How “Homework Therapists” Are Helping Kids Overcome School-Related Anxiety

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There’s a new niche in the $100 billion tutoring profession that’s surfaced in the last couple years — and it may soon see a spike in popularity, thanks to a recent report by The New York Times. “Homework therapists,” as they’re being called, aim to help students with far more than just tough math problems and reading skills; they guide students through the emotional and academic pressures of middle and high school, offering the benefits of traditional tutoring along with coping strategies for the often crippling anxiety that can come with each new grade.

According to ChildMind.org, a homework, or educational therapist, is a “professional who is trained to understand an individual child’s learning challenges, and the patterns and behaviors he has developed to work around, or mask, [their] deficits.” The intent is to focus on the whole child, meaning the emotional and cognitive aspects necessary for successful learning.

These therapists offer strategies for how to focus and build new skills for learning, such as workable planners, study schedules, and advanced preparation while also helping kids get a handle on the negative self-talk that often comes with it.

While some kids suffer from learning disorders which, until diagnosed and treated, often prevent them from effective learning, many others lack the ability to plan, organize, and complete projects on time, or ever. Kids, now more than ever, feel significant pressure to perform at younger ages; so no wonder it often builds to a point where it’s all just too much.

One reason is college admission guidelines are tougher than ever. To add to this, online programs now allow parents to monitor our kid’s grades online as well as review daily class attendance, missed assignments, late assignments, quizzes and tests available for retake, and class ranking — making it even more stressful, because they constantly have another set of eyes monitoring them at all times.

I’ve seen this play out in my own home, too.

My 9th-grader has felt significant pressure in her first year of high school so far, going from getting straight A’s with little effort to struggling to complete what appeared to be simple assignments. Once her grades started to slip, she adopted an attitude of, “Well, I’m already sunk for this quarter so why even bother? I’ll never be able to catch up.”

It happened in the blink of an eye and it seemed that the more we got on her about it, the worse it became. She’s since been diagnosed with anxiety and ADHD, and we’ve put plans in place with her school to help rectify some of her obstacles; but it is a continuous, taxing process for all involved.

For kids who may be struggling with similar issues, a homework therapist might just be the answer. But services can be extremely pricey. Parents in New York pay around $200-$600 for in-person sessions ranging from 50 to 75 minutes, the NYT reports, while others will check in via Skype, email or text, consistently looking for ways to help them manage stress and create an environment of success.

“A lot of my clients will say: ‘I did my homework. I forgot to hand it in a number of times. My grades are suffering. And now I feel badly about myself,’” Ariel Kornblum, a psychologist for children and adolescents, told the NYT. “What we do is get at the core of why.”

The “why” is often at the heart of what’s driving this behavior in the first place, and once that is identified, a clear path for progress can be established. For many parents, it seems, that alone is priceless.

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