How to focus in a distracted world, and teach kids to do the same

Generating good ideas and quality work products requires something all too rare in modern life: quiet. (Source)

Technology and social media is undermining our ability to concentrate, think deeply, and be creative.

This study shows that adults check their phones about 50 times a day. The constant changing of screens, moving of images, beeping of instant messages is putting more and more demands on our limited attention and mental space.

Yet in the 21st century, focus and creativity are among the top qualities that employers are looking for.

How do we set boundaries on our own lives to optimize our ability to concentrate, in the midst of all the digital clutter?

Here are 12 tips to help you build your (and your kids’) focus and attention skills.

how to focus in a distracted world and teach kids the same

1) Teach attention explicitly

Tell your kids you can train your brain to pay attention and focus. There are games you can play with young children to help enhance their awareness – like Simon says, or Duck, duck, goose, or I spy, or a scavenger hunt list for places you go such as a restaurant.

When you’re reading a book, talking to a person, or listening to a podcast, whip out a notebook and scribble down notes. This is active listening and is a great habit to cultivate. Pass this tip on to your kids too.

prioritize your tasks with a to-do list

2) Prioritise your tasks from the get-go

Checking emails first thing in the morning makes you a slave to other people’s agendas. Instead, use your prime time to focus on the things you really want done today.

Also, guide your kids on how to prioritise their homework and responsibilities, based on either the deadline (Which is more urgent?), or how much effort and time it would take to complete a certain task (Which requires more time?).

 

3) Intentionally cut down on rush

In order to focus to do good work or just to spend quality time with loved ones, you need to be a state of calm.

You can’t be worrying about this or that problem; it only results in ruminating. Likewise, rushing around and feeling frantic inhibits your focus and thinking process.

 

4) Practise moments of quietness

You know what they say – take time to smell the roses. We literally need to schedule such times of true mental and physical breaks to enter into the zone of quietness.

Quietness is sadly, a lost art. But with intentionality (and some new habits), it can be achieved. Going out for a walk in the park is a great way to quieten down your heart and pay attention to your environment and refocus on your larger goals.

 

5) Cultivate essentialist thinking

Think about your highest point of contribution, your highest talent to offer the world – are you giving yourself space to create the very things that you were born to create? Or are you too bogged down by obligations and commitments?

Likewise, schedule your child’s enrichment activities wisely and selectively. Focus on the areas that they really love and that they really need. Don’t over-schedule them as this could result in burnout over time.

 

6) Use apps that control social media use

If you find yourself getting distracted too often and drifting on to social media sites, it may be worth checking out apps to help control your habits. One such app is Self-control for mac users. Another is Think, an app that helps you to single-task.

 

7) Go on airplane mode

Another simple way to eliminate distractions is to set your phone on airplane mode. It’s amazing how much work you can get done when you set your mind to it, focus, and are not distracted by messages and notifications popping up every 15 minutes.

 

8) Establish an early shut-down time

The period before bedtime (e.g., 10-11pm) is a crucial one. Like a child needs to wind down his mind and body for the night, we adults need to relax and breathe.

As I do a lot of content writing and find it more productive to work at night, I often struggle with this. So I’m gradually moving my shut-down time forward, and giving myself permission to rest and continue the work tomorrow.

 

9) Focus on one task at a time

It is almost an art form to be able to single-task today. Jumping between tasks actually slows us down. Multitasking may also inhibit deeper, more meaningful learning. So while kids may finish all their homework, they may not fully absorb or retain the information learnt. (Source)

have a popcorn snack break 

10) Know when your child needs a break

Children tend to tune out when they think the task is too hard or they are not interested in the subject. Provide support by breaking a big task down into smaller chunks. Engage them actively in the learning, or give snack and movement breaks in between tasks.

Remember growing attention is a process, not a one-time achievement.

 

cut down screen time and video games

11) Cut down screen time

Screens can mess with our brain’s ability to hone focus and attention. Help your child cut down screen time. In place of screens, play puzzles, memory games, or old-school card games like fishing, bridge, and snap.

12) Model what you want to see

Give kids your full attention when they say, “look mummy!”  Teach them that it conveys respect and love when we give people our full attention when they’re talking. Also tell them how much you love it when they give you their full attention too. 🙂

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How this WAHM manages work and family without going insane

At the start of 2015, I took the plunge to quit my job, and become a stay home mum. I chose to leave the work that I enjoyed, but my son had a greater need then and I decided to be home to help him.

About a year later, almost by accident, I found myself knee deep in freelance projects – ranging from branding and PR to content marketing and writing jobs.

I’m very thankful to be able to work from home and be present with the kids, watch them grow, and help them through certain roadblocks or challenges. While I’m not as efficient as I would like to be (at work), the flexibility and freedom I have now are things that I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world.

However, the journey has its ups and downs. Here are some lessons I’ve learnt about making things work.

1. It is hard to find a balance

It’s been a year plus now and I think I’ve only just found a groove that works. Most days the kids are in school so I work the morning shift until pickup/lunch. For the afternoons, I use small pockets here and there for admin /emails. (I realise I need to keep things easy in the arvos as it’s also my best time to play/catch up with the kids.) Then the night shift – after the kids sleep at 9, I’m working again for another 3-4 hours.

But this doesn’t mean I’ve got it all perfectly balanced. First things first, there ain’t such a thing as perfect. Some days are just more balanced than others – we call them “the good days.” Others are simply out of whack. You’ve got to take both in your stride, and keep moving on.

2. It’s even harder to keep priorities straight
There was a period of time when things got busy and my husband sat me down and reminded me of my focus this year. It wasn’t to earn as much money as I could; it was to serve my family and nurture the kids. Sure I could take on projects if I wished to do so, but it was to be minimal (read: manageable) and not eat up all my time and strength for the family.

It’s easy to get tempted when the work comes along, so this is an area that I’m still learning to manage. If my cranky-meter goes into the red multiple times in a day, then it’s a sure sign that things have gone off-course.

3. Knowing the ‘why’ is extremely important

Having a very clear reason why you’re in this makes all the difference. It will help you through the bad days. For us, we’ve decided that it is good to have one parent stay home, to be the main carer for the kids.  I also see myself growing in my ability to help JJ with his emotional stability and control – it’s a work-in-progress!

Whenever I take a step back, I do see it as a very awesome privilege. The time we have with our children is really quite limited, so being able to spend their early years with them is a blessing.

cafe idyllic

4. You get to stretch and put your management skills to the test
WAHMs have to manage space – Initially I found this difficult. You know the kids see me physically around and my desk is in the living room, so there’s no real way to separate work /family. Now I’ve carved a simple work-space in the bedroom, and it’s made all the difference.

And time… I need to manage my own deadlines and keep my schedule organised. (If you look into my google calendar, you’d find I have personal / work meetings, deadlines, projects, date-nights, kids’ activities all scheduled in one place.)

I also found I needed a good degree of flexibility. That simply means not being greedy and accepting too much work at any one time; it also means being willing to put my kids’ needs first when they really need it.

Joy can keep us afloat. Whether you’re a FTWM, SAHM, or WAHM, hold joy, hide it in your heart, and don’t let the day’s momentary troubles steal it away.

park and clouds

5. The most challenging part is keeping joy in the midst of it all
I believe the key that can keep us afloat or make us drown is joy.

Whether you’re a FTWM, SAHM, or WAHM, hold joy, hide it in your heart, and don’t let the day’s momentary troubles steal it away. That’s something I remind myself often too. Whatever situation we are in, it’s a choice that we’ve made and we just need to give it our best.

Remember the earlier point about knowing WHY? Know what you’re working and living for, and joy will help you stay the course.

breakfast with poached eggs

If you’re thinking about becoming a WAHM, here are some tips for you.

#1 Choose work you enJOY
I love my work and consider it a privilege to put my writing skills to good use. I also love coming up with new content ideas that can add value to my client’s digital marketing efforts.

At the same time, I’ve also completed a professional course on educational therapy. It began as a small bubble in my heart, and as it rose, I just had to take action. It was partly driven out of my desire to help my child cope with his emotions. Later on, I also found a deep sense of purpose working with kids with special needs.

A friend once told me this: “Follow your joy, and it’ll lead you to your calling.” I thought that is so true and helpful.

#2 Know your most productive times
We call it the power-hour. Whether it’s 6am before dawn, or working after the kids sleep till midnight, choose the hours when you can concentrate the best and get the maximum output from it.

#3 Carve out time for play-breaks 
I try to leave my afternoons empty because that’s when the kids are home, and eager to talk / ask questions, or play games. It’s a sanity check for me too, as some days we head out to the playground or pool and being outdoors helps me to relax and reset my mind.

scooting into sunset

#4 Encourage children to help one another

One of the things I’m always encouraged to see is the kids helping each other out. Whenever I witness moments of kindness, I feel like all of the work that we do as mums is worth it. In order for you to have a sane life working from home, it’s good to share with your kids your struggles too and get the elder ones to help pitch in and guide the younger ones when they need help.

brothers playing

#5 Simplify, simplify, simplify 
I recently decided to let Vera have violin lessons at home so that we save travel time. JJ only has some additional Chinese lessons and that’s part of the school’s additional enrichment offerings. When you’ve got many balls to juggle, you have to allocate time wisely and resourcefully. It has also forced me to examine our children’s needs carefully, and plan with their needs in mind.

#6 Plan for a single income lifestyle 
Before making the leap, make sure your husband is on board. Make sure you’ve done the sums together and know what aspects of your lifestyle needs to be changed. I can tell you, it’s hard. Maintaining a family of 5 isn’t easy on a single income. So it’s important to be clear on your financial goals, and to honestly see if you are able to sacrifice some material comforts for a couple of years until the children are older.

Take whatever income that you earn in the first year as a bonus, to be used as either additional savings or travel budget. This will remove unnecessary stress on finances (and your marriage!) as you work on growing your business during the first 1-2 years.

#7 Involve your children wherever you can

Instead of viewing kids as obstacles to your business, see them as little partners / helpers. I’m glad that the kids have a chance to see me at work every day. Now that the June holidays are here, when I head off to my “room-office” in the morning, I make sure to report to them too. “Mama’s going to work now, so I’ll see you in a bit okay?”

This hols, I’m planning to rope Vera in to help with simple admin stuff like preparing invoices, or just reading through the articles that I write. (She’s been asking me how she can help me out, so this will be a small step! Wish us luck!)

Mothers always make things work…by God’s grace.

~~~~~

moms work button

This post is part of the “Mothers Make it Work! Blog Train hosted by Owls Well. To read other inspiring stories, please click here.

If you would like to travel to the previous stops on this Blog Train and read more interesting stories, you can check out Mummy Wee as she shares her top 5 tips on being a mumpreneur. Michelle is mum to 6 kids and now that she has packed her last child off to school, she has time to channel her energies to her 7th baby, an enrichment centre called The Little Executive.

mummy weeNext week, Candice will be sharing her story about how she makes things work. A part-time-working-mum to two preschoolers, Candice shares about parenting, activities with kids, marriage and travel in her journal at MissusTay.com.

candice

Finding joy in parenting (and keeping it)

I found this post-it stuck to my wardrobe door when I woke up on Sunday. It reminded me of the joys of motherhood all over again.

mother's day note

It spoke to me about my child’s heart, simply because he wrote it spontaneously and secretly. (This coming from my highly sensitive kid whom I complain about to friends as he is such a tough strong-willed child.)

I distinctly remember him asking me the day before how to spell “mother” but I didn’t notice what he was scurrying off to do.

Things are difficult at times on the parenting front and our hearts get easily burdened by worries, fears and disappointments.

I do experience my fair share of those, but I realise they weigh us down and prevent us from noticing and enjoying the good.

We can open our eyes to the good things in our lives, however small, and find joy in the midst of struggle and storms. We have the power to choose joy.

whatever is pure quote

Source

The past few months have been busy. My writing business has grown and stabilized which I’m thankful for. I’ve also been learning more in the educational therapy field I ventured into last year.

In the midst of the bustle, I kinda lost track of my goals for the year.

Some days I feel like a failure – not accomplishing much at work and also not keeping everything together on the home front. I constantly feel I’m running on a treadmill that’s been set at a faster pace that I can handle.

I wonder if I’m doing more harm than good staying home.

I wonder if I’d be more successful as a full time worker (well at least I’d be contributing more to my family’s savings?)

I wonder if I’m spread out too thinly.

(Do you ever have such negative thoughts /doubts running through your head?)

Well, here’s the thing…

When we use the world’s standard of success to measure ourselves, we will inevitably fall short.

But if we know what God has called us to do this season, and we respond with joy, trust, and hope, then we are already blessed.

When we embrace the life that God has given, instead of the one we left behind in the dust, we open the doors to greater blessing and grace.

So I consider the good things God has brought into my life.

  1. The encouragement I receive from my eldest – who seems to have a gift of affirming her dear ol’ mum with kind words and physical affection. She’s always hugging me, and saying sweet things. She’s sensitive to my moods and she knows I get stressed out on some days. (Girls are such a blessing like that!)
  2. The work (both writing and special needs teaching gigs) that I get to be involved with and learn from.
  3. The many little joys of the moment that make up motherhood, from watching the kids play well, and witnessing their little growth and milestones, to celebrating small wins after a period of struggle together.
  4. The sharing and support among girlfriends who are daily learning what it means to give our lives for our young ones, and to surrender ourselves to God.
  5. The love and understanding from the husband, who checks in on me, and allows me to vent or air my frustrations from time to time (okay almost every other day!) He’s a great trouble shooter. Just recently, he sat me down and reminded me of my focus for this year – to help and serve my family.

Oh the circumstances may be the same. Tempers will still flare, words spoken, things broken. But the attitude is different. We can choose to be more forgiving, more gracious in our words, more compassionate to ourselves, when (not if) we fail. It’s not easy, in fact…it is a daily battle.

Even though we’re still struggling to overcome certain difficulties in my child’s behaviour, I know God has a purpose for all this, and that all our struggles will not be in vain.

I know it is in our imperfection and weaknesses that His grace and love shows up.

When you know your struggles have a purpose, your days may not get easier or lighter, but you pull through them anyway. With God’s help.

Whether it’s full-time caring for the family, or working, whatever your hands have found to do, I hope you choose joy, and never let it go.

Open your eyes to see what is pure, lovely and kind.

Keep stress in check, in its place.

Find a community and ask for support when you need it. 

Try out ways to sow peace and fun into your home.

May you find joy and strength, as you cling on to the God of hope.

PS. All these thoughts from a simple post-it note from my boy. It’s funny how God chooses to encourage us. He knows all our cares indeed.

finding joy in parenting

What I love (and hate) about having 3 kids

Life as a parent of three kids living in Singapore is busy, funny, and a little mad. To keep myself sane, I drink lots of coffee and try to look on the bright side.

There are pros and cons, ups and downs. I start off this post with 8 things I love most about having three, and end off with the downsides…Here goes.

love and hate about having 3 kids

#1 Entertainment becomes cheap (Three is company)

Jumping on the bed, dancing to the track of Can’t Stop The Feeling, playing dressing up and acting to someone’s jumbled-up screen play. You name it, they’ve done it. They play with anything and everything, as long as they’ve got a companion (usually each other.)

There are some days when the messiness gets to me but you know, it’s also on those days I get to hide in the room (in peace) to finish off some writing work, so messes aside, I am actually thankful.

play dressing up

#2 We get to experience different stages of childhood (all at once)

While I’m coaching my eldest on her studies, and helping her to learn skills like priorities and planning, I also get to do silly things with my boys, and watch Josh make his little discoveries about how our world works. His sense of wonder never fails to make me smile. (I guess that’s the precious-ness of having a bonus kid!)

#3 We get to savour different strengths and specialities

Vera is into drawing and music. She loves doodling in her free time, and has started writing silly short stories around her illustrations. It’s something she does to relax and I marvel at seeing all her works.

child's artwork of a horse
JJ is a sports and dancing boy. He can’t stop moving at times, and his favourite past-time is jumping and dancing on our bed. As for Josh, well he’s currently top at…eating. He is a true blue foodie. I mean, which toddler actually enjoys tucking in a plate of salad?

toddler eating salad

#4 Multiple goodnight hugs before bed

Vera goes to bed first as she’s up the earliest. So we try to pray together and have goodnight hugs. Then come the boys who are always boisterous even at bedtime. Tucking them in can be tedious but eventually they’re out, and I get to smell their hair and kiss their cheeks. Bedtime is the sweetest moment for me, it’s when I can reset the day and give thanks all over again.

READ: Top 10 things kids need from their dads

#5 We can leave the house for date-nights knowing they’ll never have a dull moment

Yes they may squabble and fight over little things, but at least we know they’ll never be alone, bored or hooked to gadgets. And most times, they actually seem to get on quite well once mum and dad are out of the house. Weird but true.

kids playing ping pong

#6 They look out for each other

This applies mostly to Vera at this stage but I’ve seen some glimpses here and there in the boys. Whenever we’re at the pool Vera will be quite willing to care for Josh, especially when I explain that I need to do a lap or two. And the best part, when I go out with the threesome, Vera helps to chaperone the boys, one on each hand.

siblings walking hand in hand

#7 They pass on knowledge and ‘wisdom’

The beauty of having kids of differing ages is that the eldest will always share the stuff she’s learnt in school or through books. Although she’s only eight, her brothers look up to her and listen earnestly whenever she’s teaching them something. I can already see her playing the role of part-time tutor to her brothers in future. (Hopefully she doesn’t teach them the cheeky/naughty stuff too… :P)

#8 There are more hands to clean up

Who you gonna call when a huge mess has been made? Not just the one who made the mess of course, we teach the kids to help one another, and more hands just make the work lighter.

PS. Do you know that when children help out in the family, they feel a greater sense of belonging and ownership? *wink*

~~~~~

There are of course also some downsides to having 3 kids.

– You’re always outnumbered. There’s always a war you need to mediate.

If you’re at the mall, and one needs to go to the bathroom, another needs a drink, and yet another needs to go on the swings (right at this instant), you’ll never win. Every day we are at the negotiating table, teaching them what it means to compromise, have patience and wait.

– It’s so noisy you can’t hear yourself think

For an introverted mum like me, quietness is something I’ve always relished and actually quite need. Now that the kids are at school in the mornings, I get to enjoy some peace and quiet. And I consider it a huge win on those days when I get to take a nap, and the kids don’t start a fight the minute I fall asleep.

– It’s hard to go out in a normal sedan

We don’t drive as it’s expensive and we live in a central location. So we usually Grab or Uber our way around town. Now with 5 (albeit still a baby-ish looking 5th person), it’s tricky. Since the rule for child booster seats were made stricter, some Grab drivers also refuse to take us after seeing so many kids. (Thankfully they’ve launched Grab Family now.)

– It’s expensive to eat at restaurants

Step into a normal looking Jap place and the average bill is $60-70. And we’re not even talking about ordering mains for kids – thankfully they’re content with rice and miso soup bowl, along with chawanmushi (and some additional meat from our mains) on top.

READ: 20 ways to be a frugal family

– It’s expensive to travel too

We’re planning a trip to Melbourne this year and oh boy tickets alone costs about $2.5-3K. It’s also tricky to squeeze all of us into one hotel room. We always need to make room for our littlest on our bed.

– The bugs can make their rounds

With kids in kindy/school, when one brings home a bug, it inevitably “travels.” Some bad months, we’re so busy taking care of one sick kid after another, it gets a bit insane and we lose track of what happened when. (Tell me I’m not alone??)

~~~~~

Life with three means there’s never a dull moment. I’m also aware that it won’t be too long before they’re all teenagers and the only noise in the home will be the squabbling between the hubby and I.

So bring on the mess, the noise, the fights – I’ll take the whole package. I know I’m going to miss all these things when the house gets too quiet 10 years down the road.

Mums and dads, what are your joys and pains about having 1, 2, 3 (or even more) kids?

5 easy strategies to help your child overcome weakness

I’ve been reading Mind in the Making by Ellen Galinsky and thinking about my kids’ strengths and weaknesses. It’s also mid-year exams period, so we’ve been working hard with Vera on her Chinese, which I guess along with 70-80% of Singaporean kids, is an area of weakness and struggle.

It’s easy for kids to get discouraged by a subject that seems more difficult than the rest, so I’ve been also trying to be careful with what I say. (It’s hard, sometimes the frustration sets in, and I can get a bit critical or even harsh.)

Here are 5 tips I drew from the book that will come in handy if you’re working with your child on their weak areas too.

Help your child overcome weaknesses with 5 easy tips

1) Dealing with weakness? Start from strengths

If we dwell on what the child can’t do – the child’s inadequacies – those inadequacies will likely proliferate. If we focus on what the child can do – the child’s strengths – these will likely be fortified.

As parents, we tend to focus on our flaws and feel like we’ll never be good enough. We also tend to zoom in on our kids’ flaws and weaknesses, forgetting and sometime downplaying their strengths.

But strengths provide a strong foundation from which we can leap forward, especially as we start to address their weaknesses.

Even in my therapy work with children with special needs, I’m acutely aware of their weaknesses, but I make sure to tap on their areas of strength to help them overcome.

There are actually some simple ways to “start from strengths.” For instance, your child is struggling in the area of Chinese, but is a real foodie. Use his interests to build on his foundation in Chinese. Run simple cooking classes in Chinese every week with easy kid-friendly recipes, or watch Youtube cooking videos in Chinese.

Or if your child finds math impossible, but loves drawing and art…Engage his love for doodling by asking him to draw out the math problem visually and in fun ways (not limited to using models.) Whatever helps him to engage his senses in the task, let him go about it and experiment and have fun. It could even change the way he feels about the subject.

More on using strengths to overcome weaknesses here.

2) Spell out expectations, use levels 1-4 to make them clear and gentle

In her book, Galinsky cites an example of the Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ), a non-profit organisation committed to ending generational poverty in Harlem.

The children are being taught how to apply writing techniques to their own essays, and they use a rating system ranked 1-4, where Level 1 simple means an “oops” area that needs more work, as opposed to a D or a fail grade.

Galinsky describes HCZ’s philosophy:

We give children the freedom to make mistakes. We teach our kids that failure is not a way of labeling who you are – it’s just a way of identifying what you don’t know and what you need to put effort into. When kids understand that, they’re not hesitant about trying something, because if they fail, it’s not a reflection on them. That just tells them: “This is an area we need to work on.”

In the same way, give your child more motivation to succeed by saying something like, “You may be at level 1 right now, but with specific help and practice on the difficult or tricky areas, you can progress to level 2 and 3 pretty soon. Let’s go through the test papers to identify the areas you need to focus on most.”

(Here is more information on learning scales.)

3) Emphasize personal best instead of comparing with others

We sometimes subconsciously compare our children to the best examples out there, but imagine what this does to their self-esteem when we actually overtly express it. How does it make them feel if we constantly compare them with an over-achieving cousin or sibling?

Galinsky writes:

Often motivation is defined as besting others rather than besting ourselves. If we’re driven by the desire to do our personal best, practice becomes part of that motivation.

By all means, challenge your child to do better than what he did yesterday. Just focus on him and his past achievements as a benchmark, not other people’s achievements.

 

4) Help children learn to plan and set goals

When children take responsibility for their own learning, ie., become more goal-directed, they automatically become the active engaged learners that nature created them to be.

Guide them in setting SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Time-based.

We can help children build on their emerging ability to plan to reach goals by articulating their goals when they’re small, such as saying, ‘You can trying so hard to stand up.’ When they’re preschool age and older, we can help them form and achieve goals by asking them to make plans, stick to them, and then evaluate how the plans have worked…

 

5) Get her to teach and explain to you concepts she’s learnt

Another useful tip from the book is to get your child to teach you something she’s learnt about the subject. When you teach something, it brings your understanding to a different level.

Galinsky quoted some theories about why this might be the case:

Explaining something helps make their implicit understanding more explicit; leads children to focus on the principles behind what they’re learning and not just the facts…and makes [them] feel more motivated and focused.

 

Overall, Mind in the Making has been a helpful read (although I must say I sometimes get lost within a chapter as there are so many anecdotes and stories in each one.) There are some important gems in there, and is an essential read if you want to find out more about these 7 essential skills for kids:

  • focus and self-control
  • perspective taking
  • communicating
  • making connections
  • critical thinking
  • taking on challenges
  • self-directed learning

To learn more about how you can support your child in his learning journey, read these other posts:

 

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