After his two-week Christmas break, my 13-year-old son wasn’t looking forward to resuming school. January is a difficult time for kids when it comes to learning — the shine has worn off the fall return to the classroom, and long winter months lie ahead. Summer seems an eternity away to kids. And much moaning and groaning accompanies even the easiest homework assignments.
The winter break also interrupts the routines kids established in the fall. Getting their minds back to focusing on school is a challenge for both kids and their parents.
“I have to admit I do sleep better without my phone.”
Parents can use these tips to help kids get back in the groove — and finish the school year strong:
1.) Ensure they’re getting enough quality sleep.
Many kids have their regular sleep cycle disrupted during Christmas break. My son is one of those who went to bed later over the vacation and slept later in the mornings. Getting back into a regular sleep cycle is important for his ability to focus. My son is home-schooled, and it’s very obvious to me when he hasn’t had a good night’s sleep. He doesn’t remember instructions, takes twice as long to get his schoolwork done, and is easily distracted.
A regular sleep cycle isn’t all that’s important to a good night’s sleep. Getting the right amount of sleep is important, too. A study by psychologist Reut Gruber at McGill University in Canada found that kids who lost just one hour of sleep over five nights were more irritable, frustrated, and unfocused than when they followed their normal sleep patterns.
The National Sleep Foundation says regular bedtimes and wake times support the best sleep. The organization also recommends that children aged six to 13 get nine to 11 hours of sleep each night. Teens need eight to 10 hours of sleep.
In addition to helping kids get into a regular bedtime and wake-up time with enough sleep in between, parents can help their children get quality sleep by keeping TVs, computers, phones, and other digital media out of their children’s bedrooms. Studies have connected screen time before bedtime to poor sleep quality. Providing a dark, cool, and quiet place to sleep is also important to restful sleep.
“It stinks in terms of staying up-to-the-moment with my friends, but I have to admit I do sleep better without my phone,” said one 17-year-old Wakefield, Massachusetts, high school junior. “My parents put theirs away, too, which helped — we all leave them in the kitchen when we go up to bed.”
2.) Provide good nutrition.
Christmastime is a fun time to indulge in candy canes, chocolate, and other sweet treats — but it’s got to end sometime. Now is a good time to assure your children are getting nutrients that help their brain work well and help them sustain their energy over time. Sugar-laced foods produce highs and lows that negatively impact both concentration and memory.
University of Alberta (Canada) researchers studied the nutrition and school performance of almost 5,000 fifth-graders. They found that kids who ate an adequate amount of fruit, vegetables, protein, and fiber, with less calorie intake from fat, did better at school tasks than kids who ate food high in salt and saturated fat.
3.) Help with homework.
Parents and kids will both have enjoyed the break from homework in December. Parents can now help kids get back into a routine that helps them get homework finished and turned in on time.
Dr. Peg Dawson, writing for the National Association of School Psychologists, recommends parents help their children establish clear homework routines, and not leave it to them to figure it out. Routines help kids focus their attention and provide a sense of order that can help them as they experience the increased demands that come with high school and college.
Parents can help set up a homework routine by assuring their child has a regular place and scheduled time to do their homework that minimizes distractions. Busy kids may benefit from sitting down with a parent once or twice a week to list their homework assignments, scheduling them around after-school and weekend activities.
In my work, I coach people to get their most urgent tasks done first. That’s also a good rule to follow when scheduling homework. Encouraging a child to get homework done before fun activities like watching TV, playing games, or socializing with friends and family is a habit that can help them be successful as adults.
4.) Celebrate accomplishments.
Parents who set aside times each day for positive connections with their children build trust that will create a lasting bond between them, and provide a sense of security for their kids, too. In addition to using this time to find out what’s happening in your children’s lives and how it’s affecting them, parents can also use this time to provide positive reinforcement that will help motivate them to succeed in school.
Don’t focus on mistakes or failures, unless your child is asking for help.
Parents can ask their children about what they’re doing in the classroom, and how they’re progressing on specific homework assignments. When listening carefully to what a child reports, a parent can zero in on what the child says about how they scored on homework and tests.
Highlight those accomplishments by giving specific praise to your child, such as, “I’m proud of you for scoring 80 percent on your spelling test.”
Avoid critical comments. Don’t focus on mistakes or failures, unless your child is asking for help. A negative focus will raise anxiety and stress, making it harder for your child to concentrate on the right things. What gets the most attention is perceived by your child to be the most important. Celebrating accomplishments produces positive emotions, encourages better focus, and helps motivate children to accomplish more.
Jon Beaty, a life coach and father of two, lives near Portland, Oregon. He’s the author of the book “If You’re Not Growing, You’re Dying: 7 Habits for Thriving in Your Faith, Relationships and Work.”