10 Ways to Keep Your Kids on Task
The percentage of elementary school students who are fidgeting has increased dramatically, according to a study published in 2015 in the journal Behavioural Processes. The survey found the proportion of students ages 7 to 13 who are fidgeting has more than doubled.
“Eighty percent of the kids said they’re not getting any benefit from fidgeting, and that is something we’re really concerned about,” says Cynthia Neu, author of “Succipetips,” a book for teachers with a focus on managing students’ behavior.
The researchers are not sure why more students are fidgeting now than a few years ago. One theory is that due to distraction problems the students have developed a quick method for restoring focus—simply shifting their bodies.
“The college age kids that were fidgeting the most, they said they started fidgeting because they didn’t want to be bored,” says Neu.
“It really does seem to indicate a person without the emotional intelligence that they would expect in college-age kids,” she says. “They’re sensitive to people paying attention, to their peers. If it is possible for kids not to pay attention, it means the things they’re most important at, like learning to read, or doing their homework or doing their extracurricular activities, may be less important.”
Luckily, fidgeting is a serious behavior with serious consequences. According to Neu, students who become overwhelmed by distractions can lose concentration, anxiety levels can rise, learning to read and math may be compromised, and they may stop taking ownership of their actions.
Here are 10 tips for keeping students on task during the school day.
1. Give the kids a break. Excessive fidgeting is like driving down a one-lane road: All traffic is backing up behind you. Someone would imagine that driving a mile down the street would be preferable to driving a mile down the road with nowhere to go. But that wouldn’t happen if you changed your route. Talk to the kids about how they think the road would be when they’re driving down it and find an easy way for them to get through the confusion instead of struggling to keep up. The same might be true for fidgeting. The first step in removing constant movement from the classroom is to teach kids to focus.
2. Check their favorite distraction. This could be an expensive treat, like an iPod, a gym bag, or a phone. Students use distractions like this to distract themselves from any boredom they feel and the program can take over. Don’t allow them to bring the same distraction into the classroom.
3. Set a timer. Students who sit in front of their computers will be more distracted by a device than others. So put a timer on the computer and ask each student to sit in their chair and focus on their work for a few minutes.
4. Make sure they’re listening. Sit down with them and make them sit as though they are in a meeting and listen, whether it’s to you or to a teacher. This will make it harder for them to interrupt, and if they can’t do that, they can show they’re paying attention by sounding their notes, taking notes quietly or just plain paying attention. And remember, distractions often affect active learners as well.
5. Play music. Chalk one up for self-reflection! Music allows students to tune out the world—that is the goal.
6. Change expectations. Have a discussion with the student about how they’re going to address the issue with the teacher or the class. A student could have a family member with Attention Deficit Disorder, for example, or could have learned the hard way about this behavior. By breaking down the focus deficit, they’ll have time to focus on a challenging task.
7. Give them a reward. Reward the student when he or she completes one of their hard-work tasks.
8. Change their own values. Overwhelming distractibility is the problem. Sometimes kids have the answers at their fingertips but don’t want to work for them because they’re too distracted. Discuss with the student the better part of the answer isn’t in their head but rather at the parents’ or teachers’ office.
9. Serve the student a cup of something with tea or coffee. This will clear their head and bring them back to the task at hand. It might be the most important thing they have to drink for the day.
10. Take out the cellphone. When students are distracted, they find it difficult to focus. Sometimes, a phone can distract them even more, so interruptors