Have a Daydreamer on Your Hands? 7 Tips For Getting Your Kid to Focus
Have a daydreamer on your hands? A child who just can't seem to complete a task — whether it's doing homework, cleaning their room, or simply brushing their teeth — without you hovering over them, reminding them to stay focused every few seconds? Before considering something more serious like an attention deficit disorder, try treating their focus struggle as a fixable (and extremely common) issue. Most kids have trouble staying still and following through with a task, especially when they're surrounded by distractions and that task takes more than a few minutes to complete.
But as our kids get older and are required to be more focused and independent, it's our job to help them learn how to concentrate on and follow through with a specific goal. Here are seven ways to help your child's wandering mind stay focused.
Move and Play First
It's not just a saying: getting the wiggles out will help your child focus their mind. Before your kid has to complete a homework assignment or take on a time-consuming chore, have them take a walk around the block, dance to a couple of favorite songs, or play in the backyard for a bit. Moving their bodies will help prepare their brains.
Turn Off Screens and Remove Distractions
Before your kid starts any task that takes concentration, turn off all gadgets, including televisions, iPads, and cell phones. If they need to go on a computer for homework, set it up for them in advance so they're not tempted to use it for anything but studying.
If you have other children in the home who are playing or watching iPads or TV, make sure the child who needs to focus is far enough away that they won't be distracted. In addition, make sure that everything your child needs to complete their assignment is close at hand, so they don't have to stop and get up to get materials or even a drink of water.
Make a To-Do List
Having a lot of tasks or homework assignments is generally overwhelming for kids. Making a list of everything that needs to be completed is helpful because it provides a visual reminder your child can refer back to and gives them a sense of accomplishment when they can cross off a task they've finished. Consider buying a chalkboard or white board where you can write down to-do lists for personal tasks (get dressed, make bed, brush teeth and hair, etc.) and school work. If an individual school assignment takes more than 15 to 20 minutes to finish, try breaking it into shorter segments that are more manageable.
Develop Routines and Schedules
Having a routine that your child follows daily will help them become accustomed to completing certain tasks at specific times with less complaint. For example, maybe your child gets home from school at 3:30 p.m. and knows that you'll immediately greet them with a snack and engage them in a brief conversation about their day, after which it's always homework time, followed by playtime until dinner. After just a few days of following that schedule, your child will know, expect, and accept that it's homework first, playtime second.
Come Up With Non-Verbal Signals
It's not just annoying to you when you have to remind your child over and over again to return to a task. Just the sound of your voice can be a bigger distraction to a child who is struggling to concentrate. Instead, come up with a couple of basic signals (pointing to what they're supposed to be doing, patting a shoulder when you notice their attention has wavered) that indicate that your child needs to refocus without any disturbing talk. It might sound silly, but speaking from experience, it can really work.
After your child has been focusing on a task for 5 to 20 minutes (depending on their age), make sure they take a break. Have them get up for a few minutes, move around, go to the bathroom, or get a drink: then, get back to work. Giving your child time to get out that energy may actually help them focus better on the next task. Just be sure not to make a break so long that your kid can get involved in another activity.
Reward a Job Well Done
When your child completes a task on their own or with little intervention on your part, be sure to reward that behavior. A sticker, extra screen time, or a small piece of candy usually works, or you can give them a star on a chart they work to complete for a larger reward like a toy or outing to a favorite restaurant or ice cream shop. However, the reward can also simply be praise from you.