How to get Kids to Focus and Concentrate

by Jagruti Gabani, July 18, 2017
I have a 4 year old nephew who is extremely active. His activities at my place ranges from playing with toys to painting (He and I using only three colors of Black, White and Red have made a masterpiece worth the walls of Louvre Museum). He is shy when interacting with adults, but loves playing with the colony kids. But when it comes to sitting down and completing his homework for the day, I see my sister always struggling with him. It takes her at least 10-15 minutes just to make him sit down with his book. She needs to show him how to write each alphabet everyday and every time he writes it. Not to mention, all the distractions in the middle of studies, and complains of his stomach hurting just to avoid doing his homework. And an hour later, he has still not completed one page of alphabet. There are many distractions in the forms of mobile phones to video games out there which compete for their attention. Hence, it can be difficult for kids to focus on one thing at a time. Though, helping children develop self-discipline, effectual focus strategies and concentration skills at a young age would help them be more successful in their future.
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Here’s what parents can do to help their kids focus and concentrate more:

  • Set aside Homework Time and Space:

Setting Time: Setting aside a reasonable amount of time for your kid to focus for a specific task – Young children can usually concentrate for a specific brief amount of time before distractions come in. Keeping a specific amount of time for them – less time for difficult and challenging tasks and more time for intrinsically enjoyable activities will play a significant role in helping them focus.

Space: Subsequently, create a space designed for studying – Space with a desk/table with plenty of room for books, papers and other homework supplies. This space should be in a quiet area of your home where distractions can be managed and minimized. Also, keep the area conductive to study by ensuring it is well lit and ventilated.

  • Manage Distractions and Focus on one thing at a time:

Managing distractions: Although eliminating every distraction is impossible, there are ways to manage and minimize the things that can pull a child’s focus away. Lets starts with technology: no television, phone or computer until homework is done. Total silence isn’t required, because research has found that certain types of music help people concentrate better, especially classical and instrumental music.

One thing: Multi-tasking may help immensely in our adult lives, but research shows it reduces concentration. Doing one thing at a time, solving a problem one step at a time without looking ahead helps improve the kids focus and consequently their performance.

  • Setting an example:

If possible, take this time to quietly do your own “homework.” This might be work you brought home with you, reading you need to catch up on or sorting through mail and bills. Your kids will be more focused if they see you setting a similar example. Though it may be difficult, try to be disciplined about your own use of computers and phones during this time. Your distraction will distract them as well.

  • Rewards, Praises and Positivity:

Rewards: Rewards can be controversial because they can easily become bribes. But the fact is, human beings respond to positive reinforcement and kids are no different. A positive reward system will work to help motivate your children, though avoid material, monetary or food rewards. Instead, negotiate the rewards based on spending quality time together. Ask your children to think of things they would like to do with you, and then make that a monthly goal. 
Create a homework chart or download a free, printable chart online. For each homework assignment completed neatly, in a timely manner and without complaint, your kid gets a star. These stars could then add up to an end-of-the-month treat: a new book, a trip to the park or museum, a bike ride or a family movie night or whatever they like. 

Praises and Positivity: Even with the best intentions and optimal study conditions, getting children to settle down and focus can be challenging, especially if they have difficulties with concentration and attention. But with practice, patience, persistence and positivity, a good routine can be established within a month. Remember to use positive reinforcement and verbal praise, because negativity and punishments only make children feel worse and do not motivate them to try harder. Offer specific praise to children that highlights their progress—not just results—such as “I’m proud of you for completing your math worksheets and for getting to the next level” versus a general “Good job!” Don’t forget to also praise the child’s progress and not just the end result.

  • Break big tasks into smaller and manageable tasks with break time in between:

Smaller task: This is another strategy for helping children to approach a challenging task. Breaking a complicated task into smaller and easier task will help kids not only focus on it but also enjoy them immensely, giving them a sense of achievement after every small task completed. For example, if your child is learning to tie her shoes, make the first goal to master the initial knot, then move on to making two loops with the strings until she knows exactly how to do that, and so forth. Another “piecemeal” strategy for building concentration is to use a timer to help kids organize themselves.

Breaks: Kids need to get up, move around, and do something different and not too taxing after spending some time concentrating. They will benefit from taking a break to rest and recharge.

  • Practice being in the moment and understand what style of learning works best for them:

In the moment: Kids can be distracted by “internal stimuli,” like physical sensations or entertaining memories. While a child’s imagination is a wonderful thing and should be encouraged, we also want them to be able to clear away distractions and build the ability to concentrate. You can play a small game as to finding things in the room, listen closely to the lyrics of a song together, or do some yoga poses and pay attention to how it feels in the body.
Learning style: Kids need to see and understand the value of study, but remember that everyone has different ways of learning and dealing with information. Make it a shared effort to find the ways that work best for their study style. Some children may work better if they are able to walk around and think out loud. Some children do better lying on the floor with their books spread around them. Others need quiet, stillness and structure. As long as they are making good progress, be flexible about what works for them. 

Being able to focus, concentrate and maintain good study habits are life skills that will set your children up for success in all aspects of their lives—from the baseball field to the stage. It’s not just about completing assignments, it’s about establishing self-discipline and perseverance that will give them the ability and confidence to pursue goals, manage setbacks and know what it takes to achieve.

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