Homework Trouble

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Parents often bring their school-aged children to check-ups or sick visits armed with questions. What should he put on that rash? What about her cough that won’t go away?

But when children’s temper tantrums or mood swings are beyond the norm, or they are overwhelmed by homework organization, do parents speak up?

Today’s University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health finds that many parents of children age 5-17 wouldn’t discuss behavioral or emotional issues that could be signs of potential health problems with their doctors. While more than 60 percent of parents definitely would talk to the doctor if their child was extremely sad for more than a month, only half would discuss temper tantrums that seemed worse than peers or if their child seemed more worried or anxious than normal. Just 37 percent would tell the doctor if their child had trouble organizing homework.

The most common reason for not sharing these details with their children’s doctors? Nearly half of parents believed that these simply were not medical problems. Another 40 percent of parents say they would rather handle it themselves and about 30 percent would rather speak to someone other than a doctor.

“Behavioral health and emotional health are closely tied to a child’s physical health, well-being and development, but our findings suggest that we are often missing the boat in catching issues early,” says Sarah J. Clark, M.P.H., associate director of the National Poll on Children’s Health and associate research scientist in the University of Michigan Department of Pediatrics. 

“Many children experience challenges with behavior, emotions or learning. The key is for parents to recognize their children’s behavior patterns and share that information with the doctor. Unfortunately, our findings suggest that parents don’t understand their role in supporting their children’s behavioral health.”

The findings come just as the nation recognizes mental health awareness month in May.  Behavioral health problems, sometimes called mental health problems, affect boys and girls of all ages, impacting their learning, social interactions and physical health.

While some behavior and emotional issues are mild and short-lived, others are signs of longer-term problems like depression, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, anxiety, mood and behavior disorders, or substance abuse. 

“Some behavioral and emotional changes are just part of a child’s natural growth and development and just part of growing up,” Clark says. “However, health care providers rely on parents to describe how children act in their regular, day-to-day lives outside of the doctor’s office in order to identify situations or behaviors that may be signs of larger problems. This conversation between doctors and parents is an essential step that allows providers to assess the severity of the problem, offer parents guidance on strategies to deal with certain behaviors and help families get treatment if needed.”

Full report:http://mottnpch.org/reports-surveys/many-parents-missing-link-between-child-behavior-and-health

Additional Resources:

Child Development & Behavioral Resources:
http://www.med.umich.edu/yourchild/topics/behave.htm

Emotions & Behavior:
http://kidshealth.org/parent/emotions/

Effective Child Therapy:
http://www.effectivechildtherapy.com

Learn more:

C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health:
Website: MottNPCH.org Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/mottnpchTwitter: @MottNPCH

Purpose/Funding: The C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health – based at the Child Health Evaluation and Research Unit at the University of Michigan and funded by the University of Michigan Health System – is designed to measure major health care issues and trends for U.S. children.

Data Source: This report presents findings from a nationally representative household survey conducted exclusively by GfK Custom Research, LLC (GfK), for C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital via a method used in many published studies.  The survey was administered in November/December 2014 to a randomly selected, stratified group of adults age 18 and older from GfK’s web-enabled KnowledgePanel® that closely resembles the U.S. population. Responses from parents of children age 5-17 (n=1,277) were used for this report. The sample was subsequently weighted to reflect population figures from the Census Bureau. The survey completion rate was 54% among parent panel members contacted to participate. The margin of error is ± 2 to 3 percentage points.

The findings of the poll reflect the views of the public and do not represent the opinions or positions of the University of Michigan, the University of Michigan Health System, or the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health.

The exasperated sighs of parents everywhere signal the seemingly inevitable homework tug-of-wars. Who hasn't wondered, "Why can't he just sit down and finish his work?" or "Should I remind him again about the science test?" Leapfrogging over homework hurdles can be especially tricky if you live with one of the kids described below.

Remember that homework hassles are often discipline problems in disguise. Defuse the power struggles by following the cardinal rules of discipline in general: set limits that are reasonable — and stick to them when it's realistic.

  • The Perfectionist
    To a certain extent, perfectionists just can't help it: "We all have our temperamental predispositions — ways of relating to the world that are biologically linked — and this is one of them," says Melanie J. Katzman, Ph.D., associate clinical professor of psychology at Weill Cornell Medical School in New York City. "Perfectionism can be a wonderful thing to pass on to your child, so parents shouldn't feel badly about it. But carried to an extreme, it can become debilitating. Perfectionist kids may anticipate that they will never be able to meet their own high standards, so why bother?" To keep your child from getting gridlocked while doing homework, set a realistic example (by handling your own mistakes with composure) and praise effort, not grades. Read more tips for coping with perfectionism.
  • The Procrastinator
    The Procrastinator finds 201 things to do before she actually sits down and starts her homework. Often, she waits until the last minute, then rushes through it. Often, the procrastinator will throw you a bone: she'll gladly do her homework, as long as you're right there beside her. That's okay if you're willing, and if your child is young — but eventually, she will need to be more independent.

    The procrastinator procrastinates for myriad reasons: she may be disorganized or have poor study or planning skills, or she may be anxious or angry about something at home or at school, in which case you need to play detective and talk to her, her teacher, or a school psychologist to determine why. To help, work with your child to set goals she can meet and to come up with a mutually agreeable homework schedule. Read more tips for managing a procrastinator.
  • The Disorganized Child
    The disorganized child is always "just about" to sit down and start his homework, but then . . . well, something comes up. Since his elaborate, convoluted reasons for his inability to complete his homework often seem so logical, you're thrown off guard. Should you give him the benefit of the doubt? Or is he just taking you down the same old road?

    You could tear all your hair out over the antics of a disorganized child — and he still won't be able to do what he needs to do. Sometimes, the problem may be a learning disability. Sometimes, it's as simple as providing a reasonably quiet, efficient workspace, or teaching him to organize homework materials, allocate time, and gather information. The trouble is, if you're always supplying the information, reminding them to study, or rushing that forgotten paper to school, you undermine the whole purpose of homework. And the disorganized child will never gain the confidence he needs to do things for himself. So try these strategies to address the underlying problem.
  • The Underachiever
    Parents of underachievers often hear the lament "I'm dumb" or "It's just too hard" from their perfectly capable kids. And they often hear it around 4th or 5th grade, when the amount of homework intensifies. Students must get used to stashing their gear in a locker, as well as the different styles of different teachers for each subject. To get your underachiever moving, you need to be a cheerleader. Read more tips for overcoming underachievement.

Needless to say, if your child is genuinely unable to do the homework, you, in tandem with his teacher or school psychologist, must figure out why and enlist the help he needs. A learning difficulty or anxiety over problems at home may be affecting schoolwork. Or perhaps the work is below his level and he needs more challenging assignments. By addressing homework problems early, you prevent them from mushrooming.

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