When it comes time for your child to do homework, do you often feel like you need to close all of your doors and windows and force your child to sit still long enough to complete the work? Has your child’s teacher expressed concern about his or her ability to pay attention in class? This is a common scenario with many school-aged children and unfortunately, it interferes with their ability to learn. Here are six tips for helping your child boost his or her attention span, whether in school or at home.
Tip #1: Establish a Consistent Time and Location for Homework
Show that homework is a high priority in your home by setting up a study area and establishing a regular study time. This will help your child develop a mindset toward devoting a specified amount of time each day to concentrating on homework so that he or she will not be distracted by other tasks or activities. If your child has problems sitting still and focusing, try starting off with shorter durations of study time and gradually lengthening it.
“Make sure that the amount of time you and your child spend doing homework is realistic,” says Susan McDonald, board member for CHADD (Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) of Utah and Chairperson of the Board for the Utah Alliance for Children. “The amount of homework your child has must meet his or her educational needs. However, if an elementary school child spends more than 20-30 minutes each night on homework, it interferes with your child’s family and home life. That’s not a healthy balance and you need to establish a more realistic homework plan with your child’s educators.”
Tip #2: Introduce New Information Gradually
With the amount of information that children retrieve and process every day, sometimes it feels like it’s coming at them from a fire hose and they may become distracted and confused. Children learn and retain information at their own pace. That’s why it’s better to introduce new material in bite-sized increments. You may try using flashcards to help your child learn new Chinese characters, or implement spaced repetition.
Tip #3: Focus on One Task at a Time
When faced with multiple tasks, young children often feel overwhelmed and tend to shut down. Much of this involves the child’s inability to manage his or her executive functions. These functions regulate the brain’s ability to get organized, control emotions, memorize facts or instructions, and complete projects.
Instead of giving your child a list of things to do and expect them to carry out a string of orders, try working together with your child and focusing on one task at a time. For example, when giving your child assessment books to complete, you can start by asking him to do only one topic first. At the completion of that topic, you assign only the next topic and your child works through the tasks incrementally instead of struggling with the fact that he has to finish three topics in a study session.
Tip #4: Team Up With your Child’s Teacher(s)
If your child struggles to pay attention, gets bored easily, or often fidgets during class it can be a problem for both your child and the other students. Some studies have shown that when kids fidget, it actually helps them pay attention better. Children might doodle on paper or fiddle with some object while the teacher is providing instruction. In many cases, the children are actually paying attention and hearing the instructions.
However, if a child is being restless or disruptive, ask the teacher to try and notice what draws your child’s attention and remove or at least reduce the potential distractions. For example, your child’s teacher can seat him or her in a location that’s not facing the door or a window.
If your child has difficulty focusing or paying attention in class, consult with the teacher and brainstorm ideas for effectively communicating with your child. For example, if your child sits near the teacher, it’s easier for the teacher to make direct eye contact with your child when presenting instructions.
Tip #5: Set Up a Reward System
Setting up a reward system can motivate your child to stay on task. Whether they’re doing school work, extracurricular activities, or chores around the house, children tend to be more motivated when the project involves a reward.
It requires some effort to create an effective reward system. The more details you include in the requirements and the reward itself, the more successful it will be. It’s also helpful to allow your child to participate in determining the reward. It’s also a good idea to change the reward often. If you offer the same rewards over and over, your child might become bored and lose interest.
Tip #6: Be Patient
Trying to accomplish a task with a child that is distracted or fidgety can be extremely draining for you. However, if you allow yourself to get stressed and lose your temper, you will make it even more difficult for your child to focus. If your child sees you lose your temper, he or she might feel justified to get angry as well. Yelling at your child can have a lasting negative impact on their mindset towards homework and study time.
Therefore, when you assist your child with homework or any other task, it’s important that you maintain your composure. If you feel that your child is distracted because the work presented is too challenging, let both your child and yourself take a break.
We all struggle with sitting still and paying attention at times. However, for some people, the problem is more pervasive and can interfere with their lives. In this case, it could be signs of Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). According to a report by the National Resource Center, ADHD affects 5 to 8 percent of school-age children. The symptoms include inappropriate levels of inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity, and persist into adulthood in nearly 60% of the cases.
If you truly find that nothing works to help your child improve his or her attention span and are at a wit’s end, you may need to consider seeking medical attention for your child to determine if ADHD is the cause.