Grade 3 Homework Stress

Grade 3 Homework Stress

received September 10, 2007
Q. My son had his first homework assignment of third grade yesterday. Before we even got home he was crying in the car about how hard it was
going to be to copy his spelling words three times. I would equate it
to the anxiety I feel going to the dentist for a root canal. He was
actually crying over homework that he hadn’t even started yet.

We got started on the homework and he insisted he needed help. I
explained that the only ‘help’ he could get was to have someone else write the words out and that was not allowed.

When he came down to his
last word he had to copy three times he spelled it wrong so I corrected
him and told him that “Glance is spelled G-A, not G-E” and he went on
and on about how he KNEW it was with an E not an A. He started crying
and screaming for us to LEAVE HIM ALONE after having begged us to help

I finally put him in time out so he could calm down and I finished cooking dinner while he calmed down. Right before I set the table I had
him come finish his work and he did, with no fight or argument or
anything. His emotional outbursts can be about anything, not just
homework. It seems like he will argue a point till he is blue in the
face rather than admit that he is wrong. I don’t know how to get him
over this. It’s exactly how my little brother used to be (still is) and
I don’t want my son to be anything like my little brother who to this
day (at age 29) is still a great source of heartache and stress for my mother.

I wish there was an EASY button I could push. I feel so bad for
him when he has these emotional outbursts, but I feel like there is
little to nothing I can do. I tell him everyday how smart he is and how
proud of him I am, but it’s never enough. On top of all of that
yesterday I already had the biggest headache from work and I felt like
giving up, giving in, just letting him do what he wants. I can’t do
this every time he has homework, I just can’t.
He has an hour after he gets home before he starts homework and he also
has a snack. I didn’t do that on purpose for that reason, it just
happened that way. We make games out of his homework so it’s ‘fun’ to
do, but even that can backfire at the drop of a hat. I don’t know what
else I can do to help homework time go smoother….. do you have any suggestions?

A. Hi, thanks for your question. Your son and my Dervish must be about the same age – Dervish has also just started grade 3.


It sounds like you are already doing much of what I would suggest – making sure he’s not hungry, that he has a break after school before homework time etc., The fact that he started this behaviour in the car on the way home makes it sound like he felt it was an overwhelming task.

As I write this I’m watching my Dervish do his spelling list. He’s also complaining about it even though his teacher has assigned rainbow words. Rainbow words is writing the word out first in pencil then using a colour over top of it and then another colour on top of that – essentially writing the words three times but in a more interesting and creative way.

Anyway…. Dervish gets worked up like that too, over everything and tends to get himself in a real knot in no time at all – and just like your son, over anything – not just homework.

The way I see it in your case and mine, the problem is not the homework, it’s the anxious feelings they get about every day stuff and since most every day stuff, like writing out spelling words are not worthy of the amount of anxiety they have over it, I tend to believe they bottle up feelings and tensions and then explode over the next little thing.

Much like the straw that breaks the camels back. Perhaps a disappointments on the playground, some lesson he had a hard time understanding, a reprimand from a teacher? All small stresses but in emotionally intense kids they tend to build up and explode out over something that seems silly to the rest of us.

I had a conversation with the Dervish one day this summer when he was having one of these storm cloud moments. He was lashing at everything and nothing was worth doing and no one was worth his time or consideration.

We talked about how he felt, how his body felt at these times and he described it like something grabbing at his insides, making him feel like lashing out and hitting people.

After that conversation I’ve been able to help him curb those moods by identifying them too him – “Dervish, you seem to be having one of those angry moments”. The only thing that seems to help him is some alone time or quiet time. Depending on where we are and the situation I’ll suggest anything from going up to his room and drawing, to going out and shooting hoops or kicking a ball around or playing a video game… ALONE (I’ve even stopped the car near an open field or something and had him run in circles to expel some tension). That works for him it may work for your guy too or maybe he needs something else to bring him out of it. I think the key to our successful conversation was that I recognized that he doesn’t enjoy feeling this way and told him that I want to help him figure it out and fix it – that we would work together to figure it out and that I wouldn’t give up.

So here are my suggestions:

  • Make sure he gets enough sleep. A nine year old typically needs 10 hours of sleep a night. Sleep deprivation can mimic many emotional disorders
  • Encourage him to talk about things that bother him, even little things – if he gets it out, he’s less likely to bottle up and explode when the pressure gets too much
  • Work with him on a plan for his emotional moments – best when he’s not in the middle of one – and brainstorm ideas of how he can calm himself – make sure he knows your on his side.
  • When homework is the issue, or any task that seems to have overwhelmed him (sometimes Dervish gets like this over doing the dishes – his chore – it’s “too much”, “it will take forever” that kind of thing. Help him to break down large overwhelming tasks into smaller more managable tasks that seem less daunting. For example, with writing out words, if he has a list of 15, break them into 3 groups of 5 with a mini break and high five in between.
  • Finally, check with the teacher to see if any of these issuse present at school. I did that with Dervish’s teacher and she looked at me like I’d grown a second head right in front of her eyes. In her eyes, Dervish is a model student. This tells me he puts a lot of pressure on himself to hold it together and behave appropriately at school so it makes sense that when he gets home – his safe home and safe mom, that’s when he lets it go.

If by chance the teacher notices the same issues then there might be a more complex problem you might want to investigate.

There are a couple of things you said that sent me off the beaten path to offer suggestions.

The first thing is that you mentioned he’s very much like your brother who is still arguing at 29. Keep in mind, I’m not a doctor or a therapist, my suggestions are based on my life experiences not formal training.

That said, it might be worth investigating ODD, oppositional defiant disorder. This is quoted from theUniversity of Virginia

Most symptoms seen in children and adolescents with oppositional defiant disorder also occur at times in children without this disorder, especially around the ages or 2 or 3, or during the teenage years. Many children, especially when they are tired, hungry, or upset, tend to disobey, argue with parents, or defy authority. However, in children and adolescents with oppositional defiant disorder, these symptoms occur more frequently and interfere with learning, school adjustment, and, sometimes, with the child’s (adolescent’s) relationships with others.

Symptoms of oppositional defiant disorder may include:

* frequent temper tantrums
* excessive arguments with adults
* refusal to comply with adult requests
* always questioning rules; refusal to follow rules
* behavior intended to annoy or upset others, including adults
* blaming others for his/her misbehaviors or mistakes
* easily annoyed by others
* frequently has an angry attitude
* speaking harshly, or unkind
* deliberately behaving in ways that seek revenge

The symptoms of ODD may resemble other medical conditions or behavior problems. Always consult your child’s (adolescent’s) physician for a diagnosis.

I’m not suggesting that I, or anyone else could diagnose something like ODD from the little information you’ve provided here, I’m just trying to cover as many possibilities as i can – you are in the best position to know if there is anything to the idea of ODD or even ADD or ADHD (all of which can be inter mingled or present overlapping symptoms)

I hope I’ve been of some help. Please feel free to comment on my suggestions.

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