7 tips for boosting your child's concentration
Concentration is the raw ingredient that gets stuff done, but being able to concentrate is far from straightforward. It is an elusive quality that is hard to conjure at will, even for adults who are more self-aware (and have access to fresh coffee!)
Concentration is even harder for our children, but it is important and there are some things we as parents can do to help.
What's the big deal about concentration?
The education system has its cycles of what is in or out of fashion and there is an endless debate about what skills are important and how to teach them. Surprisingly, concentration rarely surfaces as a skill or quality that warrants developing alongside the likes of communication, imagination, confidence, creativity or group work.
This is surprising because although classroom teaching styles have evolved a lot over the past thirty years, the exam system hasn't changed one bit - and here, concentration is everything.
It's not just about exams - concentration is required for listening to the teacher, focusing on classroom tasks and most aspects of learning.
How parents can help
We sometimes forget that our children spend all day in a class of around thirty other kids where individual attention is in short supply. This means your child will probably get more one-to-one attention from you at home during homework time than all day at school.
We can have a big impact at home on education and we can do much to ensure better concentration. Here are some aspects of your child's life that influence their ability to concentrate:
An obvious easy-win in the concentration battle is getting enough sleep. As this BBC article suggests, we're talking about 10 to 12 hours per night for a child of 5 to 11. Establishing a bedtime routine always helps and makes an early bedtime easier to implement.
I mentioned earlier that as adults we are more "self-aware". Of course this is wishful thinking - adult or child, we're all emotional beings and more often than not we're completely unaware of being driven by our emotions.
When it comes to concentration, nothing gets in the way more than worry - so if your child is worried about something, find time to talk it through with them. It may be pretty trivial and easy to resolve, but if it's persistent and happening in school, consider talking to the teacher.
Diet and water
I think we all agree that a balanced diet helps maintain concentration - after all, if your child is hungry or fizzing with sugar they're unlikely to be thinking straight.
There are a few foods that are worthy of a special mention:
- Oat cereals like porridge release their energy slowly - so breakfast keeps children going through to lunch. The opposite is true for sugary cereals - so ditch the sugar puffs and coco pops!
- Omega oils - If your child has issues concentrating or is coming up to an important exam I'd consider this supplement simply because it's cheap, harmless and there's growing evidence supporting the benefit to concentration and learning.
Water is very important to the brain and dehydration has a clear impact on concentration. This is something we often consider only in the summer time but it's really worth ensuring your child is hydrated in winter too.
Most schools are on top of this, but if not, a tap-filled water bottle is an easy answer.
Several research studies point to exercise being beneficial to school children's concentration.
This study from Denmark even suggests walking to school, as opposed to driving, improves concentration and the effect lasts all morning. Aside from the obvious health benefits of exercise it's useful to know that it's good for concentration too.
Sending the children outside to play for 15 minutes during a long homework could be a win-win situation.
Rest and relaxation are of course important for concentration - so balance home learning with downtime.
Personally I'm a little concerned that some forms of downtime such as console games are actually exhausting in terms of concentration. I'm thinking particularly of my son's post-gaming lull in attention which usually takes thirty minutes or more to shake off.
Distraction and focus
For younger children, the kitchen table is the ideal place to do homework - because you are likely to be around to help - but it's worth remembering that TV, radio, and even telephone conversations can be distracting.
As learners reach ten or older and become more independent, consider a desk in their bedroom or another room and best not to allow devices during homework time. Also, try asking them to set a target time to complete the work - this can help them focus.
Concentration as a good habit
By setting up the environment and conditions for learning at home and instilling the idea that learning is important, we can improve concentration. If we do this consistently then it becomes a good habit - and perhaps even a lifelong one.
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