Between YouTube and text messages, Facebook and television, peer pressure and Pokémon, children today are pulled every which way—every which way but their studies, that is. Homework is often put off in favor of friends; intellectual pursuits frequently abandoned for fun.
But the study habits your child cultivates today informs their success in the future, determining how they’ll balance their lives and providing them with a solid foundation to manage the rigors of college and adulthood. Here are 5 fresh ways to enhance your child’s enthusiasm for studying and help them improve focus, naturally:
1. Set the Stage.
Few adults can effectively work against distraction—let alone children, who on the whole would much prefer to play Minecraft than sit down and solve an algorithm. Creating an environment that’s conducive to studying is key to their ability to concentrate—and their willingness to do so.
If possible, to increase concentration, designate a place in your home that’s for studying and studying alone. Ensure that it’s adequately lit, well-ventilated, quiet and organized. Remove electronics from the vicinity, including their smartphone (if they have one). Will they be using a computer? Take precautionary measures: disable email, pop-ups, social media sites, and other on-line forms of diversion. The fewer interruptions they have on the screen and in their surroundings, the better equipped they’ll be to fully immerse themselves in their schoolwork—and absorb their lessons.
2. Establish a Schedule.
Make no mistake about it: children thrive on routine. They might fight you on bath time and bed time, but the fact is they need daily habits to feel grounded, safe, and happy.
The same holds true for their studying regime. Knowing when they will be diving into their homework—and for how long—gives them a sense of autonomy that fosters diligence and ambition. Having a snack after school (or extracurricular activities) before settling into their studies has become the preference for parents for a reason: it often works, and it keeps them from rushing through their homework right before bed, which may contribute to poor sleep and agitation. Create a schedule and stick to it. The self-discipline this nurtures will earn you great thanks in the future.
3. Leverage Rewards.
There’s a vast difference between bribing your teenage daughter into studying for her biology exam with the promise of a mani-pedi and creating a consistent system that aptly and appropriately rewards your child for their efforts.
You needn’t think big when it comes to daily rewards. Finishing their homework assignment without complaint could be awarded with a half-hour of their favorite TV show, time outside or reading a non-required book of their choosing. For larger endeavors—and bigger incentives—consider creating a star chart, where good grades or timely-completed science projects earn them points for something grander: a new video game, a night at the movies or a toy they’ve been coveting. Positive reinforcement motivates and inspires, while also teaching children about balance, pride and determination.
4. Nurture with Nourishment.
“Hangry” caught on quicker than LOL for a reason: a common problem with thinking is low blood sugar levels due to a lack of nutrients, which makes us not only moody and short-tempered but also bleary-eyed and unfocused. Keep your child’s blood sugar on an even keel to help them stay engrossed in all of life’s activities.
Solid proteins like hard-boiled eggs and string cheese naturally maintain proper blood sugar levels, in part because they take time to digest and raise blood sugar (glucose) levels. Likewise, complex carbohydrates such as quinoa, whole wheat crackers and brown rice control hunger and sustain glucose levels, thereby helping to stave off fuzziness and irritation. Vegetables and fruit—particularly antioxidant-rich blueberries, leafy greens, avocados,and beets—are jam-packed with vital nutrients that naturally support the smooth-running of budding brains. To further support your child’s health, consider chromium, an essential mineral that organically encourages healthy blood sugar levels, and a high-quality multivitamin.
As for rewarding your kids with Oreos and ice cream: make sweet treats a once-in-a-great-while occurrence—and use discretion when you do so. Sweets stimulate a surge of sugars into the bloodstream and subsequent surges of insulin, a hormone that attaches to glucose and shuttles it inside cells to be used as energy. In one of nature’s more ironic twists, having a flood of insulin ultimately results in low blood sugar—a crash notorious for turning spirited kids (and adults) into sheer monsters. If your child is craving sugar, hand them one of nature’s many gems. A bowl of strawberries or a crisp apple will satisfy their sweet tooth while keeping them sharp and steady (and you sane).
5. Practice Smart Sleep Hygiene.
Sound dreary? Think again. Sound slumber enriches productivity, wards off illness, improves mood and boosts brain power. Children especially need solid, adequate sleep—as in 9 to 11 hours per night—to support their rapid mental and physical development.
And yet, thanks to instant messaging, Double Chocolate Chip Frappuccinos, gaming, and super-full schedules, kids today are getting less shut-eye than ever. When your child is short on sleep, they’re more prone towards making mistakes on everything from exams to sporting activities, while upping their risk of anxiety, depression and obesity. Be firm with their sleep schedules—even on the weekends—and ensure they unplug at least an hour before bedtime. The fuss they make tonight will be forgotten when they wake up refreshed tomorrow, eager to learn and to move up in this thing called life.