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Spontaneity, Routine, and Homework: A Psychologist’s Reflections

By Nathaniel R. Strenger, Psy.D.

As a psychologist working with kids and teens, I join many parents across the country in burning a lot of brain power on the topic of homework right now.  Of course, August can be a tiring month full of transitions from plentiful free-time to another year of academic grind.   

After a long day of keeping themselves still at school, biological forces in kids’ bodies are screaming for spontaneity—running outside, pouring the Legos on the floor, or turning on the iPad.  Alas, homework beckons!  It is part of the growth of kids to learn the navigation of the tension between responsibility, routine, and spontaneity, and it is up to parents to teach it.  From a psychologist, here are a few starter tips: 

  1. Counterbalance daily homework with spontaneity.  Make sure you spend a little bit of time each day playing with your child.  Don’t just play, though.  Follow your child’s lead without injecting corrections, instead verbally celebrating and enjoying his or her (safe) impulses.
  2. Verbally and visually forecast the upcoming transition to homework time, triggering your child’s neurological system to start readying itself.  “We are having so much fun right now!  Get ready, in 15 minutes it will be time to transition to being calm for homework.” 
  3. Set apart homework time in multi-sensory ways. Alter the sights, sounds, and smells of homework time to help train the nonverbal body to focus in preparation for the ritual. 
  4. Make routines visual by tacking an illustrated after-school schedule to the refrigerator.  Include pictures, sequences, and order to help your child monitor the liturgy themselves.  

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Nathaniel R. Strenger, Psy.D. Is a licensed psychologist in full-time practice at the Center in Dallas. There he also serves as Clinical Advancement Coordinator, providing psychotherapy and assessments with kids, teens, families, adults, and members of the clergy.  He also devotes his time to public speaking, supervising training clinicians, and providing workshops for licensed staff.  He received his Doctorate of Psychology from the Fuller Graduate School of Psychology and holds a Masters in Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary.