However tempting it is just to roll with it, as parents one of the most important jobs we have is to teach our kids about responsibility and a big part of that is completing the tasks they have been set, when they are asked.
A recent study found an innovative way of helping children get the job done – and it involves roleplay! They found that when children are primed to take on tasks as someone else – Batman, say, or their favourite TV star, for example – and given a prop appropriate to that role (think cape or wand, etc) they were more likely to stay engaged for longer and see the activity through to its conclusion. It’s a simple concept, yet surprisingly effective. They found that children in the ‘Batman’ role spent the most time on task (about 55 per cent for the six year olds; about 32 per cent for the four year olds), while the ‘control’ children spent the least time on task (about 35 per cent of the time for the six year olds; just over 20 per cent for the four year olds).
While this is a great life hack, parents still have a job to do in building up perseverance and increasing the capacity that our children have to concentrate and stay on task. Here are a few tips, for when Batman is not available or his cape loses its magic!
Involve children in the goal setting
It really helps when children know why we have asked them to do something. By taking the time to explain to our kids what they are contributing towards we can help them see the benefits of the task in hand and appreciate how what we ask them to do fits into our wider family goals.
Have clear instructions
It’s easy to get distracted – as adults we do it all the time, but we then have the self-control to rein ourselves in and get back on task. Once a child’s concentration is lost, however, all thoughts of the previous task is gone. It’s a fantastically marvellous skill that children have – it’s our job to help them to concentrate. That means giving clear instructions that are simple enough for them to understand and being realistic about the amount of time that we expect our kids to stay engaged for.
Kids thrive on praise, when we ‘big them up’ it builds their self-belief and this helps them to focus on the task we want them to do. When a child believes they have the skills and knows that we believe in their abilities, they often want to show themselves that they can do it and that’s motivating. When their confidence is wavering, support them through the task and share clear and specific actions they need to take to deliver.
Children have short memories. By breaking big projects into small steps, they can work little by little and day by day. Providing regular reminders about what they have been asked to do, and the great progress they’re making, helps to sustain the energy they need to stay on task or engage in longer-term projects.
Set up rewards
In much the same way as we reward ourselves when we complete a project, task or goal – with a cup of tea, hot bath, or other small treat – make sure that you have a clear reward system in place to motivate and encourage your kids to complete the tasks they have been set. The treats needn’t be expensive or elaborate, more a token gesture that demonstrates that when they work hard, they are rewarded for that effort. This could be as simple as allowing them to choose what they have for tea, to select a shared activity, or a movie / TV show to watch.