Helping Parents to Improve Concentration in Children and Young People
I consider concentration skills to be a slightly delicate area. Let me explain why.
In my Hertfordshire therapy clinic, I see a lot of well-meaning parents who bring their children to see me because they want their children to concentrate better – particularly in the academic areas of their lives. Now, the truth is, there are some children who just do not enjoy the academic side of life! It might be that they don’t enjoy the core curriculum subjects or the framework of school and the boundaries that they are confined to there – it just doesn’t suit some people. Some people are great with art, they’re brilliant with music, they love sport, they may even just be great socially. Sometimes the children with the best social skills often appear to be the ones who have the biggest concentration problems because they’re always talking when they’re in class.
The important question that we need to ask ourselves (and the question that I very often ask the parents who come to see me) is this: What would you rather? Would you rather have an A* student who is fantastic in as many subject areas as possible, but who has very low self-esteem, or lacks self-belief, or perhaps just isn’t very happy? Or would you rather have a grounded, happy, sociable individual who gets B’s and C’s? Unfortunately, that is sometimes the choice that we need to keep in mind.
We’ve got to be realistic and we need to get the right balance. We need to keep in mind not just what we’re asking them to achieve, but also who we are asking them to become as people. We need to think about what is really important here. Now, obviously I am biased because I work in the area of mental health and wellbeing, but to my mind, it makes sense that we would rather have happy, balanced young people than have A* students.
And let’s face it: the world is made up of tons of different people! There are plenty of people out there who are not doing A* jobs, and the world needs those people. Those are the people that support us and underpin the framework of our society. They are no less important than the A* people.
Of course, I understand that parents really want their children to do the very best that they can, but we don’t want that to forfeit their mental health, their emotional wellbeing and their enjoyment of things like school. So what we can do to get the very best from them, and to ensure that they concentrate as much as they possibly can?
The main area that parents see a lack of concentration and interest is around homework. Very often these young people are coming home from school, already exhausted, and then we’re asking them to do more work – but what they really want to do (and probably need to do) is unwind and relax. A school day is a hugely exhausting day for children. Not only are they having to learn the academic content on the curriculum, but they are also simultaneously learning social skills, forming friendships and developing their personalities. By the time 3:30 comes around their brains are fried from processing all of that information, and then we’re asking them to come home and do MORE work?! You can see why there is often a lot of resistance surrounding homework when we look at what these children have already had to process during the school day.
Maybe we need to rethink things. How can we get these young people re-energised and re-engaged after a long day at school so that they’re going to be inclined to do their homework, and know that they’ve still got time left to do the things that they really want to do? Maybe we should shake the routine up a little bit here? Perhaps when they come home from school you can give them a snack to provide a bit of an energy boost, send them up to have a shower to freshen them up a bit (both body and brain) and then create a bit of a deal surrounding the framework to do with homework. Maybe there is a time frame to do with completing their homework, you sit with them and do work together, try to create a feeling that they aren’t alone in this miserable, boring homework world – you’re in it together. They are much more likely to concentrate and complete their homework if they feel supported through it and know that at the end of it they have a fun, rewarding activity that they want to do.
Obviously, every child is different, and every family is different. You’ll need to try and find a routine that works best for you. But with a bit of trial and error, you’ll find your sweet spot.
By Gemma Bailey