Explore these tips for helping kids manage stressful workloads and get more time to relax and recharge.
1. Talk about what work feels like.
Kids don’t always have the perspective to know how most people experience work. Solving problems and completing assignments generally is hard work. Help your child understand that learning should feel challenging. In fact, at times it may even feel overwhelming.
Let your child know it’s OK to feel unsure about some aspects of schoolwork. And when your child is done working — whether it’s at home, at (OT), or at soccer practice — explain that it’s normal if your child feels tired.
2. Enforce daily routines.
Routines and predictability can be comforting, especially for kids who learn and think differently. They can also help kids manage time and stay on track, which can reduce stress.
Having consistent routines and schedules can help kids gear up for the tasks they struggle with. When breakfast is at the same time every day, and their backpacks are ready to go, they’ll know if they have time for test review if they feel they need it (or for social media if they don’t).
3. Keep work sessions short.
“It’s a series of sprints, not a marathon.” That’s how your child should look at completing homework or working on longer projects. Help your child break up schoolwork, tutoring, or therapy assignments into 12- to 20-minute chunks.
After that, have your child take a five-minute “brain break.” Grab a snack, walk outside, text with a friend. But when the five minutes are up, your child needs to sit down again and move on to the next task. And explain to your child that during these work sessions, it’s important to give it their all.
4. Set expectations but let your child off the hook sometimes.
It’s important for your child to have chores or other responsibilities at home. But once in a while, it can help to let your child off the hook. During an especially busy week, maybe your child can do a “light” room cleanup instead of a full one. Or maybe a sibling can take your child’s chores, and the favor can be returned another week.
Just getting a little relief from work can go a long way toward feeling relaxed and restored. And it teaches your child that it’s OK for people to give themselves a break now and then.
5. Eliminate distractions so work goes faster.
Multitasking can make us feel like we’re getting a lot done. But doing too much at once can distract us from the task we’re supposed to be focused on.
Your child’s phone should be silenced and left in another room during work time. Create a homework space that removes your child from household activity. And leave the books for your child’s trickiest subject out of sight until it’s time to work on that assignment. (That way your child won’t be thinking about how to tackle fractions while trying to concentrate on history.)
6. Make time for downtime.
Try to build in downtime for your child by rethinking your family schedule. Taking a look at your calendar might show that you’re all overloaded. While it may include many worthwhile activities, doing them all can take a toll.
Maybe you can reduce the number of obligations you take on as a family. Or, let your child skip some once in a while. Is your child old enough to stay home unsupervised? If so, some alone time might be helpful while the rest of the family is out. Just make sure your child knows not to use that time to do work. Free time should be free.
7. Do fun things together.
It may be tempting to cram as much learning into your child’s day as possible. But the truth is that kids who learn and think differently can face burnout when everything they do is about building skills.
Try to spend time together that doesn’t involve extra work or that doesn’t focus on your child’s challenges. Swapping 10 minutes of reading or OT exercises for 10 minutes of playing cards now and then can help your child leave work behind. It can also help you both relax and bond.
8. Trust your child’s limits.
Maybe you’ve noticed that during weeks with fewer days of speech therapy, your child woke up cheerful and eager to start the day. Or maybe in weeks with back-to-back tutoring sessions, you’ve heard your child say “I can’t do it” more than usual.
Take these signals seriously. Talk with your child. Talk with the school. Together you can come up with ways to reduce your child’s workload and build in recovery time.
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About the author
About the author
Lexi Walters Wright is the former Community Manager at Understood. As a writer and editor, she helps parents make more informed choices for their children and for themselves.
Donald Deshler, PhD is a professor in the school of education. He is the former director of the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning (KUCRL).