How to help your anxious child with homework



I went to the local school recently to collect my Grandson. The bell went at 3pm and all the kids started leaving the classroom, running to their waiting parents.

All that is, except my little angel! As the last of the children were leaving the class, the teacher called me over.

Distracted Child

“We had a little bit of a problem today with James” she said. “He often seemed to be in his own little world. I did ask him if he was finding it difficult, but he said everything was fine. I just couldn’t get him to focus for more than a few minutes before he lost his concentration again.”


The problem with Anxiety

As a parent, and in many cases, a teacher, I think the most difficult thing to understand is that Anxiety isn’t an ‘always on’ condition. This can be really frustrating for the child, especially at school. Because the anxiety can trigger at any time (it tends to come and go based on events in their lives), and their difficulties aren’t consistent.

They may be in a subject they really enjoy and are usually good at, but today the anxiety has taken over and they struggle.

When Anxiety kicks in, the working memory suffers. Things they can usually recall in an instant, completely disappear.


Anxiety is a learning disability. When a child is anxious, it affects their ability to learn. Unfortunately, because it’s not something that’s consistent, schools very rarely have a plan for it.

Children with anxiety don’t usually have an ‘ability’ problem. On days where they’re calm an relaxed things come easy to them. On days where they’re anxious, nothing comes easy to them and their school work reflects that.

The other problem of course, is that because it’s not a caused by a lack of commitment, trying to use ‘rewards’ and ‘consequences’ to improve results rarely works.

The best advice? Try to prevent the anxiety triggers and try to build their emotional and social skills, so they can better cope when anxiety strikes.

Something else to consider, is that when a child get themselves into a ‘negative behaviour pattern’, they sometimes get stuck into believing they’re not doing anything wrong. They often can’t see things from the perspective of the other person, so don’t see why they should apologise for their actions.

Naughty Behaviour

Bad behaviour can also be a result of an Anxiety Disorder.

If a child wants attention, one of the easiest ways to get it, is by behaving badly. Okay, it’s probably not the best type of attention to get, but IT IS attention. And it’s way easier to get.

Most adults (yes, me included), don’t tend to take much notice when children are doing exactly what their supposed to be doing. BUT, if a child starts to have a tantrum, or starts shouting, or even gets aggressive, they immediately hijack the whole room.

Unfortunately, if the child acting up suffers from anxiety, you become stuck in an un-winnable situation.

We’re often told to “ignore negative attention seeking”. Obviously, you don’t want to reward bad behaviour. However, with a child that has an anxiety disorder, ignoring them can accidentally send out the message that you don’t care about them.

So, here’s a few tips to consider in the future:

1. Give positive attention.

When they’re doing homework,for example, sit with them at the beginning. Tell them you know they’re capable of doing the work, but have they got any immediate questions? Then, if you’ve got other things to do, or other children to see, tell them you’ll be back in 5 minutes to see how they’re getting on. MAKE SURE you go back after 5 minutes. Compliment them on what they’ve done, then tell them you’ll be back again in 15 minutes. By doing what you said you would, it sets up a pattern of predictable attention for positive behaviour.

2. Give praise often.

But make sure it’s ‘fact based’, rather than vague praise. For example… “I’m really proud of the way you tidied up your bedroom this afternoon” is fact based and undeniable. “You’ve been really good today” is too general. Chances are, they weren’t good all day, and the child will know that. It’s very easy for a child to dismiss praise when they know it’s not completely true.

3. Don’t take an anxious child’s behaviour personally.

They’re not deliberately trying to annoy you, the behaviour is a reflection of what’s going on inside their head. Talk to them calmly and if necessary, use the breathing technique with them. Maybe try a distraction activity such as colouring, or a puzzle book, or reading to them for a few minutes. Distraction will usually calm them sufficiently to make better choices.

4. Lead in to less liked activities.

Homework is a good example of this. Not many kids enjoy homework. If that’s the case for your child, maybe start by reading with them, or drawing/colouring for a few minutes before you ask them to start their homework. That way, they’re already in the frame of mind. They’re sitting at a table, with their pen, or pencil. This technique is called ‘behavioural momentum’ and although it’s not guaranteed to solve all your problems, the change from fun to work isn’t as jarring for the child, so they’re less likely to act up.

Make homework fun. Try to encourage your kids to do their homework by making it less like an extension of school. You can get some ideas from this video (although they don’t have to be on such a grand scale). Here you’ll see a couple of ways that homework can be fun.

Homework fun for Kids with ADHD

5. Increase interaction.

Where possible, give your child extra responsibility. If for example they enjoy cooking, ask them if they want to help prepare the dinner, or bake a cake, etc. Remember to let them know it’s okay to ask questions, or get clarification on anything they don’t completely understand. By giving a bit of responsibility regularly, you’ll increase their self-esteem and they’ll start to feel more ‘worthy’. With an increase in self-esteem, naturally comes a boost of confidence. If your child feels more capable of succeeding, they’re more likely to make the effort.


So, there you are. 5 simple things you can do, to help your child cope with their everyday struggles at school. Clearly, you can’t be at school with them, but these 5 tips, practiced as often as you can, along with learning Coherent Breathing, can make a big difference.

Share your thoughts in the comments below and add any tips you’ve found successful 🙂


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Thank you for your support 🙂

Contributor | + posts

Dave has been involved in Child Psycholgy for nearly 15 years. He is a member of the International Alliance of Holistic Therapists and a certified Life Coach specialising in Childhood mental health disorders.

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