Homework and the Mentally Ill Child (Part 1 of 3)

October 7, 2010 Angela McClanahan

There's no question parents of children with a psychiatric illness have numerous obstacles to face when a child's illness is not under good control. However, many outsiders don't understand that "stability" doesn't equal "cured." Even when a child's condition is stabilized (through medication or otherwise), that condition continues to present challenges for child and parents alike. Among those challenges--the three-part drama we call "Homework."

homework2Part I - Coming Home

The very nature of the word "homework" mandates it be done at home; meaning the assignment must somehow move from desk to backpack and (unless the child forgets said backpack) to the house. I think we've finally got this part down, but for the first several weeks of the school year, it was Mission Impossible. I didn't even know Bob had a "homework folder" until midway through the second week. I wasn't even clear which assignments were homework until I asked Bob's teacher for clarification. And asking Bob about any of it was much like interrogating a mute international spy.

Obviously, trouble remembering to bring things home from school isn't exclusive to kids with mental illness. It is, however, an issue our kids don't overcome as easily due to the nature of their conditions and, often, their treatment. Overlooking a homework folder at the end of the day is trademark ADHD. A manic child is far too distracted to remember homework (and likely feels he doesn't need to do it anyway because he's the smartest person in the whole universe). An anxious or depressed child may just want the bell to ring so they can get out of there as quickly as possible. Throw in the brain fog accompanied by so many psychotropic medications, and it's a miracle our kids make it home at all.

Coordinating Homework Assignments with the Teacher

homework1If you're waiting for me to reveal my super-secret answer to this conundrum--don't. The bottom line is, we can't change our children's brain chemistry any more than we can change the chemistry of their psychiatric medications. Plain and simple, this is one of those things they need help with. My super-secret answer? I emailed Bob's teacher and asked her to please help Bob make sure to pack his homework folder at the end of each day.

It doesn't always work--sometimes there's a substitute, sometimes the folder comes home but the homework is still in his desk--but for the most part, everything ends up where it needs to be.

I'm all about empowering children and teaching them to be responsible, to not expect special treatment because of their diagnosis, blah blah blah. But I see nothing wrong with asking (on Bob's behalf) for a little organizational help. To the contrary, I think it's important he learn what his true limitations are and learn how to find assistance with them, just like anyone else. (How many times today have you asked or been asked "can you remind me to..."?)

APA Reference
McClanahan, A. (2010, October 7). Homework and the Mentally Ill Child (Part 1 of 3), HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, May 19 from

Author: Angela McClanahan

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