Photo: Sara Hassoun / EyeEm (Getty Images)
For kids with anxiety, the hardest part about homework is often just starting it. Before even picking up a pencil, they construct in their heads a story about how the assignment is too difficult, too time-consuming, too much to handle. And so they shut down. Pep talks and pleas from Mom and Dad seem to only make things worse.
Rating scales are an effective tool to help us articulate and track our distress and progress—we adults use them to access our mental health, rate our pain and review how we handle situations. Children can benefit from the method, too. Having hard data about their abilities to complete assignments can help them make the shift from “I can’t do it!” to “Actually, I can. Here’s proof that I’ve done it before.”
On Understood.org, Harvard neuropsychologist Jerome Schultz shared a rating scale he developed that can help students build more self-awareness around homework. To use it, have your child look at an assignment and answer these three questions:
Time: How long do you think this homework will take to complete? (Then help your child keep track of the time actually spent on homework.)
Difficulty: How hard do you think it will be for you to complete this homework? Use a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being the easiest and 5 being the hardest.
Ability How likely is it that you’ll be able to complete the assignment? Use a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 for “I’ll breeze through it” and 5 for “I don’t even know how to get started.”
The next day, Schultz writes, ask your child how accurate he or she was in making the predictions. Chances are, the assignment wasn’t as tough or time-consuming as they made it out to be. You might have them use the rating scales with different types of assignments—essays, math worksheets, chapter reading. The information can help them plan out their evenings, time-wise.
If an assignment was, in fact, a lot more difficult than the student predicted, this can give you a starting point for a possible conversation to have with their teacher. “Schools need to be very clear about how long they expect kids to spend on homework,” Schultz writes.
You can also use the scales to track your kid’s progress over time. Perhaps at the beginning of the school year, the child might rate most assignments a 5 in difficulty (the absolute hardest), but toward the middle of the year, start giving more 4s or 3s. Show them this trend the next time they seem stuck.
The goal is to help your kid get out of their head—and get to work.