There was a time in my life when my wife and I seemed to spend countless hours on homework—our children’s homework. One challenge for parents today that didn’t exist as much for us is that kids have many more distractions: cell phones, text messaging, Facebook, etc. to takes their focus away from important tasks such as homework. I asked my friend and colleague, Dr. Duru Sakhrani, chief of child and adolescent psychiatry at Mercy Children’s Hospital, if she had any tips to keep kids more focused. This is what we came up with:
• Stay on a schedule as much as possible. Maintain regular wake-up and bed times. Children thrive with routine and can be overwhelmed and stressed by too many activities or changes.
• Don’t over-schedule your child’s life. Group activities, lessons, after school clubs and sports are all important for physical, social and academic development. Rest and relaxation are important, too.
• Have a morning routine each day: wake up, make the bed, bathe, eat breakfast and brush teeth. Recognize your child’s progress with the routine and their independence in self-care.
• Practice a sleep routine with your child. Winding down is a challenge to many children. Keeping a routine helps them slow down and actually fall asleep. No one can get to sleep in minutes just after paying video games for hours.
• Make lists. Organize tasks that need to be completed every morning or evening. Make checklists and cross out tasks after they have been completed.
• Use school or homework planners—many schools provide them to students. Help your child develop a habit of writing down assignments to review with you upon getting home.
• Encourage time management. When your child gets home from school, allow a short break and then start on homework. Procrastination is the enemy of a busy student.
• Divide difficult tasks into manageable increments. Allow a short break and return to the task where the child left off. Breaking a formidable project or assignment into more practical parts can help a great deal.
• Study and work in an environment with minimal distractions. Have your child focus on studying without music or computer distractions. Do not believe it when your child swears he can finish his calculus while watching TV.
• Help children with immediate, intermediate and long-term goals. First, finish homework for the next day. Then study for the quiz scheduled a few days away. It is never too early to begin planning the project due in a few weeks.
• Make use of school resources such as a study buddy, a student tutor and academic labs or study halls to help children at all levels.
As children get older, their homework gets longer, more demanding and more sophisticated. Their lives get busier, too. This is complicated by the fact that they sleep less, either by choice or by the demands of school or work.
Older children are often less supervised, yet concerns over their multi-tasking have heightened in the face of advancing technology. By this time, habits learned early in life should have become incorporated as part of daily living. However, as parents, you should continue to monitor driving, cell phone use, loud music and possible substance abuse.
Good coping strategies and study habits get carried on to the later school years. Whether homework is done in kindergarten or in a college class, good habits become strategies for success. LN