As a parent, you know that getting your child to stay focused on a task (like homework) can sometimes be difficult.
These days, children are inundated with constant distractions - from television, to electronics, to playing with friends – and it can be difficult for a child to settle down and concentrate.
As the school year now arrived, it is the perfect opportunity to help your children enjoy the learning process and get the most out of their next year. When your children learn focus strategies and develop discipline earlier on, they are more likely to carry that success into adulthood.
Here are some simple ways to help your child concentrate:
1. Start goal setting
Have a discussion with your kids about PRIORITIES. Just like chores at home, such as making their bed or clearing the dinner table, during the school year your child’s number one priority should be learning. The earlier you encourage this line of thinking, the more it solidifies as part of your child’s lifestyle, making it easier to stick to it for the rest of the year.
2. Create a routine
Providing structure for your child is important to create a pattern of prioritized activities. A regular time to be active, do homework, unwind, eat, go to bed, and wake up the next day, will help nourish your child’s ability to focus on each task. It is important to remember that although children may appear to be drawn to chaos and stimuli, they actually gravitate towards, and are balanced by, structure and routine.
3. Manage distractions
Set specific times for television, friends, video games, and other distractions. Trying to get your child to do homework while the television is on in the background or while their siblings are playing with friends in the same room, can cause frustration for your child (and you!) and it can make it harder for them to absorb their learning material. Homework time can also take longer, meaning less time for other important activities like exercise, eating, and unwinding. Set out an area that is designated for learning. Make it fun, simple, and organized so that it cultivates creativity while allowing your child to focus without distractions in the room.
4. Get creative with the workspace
By allowing your child to give input on the space they will use to learn each day, they will feel a sense of empowerment and pride, and naturally be more drawn to using that space. Try suggesting a funky-shaped shelf for books, or their favourite coloured frames on the wall. Decorate with something that gives the space a connection for your child, without being too distracting.
5. Create a clutter-free environment
Encourage your children to keep their space clean and organized. This is important for both their desk at school and their surroundings at home. When you clear the clutter, your mind is able to focus more freely on the task at hand, as a cluttered environment often leads to a cluttered mind. Organization simplifies things both physically and mentally, for adults and kids alike!
6. Implement relaxation techniques
When children are extremely wound up or hyperactive, sometimes doing a fun relaxation exercise can calm the nervous system and take your child from a “fight or flight” state to a more balanced and calm frame of mind. When you and your child do the relaxation exercise together, it won’t feel like a chore to them, it will feel more like a positive, nurturing activity.
For 5-10 minutes, lie down on the floor or a bed, making sure you’re comfortable. Using a soft, calming voice, tell your child to take a deep breath in. Tell them that as they breathe in, try squeezing tight all the muscles in their body. Now breathe out, and relax all of the muscles. Repeat this sequence slowly about 3 - 4 times.
Next, start head to toe and focus on squeezing and relaxing your muscles one at a time. Each time you breathe in, squeeze a muscle and relax it as you breathe out.
By making homework time a family event, no one feels like they’re missing out on other activities. Read a book, catch up on your own work from earlier in the day, or organize bills while your child works. Get any younger siblings to colour during this time, or practice their letters. If everyone is in the same “learning” mode then homework time won’t feel like such a chore.
7. Use positive reinforcement to encourage productivity
By praising the things you see your children do right, you automatically nurture a state of positivity and motivation within. If you see them set down the video game controller and begin their homework on their own accord, give them praise. If they finish all of their math questions within a certain timeframe, reinforce that this is a great accomplishment. Positive reinforcement for those little achievements can make all the difference in your child’s eyes.
8. Keep them active!
In order for a child to focus during downtime, they need to get all of their lively energy out each day. This will help your child concentrate both at school, as well as during homework time. Whether they’re enrolled in after-school activities, or just kicking the ball around in the backyard, they will burn their extra energy and naturally gravitate towards a calmer state when they sit down to do work.
9. Watch out for sugar!
This can make the world of difference in how a child feels, behaves, and concentrates. Sugar is one of the main culprits that causes children to lose focus, act out, or become irritable, as their blood sugar spikes and crashes throughout the day. Avoid filling lunches with sugary snacks and drinks, and slowly replace processed foods with healthier whole food alternatives.
10. Address food sensitivities
If you find that your child has trouble focusing in school, or has a whole slew of other symptoms (fatigue, headaches, upset tummy, constipation, irritability, skin rashes, eczema, etc.) you may want to look at food sensitivities as a possible underlying cause. The main culprits are often dairy & gluten. You can try eliminating certain foods from your child’s diet for a period of time (typically 2-3 weeks) to see if their symptoms improve, or get them tested for food sensitivities through their naturopathic doctor, who will offer non-invasive and friendlier methods.
11. Feed their brain
Ensure your children eat a balanced diet full of good proteins, healthy fats, veggies, and fruits to nourish their brain and body, and keep them motivated throughout the day. You may also consider adding a children’s omega-3 oil supplement to their daily routine, as added brain food.
12. Consider alternative natural treatments
If your child is really rambunctious and needs a little extra help calming down, consider homeopathic or herbal remedies. When prescribed properly, they can be very therapeutic without the negative side effects of pharmaceuticals. Some examples of homeopathic remedies often used for focus and concentration include hypericum and chamomila. Calming herbal remedies often include passion fruit, lemon balm, chamomile, hops, and valerian. To ensure your child takes the right natural remedy, always see a licensed Naturopathic Doctor.
13. Last but not least…
The most important point to remember is that children need to feel encouraged, supported, and nurtured as they navigate new territory at school. Every year is another opportunity to grow. Together, you’ll find the best ways to progress forward, while you all enjoy the positive rewards that these simple tips can provide.•
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Dr. Nicola Kempinska is a Naturopathic Doctor, a leading authority on Anti-Aging & Longevity Medicine, and Kinesiologist. To comment on this article or contact her for a patient consultation please visit www.drkempinska.com