Helping Kids Focus on Tasks. It’s All in the Details!

As a parent, I continuously struggle with teaching my kids to focus on tasks I give them. Then, one day, I realized that with a little variation I can teach my kids to focus as well. If you are a parent who goes around picking up after your kids and constantly telling them what to do next, then read on.

A Word of Caution:

Now you may have noticed that I wrote “struggle” and not “struggled” in my opening sentence. Unlike adults kids will take some time to grasp the concept, so it is an ongoing effort.
I am also, not a child psychologist and nor do I claim to have any such training. I am a parent. I have applied this technique. I have seen positive results. The many other people, who have applied this technique, have also seen positive results with their kids.
The technique you will learn here will help you to start the process, but in no way is “the” solution. As a parent you still have to make sure that your kids (or child) keep practicing this technique till it becomes second nature to them. Let us get started by first identifying the problem.

The problem:

As adults we unknowingly fall in to a wrong expectation. The expectation being that our kids are able to understand the word “focus” as we, adults, do.
How many times have you told your kids (or child) the meaning of focus and/or responsibility? I can say with upmost certainty that it has been one too many times, right?

What is Focus?

Focus is the ability for someone to devote their attention to a particular task for a set duration of time. Depending on different factors (like the age for example) each child has a different limit on how much he or she can focus on a particular task. Therefore, tasks need to be set accordingly.
Why is learning how to focus so important?
The ability to focus on a task is a key habit to develop and nurture in kids. As children become adults, they will have more and more things to do. Ask yourself how you feel when you are able to focus on a task and feel that you have made a significant effort. It makes you feel happy and confident, right. Therefore, you want to instill the same feeling of confidence in your kids. The ability to focus will help them in every area of life as they grow.

The solution:

Here are the very simple techniques. You will be introducing two things to your kids; a daily chore board and a monthly activity calendar. Following are is the technique and the steps you need to take to teach focus to your kids (or child):

I. First, relax and get excited. Do not show frustration. You want to be relaxed, happy and excited to start this project with your kids (or child). Pick a day that you can spend some an hour or two or uninterrupted time with your kids on this project.

II. This next step, you may want to do this step with your kids or you can do it ahead of time. From any office or stationary supply store buy a small erasable white board. From now on we will refer to this as the “Chore Board”. Also buy an undated monthly planner designed for kids. I would recommend the undated 30 day erasable wall planner for kids from Office Depot. It is a large child-oriented wall calendar and has a space to write the month as well as dates for each day of the week. We will refer to this as the “Activity Calendar”.

You will also need an eraser that is used with an erasable as well as some thumb tacks to pin-up the calendar. (The white board should come with some adhesives to be able to mount it on the wall.)

III. On the day you decide to do this project with your kids, have a small talk before hand. Explain to them that you would like to share a new activity with them. Tell them that you would like to teach them something new and exciting that will make them more organized and responsible. If this does not work, do what I did; ask them if they would like Mommy or Daddy not to be on their case so much!

IV. Next, show the kids the items you bought. Now find a place in the where they will see these items every day. Mount the chore board and the activity calendar next to each other. (I placed the chore board above the activity calendar.) Remember to mount the items at a height that is comfortable for your kids to read form and to write on.

V. Get your kids involved, and have them do this next step. Have them write on the chore board, the words “My Daily Chores”. Then, on the activity calendar have them fill in the current month and write the dates.

VI. Before moving on to the next step, explain to your kids what daily chores are. Then, ask them to write their daily chores on the chore board. They may start out by writing basic stuff like, wake up, brush teeth, etc. It’s o.k., they are getting engaged in the activity, and also you will be erasing the first draft anyway. Eventually you will have them write the chores that they forget to do on a daily basis. Limit it to a few chores. Remember, small steps. Do not overwhelm them.

VII. Once you are finished with the chore board, move to the activity planner. Tell them to write down any birthdays, family outings, violin lessons, soccer practice, etc.

VIII. Once the chore board and the activity calendar have been completed, give your kids a hug or pat on the back as this is a great achievement for them.

IX. Now, tell them that at the beginning and end of each day, they must review their chore board and activity calendar. As their parent you will need some follow-through on this. You will need to remind them about reviewing the chore board and activity calendar till they get into a habit. This may take a few weeks or it may take longer. Stick with it, but do not command. Just give them a friendly reminder, e.g. “have you checked your chore board today?” or “did you remember to put that on your activity calendar?”

X. As a last step, give yourself some well deserved credit, you too have made a significant contribution towards their well being. Not to mention that soon you will regain your sanity. I did.

The Next Steps

Being consistent and having follow-through is a key to seeing positive results.
Aside from the daily reminders at the beginning and end of each day, have the kids update the activity calendar and chore board at the beginning or the end of each monthly for the following month. Keep giving them positive reinforcement. There will be times where you may get frustrated. My advice is to stand fast and hold your ground. Keep in mind that they are kids and that their learning process is much different than adults.

This is a reprint of a blog entry we posted in 2008. It was written by our friend Sal Khan who unexpectedly passed away a few years ago during a routine operation. Sal was the creator of the SKK Planning System.



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