to my must-read list. We struggle with getting home from school and wanting to play – I try to allow time to unwind and play with friends but find it hard to pull them back in the house for homework (dinner & bedtime too!). I agree, a space of their own and holding our ground as parents is key.

9 Laurie September 21, 2011 at 4:56 pm

I think you’ll like that book. For us, our kids have snack and hang out for about 30 minutes before homework time. It’s always at the same time each day, so it’s them versus the clock. And having something fun to do on the other end of homework prevents the “ok, then, I’ll just dawdle around in my room for 2 hours before I get started” effect :). Good luck! Let me know what you think of the book.

10 Kym October 7, 2011 at 4:22 pm

My 8 year-old son struggles horribly with ADHD and anxiety, and homework time is the worst part of the day for both of us. I definitely follow a routine with him and try and break his assignments down in tiny increments so he won’t get overwhelmed, but he fights me every step of the way, usually falling apart before we even begin.
It’s so exhausting and takes such a toll on our family life.
He’s in the processes of getting a 504 plan now, (or possibly an IEP if I can make that happen) and one of my must-have’s is a reduced homework load for him. If they won’t accomodate him that way then they’re going to have to help him do it one-on-one at school. It’s just too much for him! (and me!)

11 Laura Wright November 9, 2011 at 6:37 am

Funny, I wrote a blog post on this very thing yesterday. There are lots of great articles on how to help your child with homework, but a lot of them leave out the critical piece: your child’s willingness to actually sit down and do it.

My six-year-old (grade 1, so homework is new) has ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder), so his brain is pre-programmed to fight us on everything. Two nights ago homework took us three hours (only 20 min got done – the rest was all fight), culminating in his getting violent. Yesterday was better, but it’s going to be a long 12 years. Great way to look at it, huh?

12 aj November 29, 2011 at 6:57 pm

As a teacher of ADHD kids and a mom of one some ideas to share. Many kids with ADHD need stimulation and find homework brain numbing. they are far past it mentally so they want to be done before it starts. Snacks are key. Crunchy, chewy or anything that occupies some sensories. Also i have my boy stand at the counter or sit on a yoga ball. Have all supplies ready, once you allow stopping to get supplies you have to regroup which we all know is way to hard already. i have a friend who teacher really extreme cases of ADHD who suggest standing in a bucket of dried beans to overstimulate their need for stimulation so they can settle in for some work. Good luck crew. I have been there and live it daily too 🙁 and definately communicate with the teacher because sometimes they will lower the amount of work or can get it to you on fridays instead of mondays etc if they know what you are dealing with daily.

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