Many young children have trouble sitting still and staying focused. Even older kids can sometimes struggle after a long day at school. If you’re having trouble getting your child to start their homework or stay focused at school, try these tips.

Here are some ways to help your child settle down and concentrate:

  1. Get the ya-yas out first (aka exercise!)

    Moving the body motivates the brain. In fact, there’s a vast body of research that suggests that vigorous exercise helps with concentration, learning, and memory. If your child is struggling with focus at school, try having your child walk or bike to school. (One school had great success having kids take PE right before their most challenging academic class.) If homework is the problem, make sure they get some playtime after school or get them to do some physically challenging chores around the house. For older kids, there’s nothing like playing on a sports team to help fulfill physical and social needs at the end of a long sedentary day.

  2. Turn off screens and cell phones

    Let’s face it, never has there been a generation with so many distractions in the form of screens that beep and flash with every tiny notification. It’s not our kids’ fault! Research shows that just the presence of a turned-off cell phone is an active impediment to concentration. So before your kid tackles homework or does anything that takes concentration, turn off the television. And yes, remove their cell phone from the room. In many cases, your child will be using a computer to do their homework, but you can turn off notifications on their computer while they are doing homework. Explain to them that it’s not a punishment. You’re actually doing them a favor and all the research suggests that it’s not fair for them to have to compete with distractions from screens.

  3. Make a to-do list

    Having lots of chores and homework assignments can be overwhelming for kids. Help your child focus on getting things done by making a list — together — of everything he needs to do for the day or week. Then let him cross off each task as he finishes it. This is, of course, an essential tool for organizing your life! But the to-do list is also a focusing tool. Getting everything down on paper can help settle the mind and allow it to think about just one task. Either way, helping kids build new organizational habits and bring order to their lives is always useful in making room for learning.

  4. Use signals

    Try to avoid conversations when your child is working. To cut out distracting talk altogether, you and your child can even come up with a few basic signals. For example, when you point to his work, that means he needs to go back to what he was doing. Or when you raise your hand, that means he should stop what he’s doing and get to work. For some kids, it helps to just lay a hand on their shoulder to bring them back into focus. And whatever you do, try to refrain from nagging them, as tempting as it is! If they are distracted and having a hard time concentrating, the likelihood is that they already feel bad about this fact.

  5. Take breaks.

    During homework time, make sure your child takes a few breaks. (This is one of many homework tips that the research supports.) After working for 10 or 20 minutes (depending on his age), have him get up and move around, get a drink or snack, and then go back to work. He might even share an anecdote about his day or send a text to a friend. Just make sure he doesn’t get drawn into some involved activity or conversation. Encouraging your child to take breaks isn’t “going easy” on your child. It’s just how the brain works! Research from 2015 suggests that the human mind can only concentrate for 8 seconds, so mental switching between subjects is one way the brain resets itself.

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