How to Support Overwhelmed Middle and High School Students: 3 Tips for Parents
Is your child complaining about the amount of homework they have? Are they avoiding some (or all of it) because it’s just too much for them to imagine doing? Do they not know where to start?
A lot of students get overwhelmed by the amount of schoolwork that tends to pile up after the school year has gotten going. This is often true for middle and high school students (and most especially for those who already have anxiety).
Here are three tips you can use to support your child when they’re overwhelmed with their schoolwork:
1. Help Them Stay on Top of Their Calendar
At least for a while, until your child gets in the hang of managing it on their own, make sure they’re filling out their calendar/planner every day. Whether they use a paper planner or an online one, such as schooltraq or myhomeworkapp, they need to get in the habit of filling it out and checking it every day.
Unfortunately, sometimes teachers post online a variation of what they’ve told students orally in class, so I encourage students to double-check the assignment in their calendar with what’s posted online (or sometimes written in emails from their teachers). One of my students enters his assignments into schooltraq when his teacher announces them in class only to find that his teacher has changed the due dates or requirements of an assignment in their online post about the homework. He’s always relieved when he finds the changes while we’re confirming his homework during our sessions.
Being attentive and finding discrepancies are good skills to have, not just for students but also for professionals. Teachers are humans too, and they make mistakes just like the rest of us.
When your child is scheduling what they’re going to do each day, encourage them to include non-academic activities, such as mealtimes, extracurricular activities, and movement or relaxation breaks.
Plan a time each day for your child to check their calendar, ideally before they begin their homework. Make it part of the after-school routine. Maybe you can deal with your calendar at the same time as they’re working on theirs, in a parallel way (together at the same table). But also encourage them to check their calendar on the weekend to confirm the work they need to do.
Once they’re sure they know what they need to do each day, help your child write a “to do” list and add times for when they’re going to do each task.
Don’t worry, you don’t have to stay on top of your child’s calendar forever. Just assist your child with filling out and double-checking their assignments until they get the hang of it and into a routine of doing it. Then “set them free” to try it on their own. Of course, encourage them to ask for help if they need it.
Once in a while (but not too often), pop in and ask your child how they’re doing with their work. Keep the lines of communication open. Instead of, “Have you finished your homework?” try “How’s your homework going?” or “Do you understand everything you need to do?”
If they admit they don’t understand an assignment, encourage them to reach out to their teacher for clarification. Self-advocacy is a very important skill, not just in school, but in life!
If your child seems overwhelmed, suggest a break, offer to take a walk with them, or ask if they would like something to eat or drink.
3. Be Encouraging
Whether your child receives low, middle-range, or high grades, be encouraging. There are many reasons students’ grades may be less than stellar, but especially for an already-stressed-out child, the way you respond to their grades can be very important.
Try not to add to your child’s stress by being on top of their grades all the time, asking what they did wrong to get the grade they got, and reprimanding them for a low grade. Expecting a child to get perfect grades is unrealistic, unfair, and can easily backfire.
Kids who are admonished for their grades may end up with anxiety, become discouraged, eventually lack motivation, and be turned off to school. Not to mention, their relationship with their parents will likely become strained.
Instead of coming down on your child because of their grades, celebrate successes. Positive feedback always works better than negative feedback. Rather than saying, “you’re so smart,” say something specific such as, “I noticed you made a game to study your vocabulary words. Clearly it helped you learn the words,” or “I saw you put a lot of effort into your writing,” or “a B is an improvement over your last grade!”
Sometimes (or often!) parents feel at a loss for what they can do to help their child when they’re overwhelmed with school. While it may be tempting, don’t do your child’s work for them (it may seem helpful in the short-term, but will be detrimental in the long-term). Instead, be willing to help your child with time and task management, be understanding of their situation, and be willing to listen without making judgments or being too critical. Then work together to figure out how to take some of the stress off.
If you’re overwhelmed yourself or feel you don’t know how to assist your child with the technical or organizational tasks they need to do to stay on top of their work, there are others who are available to help. Reach out for assistance.
An executive function coach can help your child manage their time and responsibilities so they feel less overwhelmed and more in control. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for a complimentary consultation.
What other tips do you have for parents whose children are overwhelmed in middle and high school? Please share your suggestions in the comments.