Today’s Solutions: November 26, 2022

How do you set up your child for academic success in the age of distance learning? It is a question many parents are asking themselves these days, and one that sociologist Christine Carter recently received from one of her anonymous readers. To help kids work faster, concentrate longer, and remember more of what they’re learning, Carter suggests parents should focus on fostering the following three skills.

Focus: The key here is to minimize interruptions and distractions that kill focus. The best way to do this is to designate a place where your kids can concentrate. When you designate a place for concentration only, you help train their brains to focus better.

Another important component of focus relies on how your child is feeling, so don’t be afraid to ask them how they’re doing. While distractions can be external (social media notifications), they can also be internal (feeling sad). Studies show intelligence and learning suffer when kids suppress their feelings, so it is wise as a parent to help your kid identify what exactly they are feeling. As Carter calls it, this is the “name it to tame it” technique. When kids label their emotions, the emotions tend to dissipate.

Lastly, on the topic of focus, make sure to encourage single-tasking. The brain did not evolve to focus on many things at once, so configure your child’s learning environment in a way that doesn’t tempt them to multitask. Turn off all alerts and turn on “do not disturb,” and designate a parking place for phones during school hours, allowing them access to just one screen at a time.

Motivation: Learning with self-motivation is incredibly hard, but there are many ways parents can foster self-motivation. One way is to acknowledge competence. Rather than nagging, help kids see where they’ve done really well in the past through their own effort. Independence is also key to self-motivation. Kids need the freedom to fail on their own—and the freedom to succeed without having to give you credit.

Additionally, try to support a sense of belonging and connectedness at school. Ask your kids which fellow students or classes they feel connected to. If they can’t think of anything, ask them which students may need help and ask what they can do to help that person—helping others is one of the best ways to create connection.

Flexibility: Everyone is having their plans disrupted this year, so flexibility is key. One way to make sure disrupted plans don’t affect you and your child so much is by sticking to a consistent sleep schedule. When we’re well-rested, we’re ready to take on the day.

Another key part of being flexible is by simply accepting whatever is actually happening. Obviously doing school through Zoom isn’t a joy, but the more you resist it, the worse it will get. By accepting the situation, you can set your kid up better for success in online schooling.

There’s more to flexibility than being able to change plans quickly. There is also “cognitive flexibility,” which is a fancy way of saying our ability to deal with a change and accept new things. The best way to foster “cognitive flexibility” is through positive emotions like gratitude or awe, so if you can find ways to keep the joy in your life, then dealing with change will be less taxing.

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