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As a parent of school-attending kids, you may have experienced the following scenario: Your kid comes home in the afternoon and immediately begins dragging their feet at the mention of homework or studying. You encourage them to study, and your well-meaning words are met with excuses. This exchange repeats itself, resulting in yelling, and the back-and-forth feels torturous to both of you.

And even if you get your kids to sit down and get started, you never know if distraction or boredom will whip away their attention-span and force you to start all over again with the arguing.

You begin to wonder if graduation will be the only way to end this madness. Will you be stuck in this cycle until then? Don't worry — there are ways to combat this issue, and you're not alone.

A Crazy Scenario or an Inevitable Difficulty?

Parents and teachers alike often have to wrestle with a lack of focus from their students who seem impossible to motivate. It can be challenging to get kids to pay attention to the lesson and feel compelled to do their homework. Eventually, it turns into an exhausting chore to try and make the lesson more engaging. It can be a battle to prove that what the teacher has to say is more important than the text messages or games blinking on hidden cell phones.

So what causes this lack of concentration in children? Can it be summed up by peer influence or the use of technology? Is it just a result of immaturity and a lack of proper organization at this stage in their lives? It can feel like there is no way to control it, as though distraction in children is merely an inevitable obstacle in getting them to learn.

Thankfully, there might be a way around it — but it may not look the way we expect.

Two Basic Reasons Your Child Is Not Getting Work Done

Studies have indicated the problem with short attention-spans or disinterest in homework runs deeper than we might think at first. It may just look like plain defiance. But according to Psychology Today, the problem has less to do with little respect for authority and more to do with children lacking an internal sense of purpose. Here are two reasons for lack of productivity, broken down:

1. No Purposeful Connection to Studying

If your child consistently has trouble with motivation, it could be that he or she doesn't have a sense of purpose that connects schoolwork to a long-term vision for life. Having a good "Why" for getting work done is essential, even for adults. With the countless self-help books out there on this subject, it's surprising that we don't often see the need for our children to have a sense of purpose too. Fostering this sense of identity and connection to their studies will take time, and you may find your child has some fears to overcome. For example, most commonly in children with attention issues, the fear of failure follows them everywhere they go.

2. No Self-Implemented Organization

Even if your child has a deep understanding of why studying is essential for them to do, they will have a hard time excelling if they feel out of control. Setting clear goals and having a plan for achieving them is crucial for any human being to feel successful, and our children are no different. Both parents and teachers can help cultivate the self-motivation and leadership a child needs to be a self-starter and get organized in the best way.

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Neither of these two problems is entirely the children's fault, nor is it ours as parents and educators. The simple answer to addressing these two reasons is this: Guide your child in creating a sense of purpose, then work together to get organized in a way that pushes the child toward that goal.

Creating Purpose and Self-Starters

Rather than focusing on the short-term success of getting your child to study for the day, think about creating a culture of success that will prod them to become self-motivators. This culture will focus on what we here at Success By Design call character building.

Giving your child an education geared toward character development is more important than we often realize. Teaching and parenting in a way that trains children to grow personally and become self-starters is the key to success in a world that will throw a lot of unknowns at them.

In the long run, you want your child to have motivation come from within.

Not only will this help children become top-performers in their classes now, but they will become much more successful adults in the future. They will learn to take control of motivating themselves instead of forcing their peers, their parents and others to do it for them. Equipping them with the right tools is your first step.

Can Character Building Help in the Short Run?

You may be thinking, "Okay, but how can I get my child to focus on the homework at hand?" Character building may seem like a great long-term goal, but how can you motivate your kid today to finish that project that's due Monday?

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Remember, for a child to thrive in a new sense of purpose, simple behavior and task-managing will not cut it.

Of course, character building can help you. It's all about having discussions that ask the right kinds of character building questions and end with setting SMART goals — the right goals can be short-term, too!

These types of discussions will be most effective if they are implemented both at home and at school, where a child can observe role models in different areas of their life focusing on character building. Parents and educators alike can make an effort to hold these discussions both at home and at school.

Character Building Discussions: The Right Questions

Character building itself comes down to topics we may be squeamish about getting into with our children. They may be topics we are not always eager to address for ourselves. Because, often, character building discussions bring to light some of our own weaknesses and fears as adults through tough questions like:

  • What does good leadership look like? Am I a good leader?
  • What does empathy mean? Do I have enough empathy for others?
  • What does it mean to accept someone else? What does it mean to cooperate well? How can I improve in these areas?

Maybe at first glance, these questions seem unrelated to studying. However, witnessing adults discuss deeper issues of character will get your child thinking about their own place in the world and the problems they want to solve at the end of the day.

By continuing to have these kinds of conversations, your child may discover that, for example, to be a good friend, they need to speak kind words. This will get them closer to understanding the purpose of strong language skills. Perhaps you can guide them to connect the dots that excelling in math is going to be important if they have told you they want to build houses for poor people one day.

Character building topics can range from enthusiasm to independence and tolerance to perseverance. Feel free to get as creative as you can to address the character building opportunities you see in your own day-to-day life!

If, however, you're still unsure about where to start when it comes to these discussions, consider using a student planner that contains character building questions for every day. These planners are intended to help your child think about their purpose in light of their academic pursuits and ease your mind in the process.

Character Building Discussions: S. M. A. R. T. Goals

Discussing character building and asking relevant questions will only have a significant impact on your child's motivation if you link the discussion back to taking action. It is important to teach your child early on how to set SMART goals for themselves. We have a full article dedicated to what these goals look like, but to sum them up here, let's review what SMART stands for:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-Bound

Good goals will have all of these qualities, so try and wrap up your character discussions by setting some SMART goals with your child. This is another area where investing in a good planner your child loves to use will be very beneficial! It's the perfect place to write down their goals and keep track of their progress, leading them to be much more self-aware and self-motivated.

Creating the Best-Structured Environment for Success

In addition to fostering these character-building discussions, creating an organized environment will be the best way to get your child to concentrate on schoolwork once again. Once your child begins exploring the deeper connection to their work and developing a greater sense of purpose, it may be time to implement a few ground rules for their workspace.

How to Get Children to Do Their Homework

So, let's dive into the study tips: How can you get your child to focus on homework? The College Board has a few handy tips on taking control of homework time. While they're geared toward college students, these tips will be useful to teach your child what it looks like to be a self-starter when it comes to academics. Remember to:

  • Find a Good Spot: Make sure your child chooses a quiet, well-lit location to do homework — perhaps even a public or shared part of the house for extra accountability, as long as it's not too distracting of an environment.
  • Have the Right Gear: It is also important that your child has everything they may need for their assignments, like a calculator or their planner. Have your child put their phone and other electronics in a controlled place where they won't be tempted to use them.
  • Start "Homework Hour" at the Same Time Every Day: Though it may be multiple hours on some days, set up rules for your child to start studying at the same time daily, whether it's immediately after school or sports, or not until the family finishes dinner. Figure out what time will help your child be most consistent.
  • Celebrate Achievements: Whether it's just a matter of being able to scratch a to-do item off the list or the prospect of a more substantial reward, get your child in the habit of a small celebration each time they finish an assignment. Incorporating a planner to track goals or add stickers can be very useful for this! Just make sure the celebrating does not distract them too much if there's still work to do.

Mobile Technology: What We Can Learn From the Way It Distracts Our Kids

One of the most pressing questions of our day and age is how to get a child to concentrate in a world where screens provide heaps of distraction every day. Cell phones and tablets may have taught our children to multitask, but research has shown that, among many potential dangers, they have a limiting effect on a child's ability to concentrate over time.

Children develop early habits of playing their games or social apps when the fear of failure or a sense of boredom creeps in. While this is alarming, there might be something we can do about it — and something we can learn from it.

Using and depending on electronics are habits we all can be guilty of. Together, you and your child must find a way to break them during homework time. Set specific boundaries for when they should and shouldn't be using technology.

But, remember to let your child be the one in charge of "putting away" their electronics — this will help them develop a sense of control of their situation. If they have already begun to establish a sense of purpose in their work, you may be surprised by their willingness to follow the rules!

Turning Schoolwork Into a Game of Its Own

The best way to eliminate one habit is to substitute it with another. Instead of having their minds revert to phone games, perhaps the answer lies in "gamifying" the tasks of life, including schoolwork. Achieving small, short-term goals can trigger the same pleasurable chemical response in our brains as beating another level. This may be just what your kid needs to be in the habit of doing — with a little guidance from their encouraging adult role models, of course.

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How Success By Design Planners Can Help

Using a paper planner keeps your child's goals and daily to-do list close at hand so they can check off each item. Not only that, but the tactile experience provides tangibility, allowing the brain to form the words in writing and set goals in a more committed way.

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There are plenty of other benefits of a printed planner, and we're happy to help you find the perfect one to suit your child's source of motivation — whatever brilliant purpose it may be.