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“Can’t you just stop fidgeting and finish your homework?”

I’m sure we’ve all asked our children this at least a few dozen times while they’re studying. I know I have! As a mother of a vibrant, fun-loving, talkative eight-year-old girl, it is often a challenge for me to get her to sit in one place, focus on her homework and finish it without getting too distracted. And yes, I say “too distracted” because children are naturally energetic and exuberant and we cannot expect them to focus completely and not get distracted at all! But, having said that, it IS possible to help children concentrate better and focus on a task for a longer period of time. Hereare a few techniques to boost your child’s concentration.

  1. Prepare the Environment

Some children respond well in an environment that is soothing and calming but other children may thrive in an environment that has a lot of hustle and bustle. Understanding what kind of environment your child prefers to study in may be the first step towards better c.oncentration

  • Ambience – Soft instrumental music and soft lighting helps to set the mood for studying. “Manav used to be quite hyper all the time, but after I put a fish tank in his room, I find that he has calmed down quite a bit!” says Kalpana, mother of 4 year-old Manav. “I think just watching these fish calmly swimming around has had an amazing effect on him!”
  • Gadgets – Ideally, all gadgets including televisions, iPads, cell phones etc. need to be switched off or kept in a different room to avoid distractions. If you need to use a computer to study, make sure that it is used only for studying and nothing else.
  • Reachable material – Keep everything that is required at hand so that your child does not need to get up to get anything. All homework books, crayons, textbooks, pencils and even water can be kept on the table or nearby. This also helps keep track of how much work is left and helps you to manage your time better.
  1. Routines are Important!

Anita, mother of 4 year-old Rahul has everything planned to a T. “Rahul comes home from school at 3.30 pm and has a snack. At 4 pm, I take him outside to cycle or play with the neighbourhood children. At 5 pm, he is back home, has a wash and snack and is at his study desk by 5.30. He studies or does homework till 7.30 pm after which he has his dinner and is in bed by 8.30,” she says.

While we don’t need to be as regimented as Anita, it is important to maintain a schedule for your child, even if it is a more flexible one. This not only helps with time management but also helps program your child’s brain to know when he has to study.For example, Rahul knows that after playing, he has to study and automatically gets into “study mode” once play is done.

 

  1. Healthy Eating

Eating healthy food has a direct link to how well a child concentrates. Eating junk food or food rich in sugar makes a child sluggish while food rich in proteins such as almonds, eggs and lean meat have the ability to raise awareness and concentration levels!

  • Caffeine – A recent trend in the US shows that children have increased their intake of coffee and caffeinated energy drinks. This gives them an unhealthy dose of sugar which can lead to a “crash” of energy later.
  • Green food – An interesting study in the University of Ulster, UK shows that eating toast and baked beans for breakfast increases cognition. Experts say that eating greens and fruits inject the body with antioxidants which in turn boost your brain power.

 

  1. Physiologically Speaking…

Most children are able to concentrate best after a good nights’ rest. A power nap for twenty minutes after school or in the afternoon should also do the trick. All bathroom breaks, hunger pangs etc. should be taken care of before the study time begins as they have the tendency to interfere with concentration.

 

  1. Is my child Visual, Auditory or Kinaesthetic?

All children learn in different ways. Some children process information easily when they see it, some when they hear it and some when they have practical knowledge of it and can touch it. It is important to understand which category your child falls under, mostly because this will help them understand information better and the learning will be more long term than short term.

  • Visual – Children who are visual understand information better when they are able to see In this case, the child will be able to concentrate better if she is allowed to read the information and write it down as well.
  • Making flash cards – If your child is learning spellings or even concepts, writing them down on small cards and repeatedly showing them to her will help her understand and learn these concepts that much faster.
  • Drawing – Asking the child to draw what he is studying may also help him visualize the material better. A bonus is that this also helps his fine motor skills to develop.
  • Doodling –Often, we see our children scribbling while studying and think that they’re distracted but what really happens is that the doodling helps them recall what they have been studying at that point and so remembering it at a later stage becomes easier.

 

  • Auditory – Children who learn better when they hear information are auditory in nature.
    • Reading aloud – Children who are auditory in nature learn better by reading the material aloud or listening to someone else reading. In this regard, they might find audio books more helpful than paperback books.
    • Music – Listening to music while studying may also help these children concentrate and remember better.

 

  • Kinaesthetic – Children who are kinaesthetic need to be able to touch and feel their subject matter to understand and process it better. For these children, learning by practical applications may be more helpful than reading aloud or writing. “When my child was learning about planets, I took him to the planetarium and when we got back home, we sat together and made a model of the solar system and coloured it. Ever since then, he has never forgotten the order of the planets or which planets have rings etc.” says Nina, mother of 5-year-old Prakash.

 

  1. Divide Bigger Tasks into Smaller Tasks

Studying an entire chapter in one go is quite difficult for a child. It always helps to break it down into pages or even paragraphs so that the child feels a sense of accomplishment for finishing a small task and this will motivate him to continue on. This is true not just for studies but for household chores as well. Nita, mother of 8-year-old Ankit says, “I had been nagging Ankit to clean out his cupboard for weeks but he never got round to doing it. Then I started breaking it down and I’d tell him ‘today you need to do the bottom shelf’ and sure enough, by the time I get back home in the evening, it would have been done!”

 

  1. Time limit

 Set a time limit for the completion of a goal. If it is studying, then you can say that a certain number of pages need to be done within twenty minutes. Keep in mind that the average time for an adult to concentrate completely is about 42 minutes and so the concentration span of a child would be much less. Therefore, it would be wise to have shorter time limits such as 15 minutes to 20 minutes. Another thing to keep in mind is that while some children thrive under time goals, other children might feel pressurized and may start feeling anxious and lose focus.

 

  1. Allow time for distractions

Kids are naturally energetic and exuberant. Giving them time to vent out their energy once their time limit for a task is up may actually help them focus better on the next task! It would help if your child did something completely different during this time. For example, Shantha, grandmother of 8 year-old Shifrah says, “When I’m teaching my granddaughter spellings, we do 10 spellings at a time after which I allow her to run or skate around the house for a minute or two. I find that this helps her focus on the next 10 spellings.” She finds that mixing a physical activity with a mental activity is very effective.

 

  1. Play!Play! Play!

Since children learn more by playing, it is always a good idea to try and make their activities a little more fun. Keep away gadgets, tablets and computers and allow children to play with regular toys. Studies have shown that gadgets actually reduce attention span of children so they should be used sparingly or not at all.

  • Thinking games – You can train and strengthen a child’s ability to focus by playing games that require thinking, planning and the use of memory. Crossword puzzles, jigsaw puzzles and card games such as “Memory” and “Uno” actually improve attention for words,numbers and pictures, while picture puzzles—in which your younger child has to look for things that are “wrong” in the picture or look for hard-to-find objects—also improve attention and concentration.
  • Sequencing – The link between sequencing and concentration is a strong one. Following recipes, setting the table and putting things in alphabetical order are great activities for kids who have concentration difficulties.
  • Just sit – This game involves challenging your child to sit in a chair without moving or fidgeting to see how long he can do it. Another game in this category is “Statue!” Through repeated play, the child’s brain is “exercised” and challenged, which strengthens mind-body connections and improves focus.

 

  1. Prepare your child for the next task

When your child is busy, tell him what he has to do next, but allow a few minutes, till he stops and starts the new activity. This helps, especially when a child is engaged doing something he likes and enjoys doing, since there would be reluctance to stop what he is doing and start do something else.

 

  1. Reward system

Rewards don’t necessarily have to be tokens such as chocolates or toys. They can also be in the form of praise or even further studying! Says Anushka, mother of 7 year-old Mansi, “My daughter loves to solve maths problems so as a reward for studying Hindi which she hates, I allow her to do a page of sums.”

 

  1. Use energy effectively

Some children have high energy in the mornings while others have high energy in the evenings. Studying or doing activities during this time will help your child focus better on the task at hand. Always start your child on the tougher activities during his high energy time. As energy levels go down, you can always switch to a lighter activity.

 

  1. Deep breathing and Imagery

Combining simple relaxation techniques such as deep breathing with positive visual imagery helps the brain to improve or learn new skills. For instance, you can ask a child to close her eyes and imagine that she is paying attention in class. In her imagination, what can she see? What can she hear? What is distracting her? You can further ask her to imagine how she would take care of those distractions. Once she is able to clearly picture this, you will find that her behaviour at school also changes!

 

Like any skill, concentration can be improved and made automatic. The trick is to be consistent. These 13 tips are a win/win solution, because they not only help improve concentration but also strengthen the relationship that you have with your child.

 

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Dr. Shireen Stephen has a Ph.D. in Health and Industrial Psychology and an M.Sc and M.Phil in Applied Psychology (counselling). She has a diploma in Christian Counselling and is a certified Cognitive Behavioural Therapist (CBT) and NLP Practitioner. Over the last 12 years, she has worked in the capacity of a counsellor, researcher and lecturer. She has worked almost exclusively with employees of the BPO industry by helping them understand and cope with the various unique health effects of working at odd hours and working through relationship challenges. To this effect, she has conducted numerous online workshop modules on choosing the right life partner.

Some of her areas of expertise are relationship counselling, marital counselling, stress management, anger management, anxiety and panic, grief, depression, domestic violence, addiction, eating behavior and obesity, parenting, phobias, sexual abuse, sleep disorders, terminal illness, loneliness, positivity, confidence building, sadness, insecurities, decision making, women’s health, family support, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

She uses a problem focused and action oriented approach to deal with problems. Her primary therapy orientation is using cognitive behaviour therapy techniques. She strongly advocates positive psychology and holds the humanistic view that each individual has the potential for self-actualization and possesses the necessary tools to lead a satisfying life.

You’ve been waiting for close to nine months to see your baby and finally she’s here! Everyone in your family is excited and happy. Everyone, that is, except you. Maybe you feel tired and exhausted – after all, giving birth to a baby is no piece of cake! Maybe you feel overwhelmed by the whole process, especially if it is your first time. Perhaps you feel weepy and emotional – who wouldn’t feel emotional the first time they see their baby! But all through this, you’re wondering…if having a baby is supposed to be such a happy occasion, why am I feeling so low?

You’re not alone. Many new mothers feel overwhelmed and exhausted after giving birth. It is normal to experience a little moodiness, anxiety and sleep disturbances for the first two weeks after a baby is born, after all, learning to take care of your cute little bundle of energy takes some getting used to. With a little sleep and a helping hand, most mothers begin to feel better after a few days. If, however, you continue feeling low during the first two months after your baby is born, you may be suffering from more than just baby blues…you may be suffering from postpartum depression.

Several things may contribute to postpartum depression. Sometimes, a dramatic drop in the hormones in your body just after the baby is born may make you feel tired and depressed. When you’re sleep deprived, any little thing can seem overwhelming. You may feel anxious about your ability to take care of a new born baby and about all the lifestyle changes that you will need to make. The support or lack of support that you have from your partner and family may also contribute to a lot of the negativity.

So, how do you know that you have postpartum depression? During the first two months after your baby is born, if you consistently feel irritable or hypersensitive, find it difficult to concentrate on anything, feel anxious, worried or angry all the time and have negative feelings of hopelessness, helplessness and guilt, chances are that you may be suffering from postpartum depression. Other symptoms include a loss of interest in activities that you previously enjoyed, difficulty in sleeping, a change in your eating habits and patterns and a constant feeling of fatigue and exhaustion.

All through this, it helps to know that postpartum depression is not a character flaw or a weakness. It can be managed and treated. Once you start feeling better, you may begin to enjoy a whole new bonding experience with your baby!

Apart from seeking professional help, there are a few things that you can try at home to cope with your depression and anxiety.

  • Do NOT feel guilty – Many mothers feel guilty for being sad and depressed. Well-intentioned advice from relatives and friends may also make you feel like you’re not doing enough. Just remember, managing a baby 24/7 is not an easy task. Stop beating yourself up!
  • Talk about your feelings – Talk to your partner or a sympathetic friend about what’s happening with you. While you’re at it, talk to other mothers as well. You may be surprised at how many women have experienced the same thing!
  • Take care of yourself – It’s easy to forget yourself when you’re so busy taking care of someone else. Take time out to make sure that your own basic needs are met. Are you eating properly? Are you able to snooze when your baby is napping? Take time out for a leisurely shower. Very often, when we look good, we feel good as well. Tell yourself, “It’s okay to focus on me!”
  • Lower your expectations – You may have been able to maintain a neat and tidy home up until now but that may not always be possible when you’re balancing a crying baby on one side and messy diapers, soiled clothes, feeding bottles and daily chores on the other. It’s okay! Let it be. As long as you are able to meet the baby’s basic needs as well as yours, leave all the rest for later.
  • Ask for help – Part of being a good mother is to know when to ask for help. Don’t be afraid to ask for it during this difficult time. Help comes in many forms, be it a good friend who can bring over some food for you, a relative who can help you with household chores or a good counsellor who can help you through therapy. All you need to do is ask!
  • Get some rest – Taking care of a new born baby can be quite taxing and exhausting. It is important to give yourself rest breaks, away from your baby, a few times a day. Whether it is reading a magazine, watching tv or going out for a short walk, it is important to take some time out during the day just for yourself.
  • Go out! – Put your baby in a stroller and take her out for a walk. The fresh air and sunshine will do you both a world of good! If you’re not up to walking around right now, simply sit outside in the sunshine for a few minutes. It will help!
  • Take it easy – Or at least, try to. Resist the temptation to do the laundry while your baby sleeps. Get your food home delivered – don’t exert yourself by cooking and cleaning the house. Put your phone on silent when you’re making your baby sleep or when you’re getting your much needed rest. Office work can also wait! Make “you” your top priority!

As with any kind of illness, treatment is the best course of action. A counsellor or a doctor will be able to help you get through this tough time. Once you start feeling better, you will find these negative feelings diminishing. You will be able to enjoy a better relationship with your baby and you will be able to cope better with all the joys and frustrations that are a part of this glorious journey of motherhood!

 

Resources

www.mayoclinic.org

www.babycenter.com

 

Ever stood in the middle of a crowd and felt completely lonely? Or just stood still in the middle of a crowd and let the ebb and flow of people carry you off into whichever direction they’re going? Or been at a wedding or a conference where you recognize people but don’t actually know them? I sometimes feel that way with the Internet. Especially with the advent of social media.

I think we are the generation of too much information. From all the messenger services like Yahoo!, MSN, GTalk, BBM, Whatsapp, to social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, Google+, (the list goes on…) we’re connected to a LOT of friends and strangers and often feel the urge to publicize every darn thing that we think about or do on a minute to minute basis. But in reality, just how connected ARE we? And at the end of the day, are those connections that we make really that important?

For example, Twitter is an excellent medium to connect with amazing people from all over the world, share views and different perspectives and be a part of someone else’s life in a very minuscule way. Or that’s what I initially thought. However there are so many dimensions to twitter like who “starred” or “favourited” your tweet, or who “retweeted” you or “#FF”d” you or gave you a trophy on favstar, or how many people are following you… and all these things act as validation or positive reinforcement for you to keep tweeting. And the more you tweet, the more addicted you get. I for one find myself checking my phone every few minutes to see whats happening on Twitter and I find myself being completely addicted!

And that brings me to another part of this rant – smart phones. Phones that have a super fast Internet connection that lets you download games, stream videos and basically do anything that a computer can do. And the USP of this is that it is small enough to fit into your pocket and you have information literally at your fingertips! The downside of this is that while it connects you to people online, it leads to a social disconnect in real life. I’ve often seen people sitting together in college with a large group of friends, but nobody actually talking because they’ve got their noses buried in their respective phones. And yes, I’ve often seen couples sitting together at a restaurant, each looking at their phones and not having much of a conversation. And if they did have a conversation, it’ll probably revolve around who said what on Twitter and what ghastly pic someone uploaded on Facebook or which classmate from a hundred years ago (whom you wouldn’t otherwise have kept in touch with) did what…

Somehow I find that the more we seemingly connect with people online, the more we tend to disconnect with people in our immediate lives. Sometimes I get so immersed in discussions with strangers online that I land up ignoring my loved ones in real life! And its all because of this darned Internet which was earlier confined to our homes on our computers but is now in our pockets everywhere we go.

I was reading an article recently which said that Bangalore buses are now going to have free wi-fi. The first thought that ran through my head was “WHY?” Is it absolutely necessary to be connected with everyone ALL the time? I don’t think so. Whatever happened to real life? Whatever happened to looking out at the scenery while travelling? Or talking or listening to the person next to you on long train rides? Or even talking to the people who live in your own house without having your phone at arms length? Or reading a book made from paper rather than an e-book?

Yes, you get to be anyone you want to be online, pretend to have a glamorous, successful life and maybe this is what gets you addicted in the first place but at the end of the day, you are you and no amount of moonlighting online can change that.

I guess the point I’m trying to make with this whole rant is that while its okay to have an online life, don’t lose track of your real life and most importantly, don’t lose track of your real friends and real family. You might look up from your phone one day and discover that while you’ve gotten to know strangers intimately, you’ve become a stranger to those whom you used to KNOW intimately.