Is your child one who hangs on to their teacher’s every captivating word and is focused on their schoolwork or is your child one who is strategizing how she is going to design her castle in Minecraft to keep out the zombies, rather than how she is going to pass Friday’s science test?
Why are some children able to stay so focused throughout the school year and others seem to drift like jellyfish without a care in the world? Of course some of a child’s ability to focus comes from innate personality but there are techniques which will influence any child’s ability to stay focused on their schoolwork and grades this new school year.
One way to teach your child to stay focused is by helping them develop a positive mindset. Your child has a preconceived mindset on how they view themselves. Some of that comes from you. Mary Cay Ricci wrote a book titled, Mindsets in the Classroom. She states, “When students believe that dedication and hard work can change their performance in school, they grow to become resilient, successful students.”
What can you do to help develop your child’s mindset? Your specific strategies will depend on the grade level of your child. For our purposes, we will look at grade school children.
Let’s look at two scenarios in which a parent is speaking about their child, while in earshot of the child:
“Julia got an A on her test!”
“Thomas got the lead role in the play!”
These statements may sound like something positive for a parent to say. However, let’s look at an alternative:
“Julia told her friend she couldn’t come over and instead stayed home and studied for an hour for her test. I’m so proud she made that choice… and she got an A!”
“Thomas rehearsed a lot for his audition, and even though he wasn’t chosen last year for the play, he persevered this year and didn’t give up. Now he has the lead role!”
See the difference in what the child overhears?
In the first scenario the parent response is emphasizing outcome. The child understands that their parent is pleased, proud or happy that they got an A on a test or the lead role in the play. However, there is no mention of the process that led to the success.
In the second scenario the parent describes in some detail the steps taken by the child that led to the favorable result. The parent’s words provided the child with a cause and effect strategy that can be repeated and lead to future successes desired by the child.
Another method to help children keep their focus is to implement a reward system based on delayed gratification.
Children need to develop a perspective on delayed gratification. Research has shown that children who are given the choice of either: #1 receiving one piece of candy immediately after completing a task or #2 waiting 10 minutes after their task is completed, and receiving TWO pieces of candy, will often choose option one. Children who can delay gratification do better socially and academically. Children seem to learn this relationship starting around the age of five, while others benefit from specific strategies designed to accelerate this learning process.
One strategy is to tell your child the expected behavior and what the reward will be if they complete that behavior to your satisfaction. For example, if your child rebels at cleaning their room, tell them if they clean their room within the next hour they will receive 30 more minutes of TV that night. At this point you have to ignore the bargaining, crying etc. This takes small steps over a period of time.
In addition to the child learning to delay gratification, there is a bonus for using this strategy.
When you put something a child sees as negative (cleaning their room) with something positive (watching TV) you are using association to alter behavior. By telling them after they clean their room they can watch TV, over time, cleaning their room becomes less negative because it’s being connected to something positive, watching TV. This approach can work with encouraging children to study.
What is the difference to a child between getting an A and getting a D on a test? To the child, the letter grades on their own mean nothing, and are not a reinforcer. What happens when they get the grade is the reinforcer. It’s the praise, the reward, or the lack of punishment that makes the grade mean something. Reminder to parents: threats generally only work for the short term and are not a good long- term motivator.
A child can maintain their focus to aim for good grades because there’s anticipation of an extrinsic reward. Eventually, overtime, hopefully that reward becomes intrinsic and your child will remain focused on achieving success because it makes them feel good.
Challenge your child to think about their own potential this school year; this will help your child to stay focused on success in school rather than success with Xbox.