Many young children and teenagers have trouble staying focused and getting work done, but the focus is an important skill for life that your child can improve if you and your child work on it together.
Here are eight ways you can help your child focus on their work:
1. Encourage movement before working
Moving the body motivates the brain and therefore will help your child focus when they start their work. Try getting them to do some sports, do some chores around the house or play outside after school. Find an activity that your child enjoys and that has movement such as karate, dance or gymnastics.
2. Set aside time and a designated space for studying
Before your child starts doing their homework or studying, make sure they do their work at a designated desk in a quiet room with the television off, mobile phone in another room and the computer or laptop shut down unless they need it to do their work. As well as this, make sure that the designated space has plenty of books, papers and supplies (e.g. pens, pencils, rulers) available.
3. Make a to-do list
Children can get overwhelmed by having lots of homework and revision to do. Help your child keep track of everything they need to do by making a to-do list together for the tasks they have for the day or week. Your child can then cross the tasks off when they are done.
4. Test them on their knowledge regularly
Another trick to prevent your child from losing focus is to test them or make sure they test themselves often so that their mind is thinking about the stuff they need to learn. People remembered more information during a lesson if they paused to test what they learned every 5 minutes. Their minds did wander occasionally but it was about the topic rather than things unrelated to it.
5. Build in short breaks
Taking breaks every now and again can give your child’s mind a chance to rest and can make them more focused on the task at hand, suggests a study from the University of Illinois. The study found that people who had short breaks during a 50-minute task performed better than those who worked without a break. This is because deactivating and reactivating their goals allows them to stay focused.
During your child’s breaks, get your child to move around, get a drink and then make sure they get back to work. Allow them to relax for a few minutes but don’t allow them to get involved in something else.
6. Reward your child for getting tasks done
Studies show that rewarding people can keep them focused, but only when it was given at the right time. Giving people small rewards throughout the tasks didn’t make a difference but the prospect of a larger reward that they would receive after completing the tasks kept them focused.
One way you could do this is to create a chart and give your child one star for every task completed neatly and in a timely manner. These stars could them add up to a treat at the end of the month such as a new book, a trip to the park or a family movie night.
7. Praise and positivity
Children can find it hard to settle down and concentrate sometimes even with optimal study conditions. However, a study routine can be established within a few weeks with patience, practise and perseverance. Use positive reinforcement and praise when you notice they are focused on their work instead of punishing them when they are not being focused because negativity and punishments only make children feel worse and do not motivate them to try harder. Remember to offer specific praise that highlights their progress and not just their results.
8. Encourage healthy habits
A lack of sleep affects our ability to remember information and reduces our ability to avoid distractions. As well as this, sleep is also important for consolidating memories. Ensure sure your child gets enough sleep every night. School-age children from 6 to 13-year-olds need 9-11 hours of sleep every night and teenagers need 8-10 hours every night.
The foods your child eats can also affect their ability to focus and remember information. Limit caffeine, sugar and saturated fats (the unhealthy fats) and encourage your child to eat foods with healthy fats (like fish, nuts and avocados). It is also important that you don’t let your child skip breakfast because skipping breakfast makes them sluggish and makes them more prone to headaches and stomach aches.