I hated Wednesday nights in third grade. In addition to my usual assignments, I had to work on my vocabulary journal. I had to copy each vocab word five times, find it in the dictionary, write its definition, and use it in a sentence. While it doesn’t sound like a big deal, that assignment killed me.
The assignment wasn’t difficult — the problem was having to do it after already spending a lot of time on other homework. I was exhausted by the time I got to my vocabulary assignment, thanks to chronic fatigue from juvenile arthritis. Even at 8 years old, I just wanted to lie down and rest.
It’s understandable that children and teenagers might be overwhelmed at some point by too many assignments, and not only those with JA. Children need time for unstructured play, and teens may already be juggling a lot, between college prep, extracurricular activities, and driver’s ed. But the burden can be more significant for young people who are dealing with chronic fatigue and pain.
If your child receives school accommodations, you may already have solutions for your child’s homework stress. But if you’re seeing your child struggling to complete their work at home, try the following tips.
Time to decompress
Some parents have their children complete homework before allowing them time to play after school. But it’s a great idea to let your child decompress for a bit and rest or play if they’re up to it before starting assignments.
My mother’s rule was that I didn’t have to start homework until 4:30 or 5 p.m. (about the time the street lights turned on). On some days, I immediately jumped on my bike and rode around the neighborhood, while on others, I lounged on the couch and watched The Disney Channel until I had to start working on homework. It’s all about striking a balance.
Don’t start too late
While I emphasized in my first point to give your child a break after school, I would encourage that kids still start homework early enough in the day. Nothing is worse than watching your child work on assignments late into the evening. Not only is it discouraging and stressful, but staying up late to finish homework can create sleep debt. Having a regular sleep schedule is vital for kids with juvenile arthritis, as being rested can mean less pain and more energy.
Starting homework after a break can allow for wiggle room if your child needs extra time to finish. If they don’t feel well, homework might not go as quickly as it usually would. Or they may need time to walk away from a stressful assignment. Whatever the reason, they’ll have time to keep at it without cutting into their rest time.
Break it down
Helping your child develop good work habits will help carry them through life. I cannot stress enough how helpful breaking down small tasks and doing them day by day is. Some people are natural procrastinators, so it won’t always work.
It’s so much easier to do a little every day than to be stressed out and spend hours on an assignment the night before it’s due. Not only is it miserable to spend a night on a big task, but also the stress can flare your joints, which can cause kids with JA to lose focus.
Learning to break down my assignments in this way got me through all my years of school, including college. I used to start preparing for finals as early as six weeks ahead of time! While the plan wasn’t always perfect, it did help to ensure I got some rest during the busiest part of the semester.
For younger ones, it can help to schedule a meeting with your child’s teachers to manage certain expectations. If their hands are flaring, it’s unfair to expect their coloring, drawing, or writing to be pristine. There may even be times you need to limit or help with these assignments.
Despite being a columnist and having a love of words now, I don’t look back on my vocabulary journal fondly. But school teaches us so much more than how to read and write — it helps to prepare us for the demands of adulthood. I barely recall the words I had to copy down, but I do remember learning that doing a couple of words per night was easier than having to do them all in one night. And while having a broad vocabulary certainly helps me at my job, learning to manage my workload helped me successfully launch my career as a chronically ill adult.
Note: Juvenile Arthritis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Juvenile Arthritis News, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to juvenile arthritis.
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