How often do you find yourself doing your child's homework? Are you their homework concierge? Do you hold yourself to blame if your child does badly in a subject?
A common conflict between children and parents in most households is around education, particularly "study time." Parents usually grumble about their children not studying enough and children complain about the difficulty of their studies, or the lack of support from parents.
The first thing is to establish the factors preventing a child from studying. Every child has capacity, and it's just the matter of giving that help of hand. Without getting to the roots of the problem, there's no point complaining and expecting a child to create miracles. As parents, we have to face these challenges head-on. The usual suspects are typically related to attention deficiency, behavioural issues, possibly learning disability, or even more serious clinically diagnosable mental health issues. Even problems at school can be a sign of depression in children and teenagers.
An interesting statistic is published by the Mental Health Foundation in the United Kingdom (UK). Approximately 10% of children and young people (aged 5-16 years) have a mental health problem (e.g. anxiety, depression), and yet 70% of these children who experience mental health problems have not had appropriate interventions at a sufficiently early age. What does this equate to? Let's take a closer look at the numbers.
In 2016 the population of the UK was 65.6 million, and approximately 16% are aged between 5-16 (10.5 million), which is around 1 million children and adolescents with a diagnosable mental health condition (10%). Out of that 1million, approximately 700,000 had no form of intervention. This is a staggering number. It's important to observe a child and seek help in advance as it is more likely to disrupt the child's life and turn into a long-term problem.
We should be realistic about expectations from children. Every child's development surrounding education is unique and bound to be different. They eventually learn it's just the matter of time. You should not force children to meet your expectations, but instead, it should be set according to their abilities. Work through your child's weaknesses by taking baby steps.
You need to find ways of motivating your child, and with a little perseverance and DISCIPLINE, the job is done. You may have noticed that I have highlighted a word in bold, red and uppercased, and here I repeat it, because it's so important, DISCIPLINE. That's what all children desperately need. It's the mother of all rules, a phenomenon in life we should all embrace and accept.
Discipline is a set of rules and regulations that remind us of the proper code of conduct, which is ever more important throughout our lives. I wasn't a very bright child, but I have managed to complete my studies all the way up to gaining a Ph.D. (doctorate). I don't remember my parents waking me up to go to school or telling me to do my homework.
I never had any private classes or tutoring. Gosh, if I had a tiny fraction of what most parents offer their kids nowadays, I would probably be at another level. I owe my successes to one thing and one thing only, the discipline that I have acquired since day one. You don't have to be born intelligent to succeed, and whoever says you do is not entirely correct. Don't believe in it. Intelligence is not inherited, it's learned. That's why disciplining children is critical to achieving goals and dreams later in life.
When it comes to studying, everyone is different, there isn't a rule of thumb, but there are some basic principles to adopt. Studying techniques should be tailored according to each student's needs, so the method that best works for you can only be established by yourself, with a bit of trial and error. Finding the best way to study is an ongoing process. You should continually be improving your study skills to understand better what works (and what doesn't).
30 Principles For Effective Studying
- A child needs to accept that studying is part of their daily routine (at least until educational studies are complete). This fact needs to be established in advance. Studying is no different than doing everyday activities, such as waking up in the morning, brushing your tooth twice a day, making a bed, going out with friends, having a breakfast, lunch, and dinner each day, and the list goes on. Do you usually wait for inspiration to do any of these tasks? Of course not, these are activities that we are programmed to carry out all the time. So, why should studying be any different?
- If a child is experiencing issues with studying, possibly due to distractions (e.g., mobile phone, internet), procrastination or have no interest in the subject, then they need to be honest to themselves and identify the causes of the problem. The underlying cause(s) will not disappear by itself and over time it may even get worse. If the problem is their mobile phone, then it needs to be left somewhere else (away from them), if it's the internet then pull the plug, whereas if it's a psychological issue then take an immediate action starting with parents, teachers or seek medical advice.
- The child must have a clear objective. Sitting in front of the desk for a long time doesn't mean anything, it's whether they have achieved the objectives by the end of studying that matters most.
- Studying is a self-disciplinary approach. So, it's always useful to have a study planner with all the tasks that need to be accomplished. Set specific goals for each study sessions. For example, your child could plan to answer ten questions in 30 minutes, which gives 3 minutes to answer each question. Planning is therefore critical.
- Having a short break in between can be very productive. Typically a child should expect to take a 15-minute break for every 30-45 minutes of studying. The length of time may vary depending on the individual, for example, someone with an attention deficit disorder may prefer to study for a shorter period of time.
- So, what should be done during that 15-minute break? Your child should avoid anything that will distract them from going back to studying, for example, talking to friends on the phone, watching TV and sleeping. Instead, how about going out for some fresh air, short walk, or have something to drink.
- It's always a good practice to have decided the topics a child will be covering in advance and the amount of time they have allocated for each topic.
- Set working hours to be the times your child is at its best in terms of focus and concentration. Early morning hours are appropriate for some people whereas others may prefer late at night. It's never a good idea to study when you're tired or after a meal. I tend to write my articles between the hours of 10am-1pm, which seems to be the times I am most productive. I would leave my trivial tasks for early morning and/or late afternoon.
- The most challenging topics (or lessons) should be studied during the hours your child is at its best. Also, studying different topics can be more effective than continuously studying the same subject. For example, if your child has allocated 2 hours for studying, the first hour could be the challenging subject (e.g., Mathematics) and the second hour for something slightly easier.
- Different plans should be made for weekdays and weekends. This is the reason why these two-time slots often should include different activities.
- A study schedule (or plan) should be a perfect fit just like a dress on your body. Otherwise all the activities your child has planned for can be challenging to accomplish, which may have a detrimental impact on their motivation.
- The time scheduling method in (11) can be used for planning and for effective use of time. For example, suppose your child has 6 hours to bedtime after coming back home from school. The first one hour can be used for resting. 5 hours left. Family dinner is very important, so set aside 1 hour for dinner, this may include preparing the table, eating, clearing the table and washing the dishes. They have 4 hours left. They could set aside 3 hours for studying, and in between have two 30 minute breaks, hence 2 hours of solid studying in total. They have 1 hour left for leisurely activities, which may include watching TV, playing games, reading, family conversations, and so on.
- Planning your to-do-list in advance along with the allocated times for each task can be effective in accomplishing an individual activity. However, time-to-time your child may want to make some adjustments according to their needs.
- One important point to be noted when studying is how the subject is studied. The most efficient way is to follow this method: review - homework - prepare for next lesson. What we mean by "review" is to go through the previous set of notes. It's always a good practice for your child to refresh their mind. Once they are satisfied with the "review", they could then move on to do their homework. If time permits, they could also have a look at their next set of work they will be doing at school/college. For instance, if "Probability" is the next topic they will be covering, then they could do some light reading on the subject beforehand? This will reinforce learning and clear some of the issues. They could, for instance, prepare a series of questions to clarify certain aspects of probability.
- Always advise your child to ask questions for clarification. If they don't understand the subject (or specific elements), then they should NEVER shy away from asking. There is no such thing as a silly question. Why struggle later on for hours when they could have the issue resolved within minutes. From experience, amongst struggling students, those who regularly ask questions outperform those that usually shy away from asking. Encourage your child to ask, no matter what they have in mind.
- Information is only stored for a short period in your short-term (working) memory. What, or how much is taken in depends on your attention span, but whatever that is, the information is mostly forgotten when new information comes along. So, for this new information (e.g., probability) not to be forgotten, you need to go back and review your notes frequently. According to leading academics, periodic and short-time reviews are more effective than lengthy one-time reviews.
- Get your child to make use of some of their holidays (e.g., Christmas, Easter, summer holidays) to overcome their weaknesses. For example, geometry and trigonometry are two areas of Mathematics that most students struggle with. Why not spend a little extra time learning and practicing these two topics. Don't leave it to the end, get them to face up the challenges and tackle it head-on. Again, get your child to seek help from experts, books, online resources (e.g., YouTube), etc.
- Look at the detail when specifying your weaknesses. For example, your child might say that he/she fully understands probability, but if they haven't answered a wide variety of questions from different resources (e.g., books), then they cannot consider the job done. Don't just rely on a single resource, examine a wide variety of recommended books (preferably from their teachers) and online resources.
- Get your child to set themselves a target, both in terms of the topic to be covered and the length time. For example, over the next 45 minutes, I will review "Algebra" and answer ten questions from book A and 15 questions from book B.
- If your child is someone who tends to struggle with studying (for whatever reason) or even getting started with studying, then they may want to consider starting small (say for 10 minutes) and gradually increase in steps of 5 minutes every 3-4 days. It's better to get started with small targets then doing nothing at all.
- Place of study is crucial, it must be quiet and free of distractions, such as loud music, TV, internet and mobile phones. Studying on a comfortable couch is as bad as sitting on an uncomfortable chair, so be a little considerate about the choice of your furniture. A good study table can be a worthwhile investment.
- Panic is one of your greatest enemy. Keep calm and try to achieve your target as planned.
- Encourage your child to keep a brief note of the subject areas they most struggle with. If they are reading, they could underline specific words and/or sentences and write it down to notepad (or to a cube sticker notes). They could also create a summary of each chapter. If it's Mathematics, your child could write down the formulae with an example.
- If there is something they are struggling with and/or find it difficult to memorise, have you ever thought that problems could be presented diagrammatically? For instance, in Mathematics you might have a long piece of text explaining the problem, and sometimes it can be challenging to keep in mind, so to break the problem into pieces, sketching (or drawing) simple images can be helpful. Also, expressing a theory schematically or sorting it chronologically can be useful too.
- You should always divide your tasks into small pieces. For example, if your child is expected to write a 3000-word report, at first that three thousand may sound daunting, but if they partition the report into manageable sections, such as Introduction, Problem, Methods, Results, Discussion, and Conclusion, it's around 500 words per section. All they have to do is to concentrate on each section one at a time. It's not as bad as you think, is it? Similarly, if they intend to work on something like "Probability," they need to work on each section individually, rather than trying to complete all at once.
- Just before going to bed it's always nice to recap on the topic they have covered during study time. Encourage your child to concentrate on the areas they struggled with - there's no point going through the sections they have mastered.
- Try not to study two numerical or two social science subjects one after the other. For instance, from a 2-hour session, don't study 2 hours of Mathematics, mix and match, e.g., one-hour Mathematics (numerical) and one hour English Literature (social science).
- Check your child's physical condition and make sure they are not too hungry or full, not tired or sleepless. Also, make sure the environment they are studying is free from distractions, clutter-free and at the right room temperature. It's never a good idea to work in a hot or cold room.
- Encourage your child not to just memorise, get them to get used to the habit of explaining in their own words. Your child can talk to the mirror if they have to, there is nothing wrong with it. I often come across students trying to memorise long pieces of text or an entire book chapter. What a waste of time! Learn the basic concept and explain it to yourself in your words or even better write few paragraphs about it. Summarising a 50 page chapter in 300 words is a skill worth mastering. It may take some time but believe me you will not regret it.
- Many students tend to leave there studies to the last minute and expect to create miracles within a short period of time. I'm not saying it never happens, but in the majority of instances, the consequence can be painful. Start as soon as possible.
Conditions That May Prevent Children From Studying
No matter how studying is desired and how well planned, external factors can prevent it.
- The room where a child studies, is crucial. A room with complexity, cluttered space, beautiful scenery, plenty of posters on its walls, and TV is not a study room. A cluttered space always clutters a mind.
- The top of the study table is also important as much as the room. Studying on a chair or bed is not effective. Studying should be carried out at a study desk. The top of the study table should be clean and clear of objects that may distract them (e.g., mobile phone), only study materials should be included.
- The lighting in the room is also an important factor. According to German researchers at the University of Stuttgart and University of Hohenheim, those who work under dim lights feel 'free from constraints' and are better at solving creative insight problems than those working under normal or bright lights.
- If your child's mind is elsewhere or there is the urge to go out of the room, then it becomes difficult for them to focus on their studies. This can be problematic particularly amongst younger children. The attraction decreases if the door is closed and no sound is heard, and they could concentrate on their studies as opposed to going out. Remember, studying is an activity just like any other tasks we are programmed to do, so treat it no differently.
What Should Parents Do For Studying?
From the moment a child starts school, parents continue to orchestrate their lives at every turn to try and guarantee their future success in life. According to Julie Lythcott-Haims, an American academic and the author of "How to Raise an Adult," she argues that the more involved the parent, the less able the child at standing on its own feet, and blames parents for excessive hand-holding and says that micromanaging is mad. While parents are acting in the best interest of their children, but in fact, they deny them the opportunity to look after themselves.
A recent survey published in the Journal of Family Psychology found that only 16% of 18-25-year-olds said they had reached adulthood. One of the key life skills our children must develop is the ability to live without us. The danger here is after so many years of spoon feeding it's difficult to let go of their hands completely, but instead you might want to consider this process in stages. Let your child make a mistake, which is your child's greatest teacher, so welcome them when it happens.
As parents, it is our responsibility to create a pleasant environment for our children, be decisive and be in control. There is no point in worrying on their behalf, as it sends the wrong message to your kids. Time and time again we see parents seeking ownership of their children's studies, and the child then assumes that studying is something to be carried out for the sake of their family and not for themselves. Studying then becomes a weapon or a tool used against mum and dad to fulfill their wishes. Remember, it's their responsibility, and they will have to put up with the consequences, whether if it's good or bad. It is our duty as parents to show the right direction, but surely we cannot keep reminding them forever. We cannot keep pressurizing our children to do their homework.
I am also not entirely in favour of offering privileges to children, and in return, they study and/or complete an educational activity. For example, telling your child that after school every day they can eat a snack and then do their homework. This is bribery which gives the impression that every time they study they expect to have something in return. You're not raising a dog, it's a child.
Similarly, empty threats are a waste of time too, for example, "That's it. You're not watching TV," and 10 minutes later they're in front of it. During study time it is your responsibility to limit (restrict) or control your child from activities like watching TV, play computer games, or any other activities of interest. They should know that they have access to all of these leisurely activities after having completed their studies. Learning comes by choice, not force!
I know that for me, yelling, punishment, and lectures don't work for getting kids to listen, show respect, or connect. Children thrive on encouragement, guidance, and understanding. Fill it with love, trust, silliness, happy memories, and most of all you! Make their world bright, so one day they can shine their light on the world. Now it may take a significant amount of time and effort, but remember it requires patience and perseverance, you need to work as a team, and eventually, victory is around the corner. If everybody does their share, identify problems in advance and solve it accordingly, studying will not become a nightmare, instead, it may even turn out to be an enjoyment.
Occasionally children may find it difficult to study because they don't see their parents do it. Perhaps if as parents you set aside 30 minutes each day to study - or simply read - the child may follow the example. A lot of younger children just want to copy whatever their parents are doing. This may be an excellent way to start things off for children perhaps under seven years old.
Read, Read And Read More: The Importance And Benefits Of Reading
As an expert in Decision Sciences (a branch of Mathematics), if somebody had asked me, "Mathematics or Reading, which one is more important?" Well, it's a difficult question, however, nobody can argue with the fact that both subjects are equally as important as each other. We need Mathematics in our everyday lives, and without it, we wouldn't have made all the advances in technology, medicine, engineering, manufacturing, finance, business, and the list goes on.
Despite the importance of Mathematics, if I had to choose between the two subjects, I would probably say, earlier in life particularly between the age of 3 and 11, it is imperative to expose children to regular reading. It is much easier to form a habit of reading at an earlier age than later in life.
According to many academic and education studies, reading has a significant impact on children's educational performance, and those who read for enjoyment not only do they perform well in reading (in comparison to those who don't read), they develop broader vocabulary and increased knowledge and understanding when they listen. Furthermore, they don't just do better in language and literacy subjects (social sciences) but in all of the other subjects as well; they also learn to concentrate and sit still for longer periods of time, a problem that many children suffers nowadays.
I wished my parents had encouraged me to read - at the moment I spend a lot of my time reading academic articles and newspapers, but hardly any novels. I always struggled with social sciences, and now I know the struggle was due to lack of reading.
On a regular basis, I would ask my ten year old daughter to read at least 20-30 minutes per day, make sure she understands by writing a short summary (a paragraph or two) of what she's learned (describing the scene, characters, etc.). Parents, please do not underestimate the importance of reading, so encourage your child to read, read and read more.
How To Cope With Exam Stress And Anxiety
Any closed form of assessments, whether if it's a test or an exam, is a source of stress and anxiety for all ages, not just for kids. I have come across many senior academics at the University who were about to collapse due to very high levels of anxiety (Ph.D. examinations). So, even the highly experienced worry and expecting a child not to be is rather strange. It's not age dependent. A little stress and anxiety is not a bad thing, as it encourages children to go that extra mile to do some work, listen a bit more to the information during lesson time and work a bit harder.
The downside of too much pressure and anxiety is that it can make them feel bad. This may mean that your child is unable to concentrate on his/her work and may find that they are over worrying about how they will do in their exam(s).
According to Anxiety UK (www.anxietyuk.org.uk) if your child answers "yes" to one or more of the following questions, it is possible that they are experiencing exam stress/anxiety:
- Do you worry a lot about exams?
- Do you fear that you may fail exams, even though you have revised?
- Do you feel that you are being overwhelmed by the pressure that you feel with exams?
- Does your mind go blank in exams?
Negative thoughts and the assumption that they will do so badly are the sources of stress and anxiety. Stress indications can seriously have a detrimental impact on every aspect of life, including exam performances. These anxieties are more frequent in children who fear of failing, particularly when these anxieties are instigated by parents. For instance, if a child feels that his parents desperately want him to do well in the exam, and if this is overly exaggerated, he might assume that he will only be loved if he succeeds. This situation will inevitably exacerbate both stress and anxiety.
We often hear and see parents saying to their children, "don't worry about the exam, just try your best, it's not the end of life, so what if you do so badly." On the other hand, the same parent says "you must work very hard, and when you pass your GCSE's, A-Levels and go to a good University you'll have a great career and a prosperous future." What a contradicting statement. You then see parents who are highly surprised to see their kids stressed and full of worries.
Anxiety amongst children is highly correlated with parent's expectations, especially when they make it so obvious. Typical symptoms of anxiety (but not limited to) includes boredom, sweaty hands, feeling tense and fidgety, finding it hard to concentrate, continually worrying or having negative thoughts, not sleeping, or waking in the night with bad dreams.
It's a good idea to seek professional advice and help if your child is consistently anxious. For further support and details, please see https://www.childline.org.uk/info-advice/school-college-and-work/school-college/exam-stress/.
As parents, there are a number of things that can be done. For example, change their negative thoughts to positive by having a regular conversation, especially when they have negative thoughts like, "if I fail this it will be the end of my life, my family has made a lot of sacrifices, I cannot look at their face, and if I fail, I will be ashamed, what are my friends going to think about me".
During important exam periods like GCSE's and A-Levels avoid saying things like "I'm very optimistic, you'll succeed" or "if you don't want to study leave it." Instead, create the best possible environment for them to study. Get them to be in a position to wholeheartedly say "I don't care how hard my exams are, I have my mum and dad to ask, and they will help me all the time." That would be a wonderful feeling for both parents and children, knowing that support is always around the corner, which then minimises stress and anxiety. They should know that you love them unconditionally, which means they don't have to do exceptionally well in their exams or anything in particular to earn your love. You love them exactly as they are.