Advice Column, Education, Parenting

Supporting the studying child

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  • Category Advice Column, Education, Parenting

If having toddlers brings with it spills (of the liquid and scraped knee kind) and frazzled parents; then having children in the house who are studying brings with it a whole new myriad of uncertainties and frustrations.

Every young person differs when it comes to attention and dedication to studies, homework and exam preparation. Those of you lucky enough to have had an intrinsically motivated child will identify less than those of us who need to spur our children on. Children appear to fall within a spectrum that starts on the one side with “Needs motivation to get dressed”, graduates to “Will work if there is no other option” and finally peaks at the other end of the spectrum with “Needs to be told not to overdo it.” If, like me, you have sons who are unlikely to be plagued with stress related illnesses perhaps you would benefit from continuing to read…

In the run up to studying, you will have established how YOUR child learns. He/she may want to speak out loud or write out copious notes. You and the child (depending on age) might consider finding out whether his/her learning style is auditory, visual or a combination of the two. It is possible that the child learns through “doing” rather than seeing. The method preferred, if used correctly will facilitate successful learning. Try to establish whether your child understands the work and whether extra lessons are required or not. 

The most important aspect when it comes to studying is ensuring that there is a suitable environment. This refers to both the physical environment and the atmosphere created for the studying child. Routine needs to be regulated. This includes when meals are served and when family outings are arranged. Often children need little to distract them from the task at hand. Preparation of the environment includes ensuring that all necessary equipment is available too. (Calculators, coloured pens, paper etc.) While, as children get older they will organise this themselves, initially a parent needs to assist. Don’t underestimate how important adequate food and healthy snacks are to the studying child. Insist on a balanced diet which will sustain the child. Low blood sugar will result in reduced concentration and tiredness.

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Depending on the nature of your child, you will approach the studying period with varying degrees of involvement. The aforementioned intrinsically motivated child may need firmness and guidance as to when enough is enough. Avoid allowing children to study into the small hours of the morning and sit the exam in an exhausted state. On the other side of the spectrum of course is the child who needs FIRM encouragement to get going at all. This child might need repeated persuasion to set up a study programme and to get going.

A study programme is vital to the success of the exams. This programme must be realistic and give adequate time to each subject. It must be flexible and make allowances for last minute emergencies such as power failures or illness. Such a programme should be set up well in advance, as that in itself brings a sense of control to the situation. This programme must include adequate breaks that allow for the child to return to studying refreshed.

A good rule of thumb is to ensure that study breaks take place every 45 minutes for a period of 10 to 15 minutes at a time. Ideally these breaks should involve going outside, playing with the dog or getting a snack. It is not recommended that the child watch television or play a computer game during breaks, as this firstly encourages much lengthier breaks, and secondly may result in the child not feeling as refreshed as when he/she does something more active.

Please note that a child sitting behind closed doors for several hours, supposedly studying is not necessarily taking much in. It is vital that the child ENGAGES with the work and then takes regular breaks. It may also be a good idea not to allow “screens” in the study area if you are concerned that your child is not actually actively studying. It is recommended that phones, televisions, gaming consuls etc. be removed from the environment unless it is a study break. (But remember first choice is to take a break in a different environment)

Supporting your studying child can be a cause for stress, which is exacerbated if the child also doesn’t enjoy writing exams or studying. Parents are key to the maintenance of a relatively stress free environment. Potentially, there are years ahead of our children that will be filled with exams and tests. If we can engender a positive attitude and a diligence in approach to academic work it will go a long way to cultivating positive and diligent young adults.

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