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How to increase your child’s attention span

Whilst technology has totally changed our world, it has undoubtedly made it harder to focus on any singular task. This is specifically true with young people. Everything they want they can get instantly; music, TV shows, movies, information. This makes anything that takes time seem like a chore.

Two of the most common questions I get from parents is this; how can I increase my child’s attention span and how can I get them to focus better? It is a wide-spread issue and one that isn’t a quick fix.

The mind, like any muscle of the body grows in small increments. It is why we don’t drop kindergarten students in to trigonometry and expect them to pick it up naturally. Instead, we work on foundations – building understanding brick by brick.

The ability to focus is exactly the same. It needs to be learnt and grown over time. This is why it can be frustrating as parents when our children can’t handle 30 minutes of reading time – when the most they’ve done before is 5 minutes.

If focus is a challenge for your child, here is what I recommend:

Sit them down somewhere with as few distractions as possible and get them to read a book that they will be interested in. If they are not of reading age yet, give them a picture book – the goal here is not to get them reading, but to get them to focus on one thing for an extended period of time.

I recommend that you start with just 3 minutes. 3 minutes of quiet time for them to read to themselves. Set a clock and let them know they need to do it for 3 minutes. They might laugh at the idea of just 3 minutes – or they might struggle. If they can’t do it (which I see all the time!), aim for the same the next day. If they make the 3 minute mark, strive for 4 minutes tomorrow.

Increase by one minute each day. Just one minute – don’t try to jump ahead. If you’ve ever done a running program you’ll know that small intervals are effective – you can’t go from running 100m to 5kms overnight. You can probably cap it out at 30 minutes and start trying activities other than reading – revising their class work or doing some writing.

These 1 minute intervals are also smart because your child won’t even notice them. At the start they will look at it and think that 4 minutes is nothing. In 2 weeks, they might complain about 18 minutes, but you just need to remind them they did 17 minutes the day before and it was easy for them.

I have seen this strategy work in nearly every student I have tried it with. Not only do they build up their attention span, they usually look forward to it by the end – because it is 30 minutes of peace when they can disconnect from everything else and get lost in their own little world.

Remember that even the world’s greatest athletes had their first day in the gym. 3 minutes may not seem like much, but it is the first step to something much greater.

The most important skill required for HSC success

If you have children in year 10, 11 or 12 this could be the most valuable thing they will read as they approach the HSC.

I am regularly asked the question by senior students – ‘what do I need to do to succeed in the HSC?’. They ask it like there is a secret that only the top students know, like there is a formula that I can give them to guarantee a 99+ ATAR.

The thing is, the most important skill required for HSC success is also one that generally dictates success in life. It isn’t about sleepless nights or putting in 16 hour study sessions – in fact, it is the opposite to this.

The single most important skill that differentiates high performing students from everyone else is time management.

The ability to manage ones time effectively is a completely undervalued skill not just in school but in life. There are always going to be a hundred things we need to do at any point in time, but the ability to say ‘yes’ to the right things and ‘later’ or ‘no’ to everything else is such an important skill to learn.

Being good at your subjects is important. Working hard is great. But they are in vain if you don’t manage your time well.

Here are 3 tips I give to my own students that are serious about succeeding in the HSC:

1. Get a diary and use it.

I use ‘diary’ in a very broad sense here. It doesn’t have to be a book you write things in – it can be your phone’s calendar or your organiser on your laptop. Whatever you choose, you just want to ensure it is clear and easy to use. Every time you are given homework at school, diarise it. When you get an assessment task, put it in your diary and give yourself reminders at intervals so it doesn’t creep up on you. Even schedule in study time and treat it like a job – if it is in your diary you stick with it; no ‘if you feel like it’ allowed.

2. Understand your priorities and let your time reflect this.

We all have the exact same hours in a day. In order to maximise the 24 hours you have you need to know what is most important to you at any given time. If your focus is on doing as well as you possibly can at school, you need to make this your priority. This means saying no to the things that your friends want you to do. It means saying no to the temptation of mindlessly scrolling through social media and delaying your revision for a test. It means getting to bed at the right time to ensure enough rest so you are fresh at school the next day. These things aren’t fun – but they are required to achieve your goals.

3. Be 100% in

Whatever you do at any specific moment, make it your goal to be 100% present. Time is precious and you don’t want to waste any of it. If you are studying – be 100% in the study zone. If you are with family, be 100% present with the family, not constantly checking your phone or thinking about other things you need to to. The best people to be around are those that are 100% present in whatever they are doing, and whilst this can be a challenging thing to learn it will make your life far more rewarding if you can master the art of being present.

When things get busy it is very easy to wish for more hours in the day. Sadly, this won’t happen. All we can do is maximise what we already have – which is why time management is so important.

Teaching your child to love reading

Whenever I meet a student who doesn’t read – or worse, doesn’t enjoy reading – it breaks my heart a little. As a kid, a long time before iPhone and iPads and Youtube I would stay up late learning about the world through characters in books.

The benefits of reading are endless, but in this tech world it is getting harder and harder to inspire a love of reading in young people. Here are 4 strategies I’ve found can aid a student in the reading journey:

1. Encourage them to read at their ability level.

This is one of the biggest obstacles I see to students enjoying reading. If they are reading something that is too difficult for them it is unlikely they will enjoy it – just like we struggle to enjoy things we aren’t good at. Choosing books that are appropriate for their skill level is really important – and getting this right will in turn improve their skills which will then lead to more advanced books. Speak to their teacher or your tutor about identifying their reading level and choosing books that are ideal at their level.

2. Choose books that interest them.

You will know the natural interests of your child, so try to pair them up with stories that appeal to these. Just because a book is popular or other kids like them doesn’t mean your child will. You’ll find books on every niche at your local library or book store, so choose those that your child will naturally gravitate to. I’ve had students read books on Rugby League, Minecraft and novels based on their favourite youtube stars. There is something out there for everyone!

3. Make it a habit

Daily reading time is so valuable. It is a time to switch off from the electronic stimulus and get their imagination working – but also ensures their skills improve day by day. I suggest no less than 15 minutes of quiet reading time a day; 30 minutes if possible. I make it a before bedtime activity for my own kids – but you need to do what works for your family’s schedule. By making it a daily habit, they won’t put up a fight when asked to read as they will just accept it as something they do everyday.

4. Be the example

It is hard to tell a child that reading can be an enjoyable activity when they never see Mum or Dad doing it. Leaders are readers – so do what you can to show your kids that reading is something you enjoy too. This one is tricky – I know how busy your schedule is. I just try to turn the TV off for an hour on Saturday afternoon and spend time reading. Even though my kids continue to play, they see Dad sitting down and enjoying a book which I believe is just as effective as telling them to do it.

Learning to enjoy reading at a young age is so valuable, and will lay the foundation for how they view it as they get older. I hope you are able to find a way to inspire a love of reading in your family!

How to get your child to do their homework

It’s hard. We all know it’s hard. But it doesn’t need to be a war everyday.

Here are 5 strategies to encourage your child to do their homework:

1. Create a regular schedule

Children thrive on a schedule. Ballet every Wednesday at 4pm. Rugby every Thursday at 6pm. Homework every day at 3:45pm. Consistency is so valuable when it comes to homework. Make it part of their daily schedule and they won’t even question it – they will just know it is what they need to do to do what they want after. Consistency builds habits – and habits determine a child’s future.

2. Create a ‘homework routine’

Adding on to the need for a consistent schedule is also the need for a consistent homework routine. This should involve three things – the timing, the location and the process. Maybe they get home, have a sandwich and then head off to their room to do their homework. The location should be the same space every day – and should ideally be used for only homework. Help them get everything out of their bag and establish what they need to do, but at the end, teach them to clean up their desk and put everything away. This routine of time, place and process will become second nature and you won’t have to fight them to get it done.

3.  Make their study space theirs.

Space and budget permitting, try to create for them a study space that is uniquely theirs. Help them decorate it and put pictures on the wall above the desk of places they want to visit or things they want to do. The study space should be somewhere they want to be, not somewhere they feel like they have to be. Making them feel comfortable and relaxed in their own study space will make their homework time much more productive.

4. Get rid of distractions.

Homework will be a hundred times easier for you and them if they aren’t distracted by things happening at the same time. Turn the TV off, put the iPad away and if another sibling is playing with toys, get them to do it out of sight and in another room. Children, just like us adults, are powerless to resist distractions – so avoiding them completely is much better than trying to build the willpower to resist.

5. Help them when needed, but don’t do it for them.

After a long day, kids can get tired. They know that it can be easier to pretend they don’t know something than invest the effort in working something out. Have a blanket rule that you will help guide them in the right direction, but that you won’t do it for them. If this is a house policy, they won’t waste their time on trying to convince you otherwise.

Homework can be a challenge, but it is both an important learning device and teaches valuable lessons about discipline and time management. I’ve found these strategies to help with my own children, but also in students I have supported over the years.

May they work just as effectively for you!

How to make a great first impression

So much of life is about building and maintaining healthy relationships. Strong social skills are so valuable, which is why we place such a huge emphasis on the social aspect when hiring tutors – an ability to connect and relate to a student is just as important as a strong academic record in my eyes.

A big part of this comes down to the first impression we make when we meet someone. Research suggests that we make a judgement about someone within 7 seconds of meeting them to determine if we trust them or not. You also never get a second chance to make a first impression, so it crucial to get it right the first time.

Here are 5 ways to make an incredible first impression, whether you be a tutor meeting a student for the first time, preparing for a job interview or taking a girl out on a date:

1. Be on time

This is so simple but so important. If you have arranged to meet someone or scheduled a session with a student, arrive on time. Being late is disrespectful. Arriving on time let’s the other person know that you value them and respects their time.

2. Smile

A smile is the easiest form of persuasion. Few things build trust like a genuine eye-wrinkling smile – not a fake grin, but an real smile that brings out the lines next to your eyes. Whenever you meet anyone for the first time smile and let them know without saying a word how happy you are to see them.

3. Be presentable

Remember how I said it only takes 7 seconds to decide if you like someone? You have got to assume most of that is non-verbal – so how you look is really important.

No one likes being told what to wear; I get that. But I think it is important to dress in a way that matches the person you are meeting. It is just as easy to over-dress than it is under; don’t wear a suit to the beach, don’t wear track pants to a job interview. Be clean and well groomed and look confident in how you present yourself.

4. Use their name

When they tell you their name, aim to repeat it back (naturally) a few times in the first few minutes. Using their name let’s them feel valued and unique, and you are far more likely to remember it next time.

5. Be attentive

Pay close attention to what they are doing and saying. Read their body language – are they pulling away from you, and therefore you need to give them some more space? Are they smiling and grinning back as you crack a joke, and can therefore be a bit more informal with them? The better you can read people, the better your first impression will go.

Good luck and make your first impression count!