Feeling frustrated that every time you turn your back, your child has once again escaped the kitchen table so nicely decorated with math workbooks, spelling words and other scattered assignments? Practicing these tips to enhance focus and attention will foster greater independence with homework completion and other tasks that require a calm body and mind.
1. Recognizing on- vs. off-topic thought content
One way to regain focus and attention is through gaining insight into the nature and content of our thoughts. If we are supposed to be doing math homework, our brains need to be thinking of math-related topics. This is called on-topic thinking. If you are doing math and thinking about what you are going to eat for dinner or your next Lego creation then you are experiencing off-topic thinking as these thoughts are unrelated to the task at hand. Getting refocused is as simple as switching your thoughts to support on-topic material. If you see your child glazed over, doodling, or getting up to engage in an alternative activity, call their attention to their thought process, have them recognize if they are on- or off-topic, and encourage them to think of thoughts that would support on-topic thinking.
2. Deep breathing and muscle relaxation activities
If your child is having a hard time sitting still and attending to their homework, a family conversation at dinner, or on a directive, encourage them to engage in these fun activities:
–Deep breathing. Encourage your child to take 10 deep breaths. This will slow breathing, cancel out other “noise” and regain attention to the here and now.
-Following deep breathing, encourage your child to do a series of tightening and loosening of their muscles 10 times (this can be a body scan, going through the muscles one by one to tighten and then loosen, or squeezing the whole body tightly and then releasing after 10 seconds)
-Whole body listening. Making sure that the body is calm will aid in focus and attention to the task at hand. Feet are calmly on the floor, hands are calm and not fidgeting, eyes are looking at the material, mouth is closed unless it is their turn to speak, ears are listening, and brain is thinking about on-topic thoughts.
3. Setting a timer
This will increase autonomy over homework and reduce parental frustration as the timer is an objective tool that the child can refer to keep them on task. You can set the timer for various increments of time and it can also provide options for necessary movement breaks. You can set the timer to delineate the amount of time needed to focus on work and/or set the timer for a series of movement breaks that may help the child get through longer tasks. For example, if your child has 45 minutes of homework, you can have the child do 10 minutes of work with a 5 minute break, 10 minutes of work, 5 minute break, etc. this will allow your child to get through their work with the intention of getting a chance to move around so that homework doesn’t seem daunting and their “breaks” give them a chance to refocus.
4. Repeat directions.
Encourage your child to repeat back directives to ensure that they have heard your message. Make sure that your child is engaging in whole body listening to really encourage focus and attention. Redirect your child into whole body listening if they are not to ensure that they are focusing on your message.