Homework tension? “Never heard of it”….said no one (sadly) ever. I know we are not alone and this blog is here to help. Homework tension can be different for every child, and can be different depending on the subject and the time of day. Read on for some ideas to try out and see which ones help ease the tension.
Movement: We’ve all seen it before. The upset child that just can’t remember what was taught and therefore thinks they aren’t smart. It’s unsettling to see our children struggle and think of themselves as “stupid.” Shaking the cobwebs loose isn’t just for the older crowd. Having children get up to jump and shake can do wonders for the body via increased blood-flow, the release of the “happy hormone” and may even induce laughing! Think about the cat who purrs when happy, which in turn vibrates all throughout their body. Or think about the dog who shakes all over after a bath and then runs around the house to dry. In the animal kingdom the instinct to shake off stress is real and we can take a lesson from it. Put on a song to shake the blues away when that schoolwork gets to be too much for your child. You might find that in the middle of the song your child suddenly remembers a crucial point (cue us remembering someone’s name in the middle of brushing our teeth). If they don’t like to dance, for whatever reason, it’s OK. Just get them up and moving! Go for a walk, jump on the trampoline, ride a bike, or of course, go do some yoga. Put some energy into their studies by doing a Sun Salutation while practicing times tables, for example. Even if they already know their times tables or are too young for them yet, repetition is good for the brain. The subconscious mind grows stronger with repetition. And if that isn’t a good enough reason, here is what we are learning about exercise and the brain: There is a protein that gets released by muscles during exercise and science has found that a part of this protein gets into the bloodstream. It then makes its way to the brain and helps to build and strengthens neurons! It’s called BDNF (look it up!) and it can be thought of as the fertilizer for our brains. Our bodies are absolutely amazing!
Breath: Don’t forget the breath! Stress makes us start to lose our good posture which means rounded shoulders and caving our chest in. This deprives our lungs of much needed oxygen and therefore increases our stress, and additionally, our brain turns foggy. Teaching children to breath deep into their bellies can activate their vagus nerve that will in turn tell their brains to stop the stress response that the homework may be creating. Have them lay down on the floor. Put either their hand(s) or a stuffed animal on their abdomen, and ask them on the inhale to either breathe into their hands or breathe to make the animal rise up. Instruct them to do this slowly and to exhale slowly. For adults, a yawn may be the body’s silent cry for coffee, but for kids (and most adults if we are being serious), it can also be our brain’s cry for oxygen. To wake up that sleepy-foggy brain, try having them do some Bunny Breathing: three quick inhales in through the nose, and one long exhale out through the mouth. With younger kids, only aim for about four rounds since we don’t want them to hyperventilate.
Balance Work: Did you know that focusing on balancing in Tree pose has been shown to change brainwaves that help create a more calm mind? Well, now you do and you are welcome! So break out the balance board or yoga blocks for those kiddos, or just use the floor. It gets better though. Balancing also helps improve memory and increases spatial awareness. We end up strengthening our neural pathways, which in turn strengthens our brain. Challenge your children to hold a balancing yoga pose like Dancer, Warrior III, or Eagle while counting by 5s or 10s. Of course don’t forget the golden rule of, “What we do on one side, we gotta do on the other.” If they need this to calm themselves to get through, or back to homework, I would just have them concentrate on holding the pose for a pre-determined amount of time in silence.
Meditation: Children can be so hard on themselves. I have found that they find it easy to say that they are stupid or that they can’t do something. It is really heart-breaking to hear them speak so negatively about themselves and their abilities. First, they have to notice when they are talking to themselves or about themselves in what I call negative speak. Then, they can try to rephrase their feelings or needs in a positive way: “I need more practice,” “I can learn this,” “I can be calm,” “I am really smart,” “This can be easy,” and so on. Using a four-word phrase can help them start to turn it into a mantra, a repeated affirmation, to be used during a meditation. Seated in a chair or on the floor with the spine straight, but relaxed-don’t let them hold tension in their posture, have them close their eyes or look down at the floor. Touching their thumb to each of their four fingers while saying each of the four words in their affirmation. What an amazing way to ground them and help them let go of tension and negativity.
Classical music: I read an article recently about how classical music strengthens the part of the brain that is weak in children with ADHD, that weakness being the focus center. However, when any child starts to get frustrated and stressed, the brain moves away from the focus center into the emotional part of the brain. Indeed, doing an internet search on classical music populated a multitude of hits for this type of music and the benefits of learning. I even found suggested playlists for the classroom and for studying. I compiled a playlist based on the ADHD article and am happy to report that I put it to use already with remarkable results. I homeschool my son, who has ADHD, and the afternoons can start to be a battle. I was amazed that after putting on the classical music playlist, he actually did start to calm down, listen, was focused, and finished his homework without continuing to melt down in frustration. This is such a big win that I knew I needed to tell you all about it!
My son has a list of “Calming Strategies” posted by his schoolwork to keep his frustration from letting the amygdala hijack him. We want to keep our children in the rational thinking part of the brain, and to keep them from getting frustrated and moving into the emotional center of the brain (known as the amygdala hijack). On his list is: Taking deep breaths. Play with Legos. Walk away from the problem after identifying it with saying, “I need to calm down.” Playing with the cat. Listen to music. Go outside and jump on the trampoline. Walk on the treadmill. Fidget Spinner/stress ball. Punch the bolster (like a punching bag…actually makes him laugh). Eat a snack. Work with your child to come up with a list of their own.
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