Q. My child seems to daydream all the time when she is doing her work. Just to answer a few questions, she will take one hour. How can I help her to stay focused?

children daydreamingEnsuring children remain focused during certain activities, such as homework, is worrying for many parents. In fact, it can be very frustrating and stressful but it’s important to recognise that daydreaming is part of your daughter’s nature, part of who she is – and no doubt causes more anxiety for you than it does for her!

The positive news is that when she does drift off, she may actually be thinking about many different things at once, even creating or inventing in her own mind. Scientific research indicates that this kind of brain activity, known as ‘working memory’, allows individuals to retain and recall information, despite distractions. We tend to assume that the daydreaming child has switched off, when it’s actually quite the opposite. While understandably you don’t want your child’s daydreaming to go on for too long when a homework deadline is looming, try not to see her daydreaming as something negative.

Another possibility is that your daughter simply feels bored. Does she daydream at school too? When children do not feel stimulated enough or intellectually challenged, they lack the motivation to get involved or complete tasks. Discuss your daughter’s approach to work with her teacher at school and keep them aware of your concerns. Work together with them on a solution that compliments her learning style.

Your daughter however needs to understand that she has a responsibility to complete her work, as we all have to, and there are a number of steps you can take at home to help her to focus better on the task at hand.

1. Set her up for success

Children can be easily side-tracked by siblings, outdoor noise and an array of high tech gadgets, so it’s important to manage misleading distractions from the start. Ensure that unnecessary gadgets or games are out of reach or out of sight for a given period and ensure that other family members do not disturb her. It may be that your daughter needs shorter periods for doing homework. If she is challenged to complete a question in less time, this may suit her better.

2. Create the right environment

Create a homework environment such as allowing fresh air and natural light to keep your child healthily stimulated and that is conducive for her to concentrate. Research has proven that even very young children concentrate better when listening to classical music, so a little Mozart or Beethoven in the background may help!

3. Establish a routine

If your child knows that she has to study or complete a task at a certain time of the day e.g. before dinner or before visiting friends, she will acquire the habit of doing so more easily. At the same time, set specific goals for her to focus on, such as completing her writing practice within the hour as neatly as possible. This gives her a time limit and a standard to feel good about once she has achieved it. Ensure that your expectations for her are realistic. If a child is tired or upset, their concentration and desire to do homework will be affected. Don’t force it. Allow her some time out and revisit the task later.

4. Encourage and praise

Everyone benefits from positive reinforcement, so remember to praise every effort your daughter makes. Avoid any form of punishment if she does not conform to your expectations, this will only de-motivate her more. Let her know how proud you are of her progress no matter how small! You may need to create a reward system that encourages your daughter to complete tasks within a certain time and that increases her self-esteem too.

Ensure the reward is something that she has to work towards rather than a quick-fix bribe. Create a star chart with your daughter, establishing ground rules and setting goals together. Help your child to feel in control of her own achievements. Choose rewards that give her an incentive to do something well and on time and which gives her something to look forward to. This could be a family outing to a theme park, movie night or play date with a friend.

5. Be a role model

One of the best ways to encourage your daughter to focus on her work is to let her see you doing the same. Schedule your own ‘homework’ (whatever it may be) at the same time as her routine. Let her see you concentrate and complete a task with no disturbances before you move on to something else.

Helping your day dreaming child to focus better on homework requires a great deal of patience and understanding. However, if you can establish and persevere with the above practices, the effort on both your parts will be worth it.

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By Fiona Walker, Principal Of Schools / CEO, Julia Gabriel Education

Fiona Walker joined Julia Gabriel Centre in 1991 as a teacher and is now the Principal of Schools / CEO of Julia Gabriel Education. She holds a Masters in Early Childhood Education and is a qualified Montessori teacher with more than 20 years of experience in providing quality education for young children. She is committed to the ongoing development of teachers and curriculum in Julia Gabriel Education.

For more information, go to www.juliagabriel.com

This article was first published in The New Age Parents Oct / Nov 2013 e-magazine