It’s common for students at all grade levels to have trouble staying focused.  Whether it’s struggling to pay attention in class or having a tough time completing homework assignments, focus issues can lead to poor academic performance.  There can be many reasons children struggle to focus in school – from sleep deprivation, mismatching learning styles to having ADHD. 

However, the good news is: with proper goals and guidance, it’s possible to help your child improve her focus and concentration.  Concentration is like a muscle that requires regular exercise to strengthen. Below are some tips to help your kids build their concentration muscles.

1. Understand your child’s learning style (visual, auditory, kinesthetic)

Different students have different learning styles.  Some children process information easily when they see it, some when they hear it and some need practical knowledge of it and are able to touch it.  Identifying which category your child falls under is a good place to start. It can give you a better idea of why your child might be struggling, how you can help them memorize lessons better and for a longer time. 

>> Take this 3-minute quiz to discover your child’s preferred learning style.

If your child is a visual learner: Children who are visual learners understand information better when they are able to see it.  In this case, the child will be able to concentrate better if she is allowed to read the information and write it down as well.  Study tips for visual learners:

  • Making flash cards – If your child is learning spellings or even concepts, writing them down on small cards and repeatedly showing them to her will help her understand and learn these concepts that much faster.
  • Drawing – Asking your child to draw what she is studying may also help her visualize the material better.
  • Doodling – Often, we see our children scribbling while studying and think that they’re distracted but what really happens is that the doodling helps them recall what they have been studying at that point and so remembering it at a later stage becomes easier.

If your child is an auditory learner: Children who learn better when they hear information are auditory in nature. Study tips for auditory learners:

  • Reading aloud – Children who are auditory in nature learn better by reading the material aloud or listening to someone else reading.  In this regard, they might find audio books more helpful than paperback books.
  • Music – Listening to music may also help these children increase concentration in their studies.

If your child is a kinesthetic learner: Children who are kinesthetic learners need to be able to touch and feel their subject matter to understand and process it better.  For these children, learning by practical applications may be more helpful than reading aloud or writing. Study tips for auditory learners:

  • Providing your child with hands-on learning opportunities, such as doing experiments, role-playing or using 3-D materials.
  • Break up long lessons into smaller chunks, change teaching locations (sit on rug, sit in desks, go outside, switch seats, etc.)

2. Offer a nourishing diet and make sure your child gets enough sleep

Eating healthy food has a direct link to how well a child concentrates and there are different foods that help increase a child’s concentration.  Eating junk food or food rich in sugar makes a child sluggish while food rich in proteins such as almonds, eggs and lean meat have the ability to raise awareness and increase concentration levels!

Therefore, parents should send their child off to school with a balanced breakfast consisting of carbohydrates and protein (e.g. eggs and toast, a bean burrito, or oatmeal and yogurt) will help them pay better attention in class.  Also, cut down on fast-food as much as possible since new research is suggesting an association between junk food and ADHD-related behaviors. You can find more brain-boosting food for your child in our well-designed infographic.

“A power nap for 20 minutes after school or in the afternoon helps increase concentration.”

Additionally, insufficient sleep at night (less than 8 or 9 hours) can lead to a variety of behavioral and learning difficulties, from poor conduct to slipping grades.  For that reason, parents should set consistent times for getting to bed, restrict media in the hour before sleep, and help your child establish comfy bedtime rituals with soft pillows, stuffed animals and anything else that might help them relax.  The National Sleep Foundation recommends 9 to 11 hours of sleep each night for school-aged children between 6 and 13 years of age, and 8 to 10 hours each night for teenagers between the ages of 14 and 17.

3. Limit screen time

There is no doubt that TV and video games can offer parents a much-needed break from sibling squabbles and choruses of “I’m bored,” but in the end, screen time seems to only affect children’s attention spans for the worse.  A 2019 study found that kids 5 and under who spent two hours or more on a screen were 7.7 times more likely to be diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

The Mayo Clinic advises forgoing media altogether for kids between the ages of 18 to 24 months.  For children between the ages of 2 to 5 years, screen time should be limited to one hour of “high-quality” programming. 

When it comes to older kids, it’s up to parents to decide how much screen time is right for their child, but limits should be set.  Parents can place restrictions on screen time by doing the following:

  • Have tech-free zones or times in the house.
  • Have children charge their phones out of their bedrooms at night.
  • Eliminate background TV.
  • Limit your own screen time.

Also find more creative ways to unplug your screen-addicted kid here.

4. Break big tasks down into smaller, more manageable pieces

This is another strategy for helping children to approach a challenging task.  Studying an entire chapter in one go is quite difficult for a child. It always helps to break it down into pages or even paragraphs so that the child feels a sense of accomplishment for finishing a small task and this will motivate them to continue on.  By breaking things down, your child has a clear idea of what needs to be done and a sense of accomplishment once it’s completed. That accomplishment can be a big motivation-booster! This is true not just for studies, but for household chores as well.  

For example, if your child is learning to tie their shoes, make the first goal to master the initial knot. Then move on to making two loops with the strings until they know exactly how to do that, and so forth.  Another “piecemeal” strategy for building concentration is to use a timer to help kids organize themselves, for instance, “Here’s a book about planets. I’m going to set this timer for 15 minutes, and I want you to write down as many facts about Mars as you can in this time.”

5. Set up a reward system

Rewards don’t necessarily have to be tokens such as chocolates or toys.  They can also be in the form of praise or even further studying! Children are more likely to repeat behaviour that earns praise.  This means you can use praise to help change difficult behaviour and replace it with desirable behaviour. In fact, incentives or rewards for completing tasks can be effective motivators for most children with ADHD.

At Everest Education, we always encourage our parents to praise the effort, not the results.  Research on praise and mindsets shows that when we praise children for being smart, it promotes a Fixed Mindset.  In contrast, praising your child for their work will encourage a Growth Mindset. It sends a message that Effort is what led them to success.

Instead of giving your children ice cream if they’re “good”, chocolate if they’re attentive, or maybe even money if they get good marks at school, we suggest parents praising your child’s hard work to improve focus.  Point out even small improvements. And let your child know that focus skills can get better. That can help your child develop a “growth mindset.”

Want more tips on what to say, and how to say it when praising your child?  Watched this video to meet Tony Ngo – Chairman and Co-founder of Everest Education to learn more about his simple technique to raise more confident kids.

Last but not least, remember to talk about your child’s strengths, not just challenges.  When kids understand what they’re good at, it builds confidence and helps them stay motivated when things get tough.

What Everest Education does to help students focus

At Everest Education, we design our classes to engage students from the start to manage these potential challenges.  There are no classes where the teacher stands and lectures at the front of the class. Instead, Everest teachers lead students through fun, challenging activities, and students work through material at their own individual speed.

In our Singapore Math courses, students use learning manipulatives and engage their sense of touch while they derive formulas through play.  When students encounter new concepts, they grapple with interesting puzzles that make them think and test their hypotheses. Using tools like the bar method, students then use pictures to represent their thinking in a more organized way. Only once they have demonstrated understanding with their hands and pictures do students then see and memorize math formulas.  This Concrete-Pictorial-Abstract (CPA) method ensures that students don’t get bored, and that the information is always leveled appropriately for them.

In our English courses, students are mastering each sub-skill of listening, speaking, reading, and writing at their own speed and with their own leveled materials.  For example in English reading, students in the same class often have a wide range of reading levels. They each know their own reading levels, and our teachers guide them to choose the books or articles at the right level in Reading A-Z or Newsela.  The key: they choose the books that interest them! One boy might choose a book on soccer, while another girl might read about space exploration. This way, instead of acting out in class, students act responsibly. Most importantly, when they see their reading skills develop quickly, they develop an innate confidence and a love of learning.  Through this personalized learning approach, Everest Education students increase their English skills twice as fast as they would in school alone.

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