Some children are blessed with the gift of good study habits, while others hate studying. Helping a child with poor study skills benefits the parent, the teacher, and the struggling student. You can take a number of proactive steps to help your children develop better study habits and skills. Remember: discipline is important, but your child will do her best work if she is motivated by the joy of learning.
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Make your children realize that how they study is important. Show them some examples. Bring your children to a person who is study-conscious, and have your children ask why he or she studies so much. Tell them about the days of your childhood at school and explain how challenging and fun it was to study.
Start young. As soon as your child starts any type of schooling, start showing them how to balance their time. Teach them that school is a priority over things like games and TV, and get them into the habit of finishing their school work before anything else.
Teach consequences. Depending on where you live, your child’s school may not require students that fail a class to do any sort of make-up course. You can usually find some sort of summer school option, however, whether it is through the school or an external program. Your child probably won’t love the idea of summer classes—but this can be a great way to teach them that if they studied harder during the year, they would have more free time during the summer. Remedial courses may help your kids catch up the rest of their peers in the following year, ensuring that they don’t fall further behind.
Try not to force studying on your child. Over time, this may condition them to avoid studying at all costs. If you sit your child down at the kitchen table for three hours with a textbook and lock the door, chances are that they will refuse to do what you want them to do. If you pressure them constantly about the importance of studying and shout at them when they don’t, the child may begin to resent both studying itself and you as a figure of authority within the house. If you ask your child to study in a relaxed way, and make them aware of the importance of studying, the outcome could be different
- “You should probably go study” sounds a lot better to your child than “Go study right now”, and he/she may be more likely to think, “Maybe I should go study right now.”
- Encourage your child positively, and let them find out for themselves why they need to study. Constant pressuring can result in extreme rebellion and/or resentment.
Set a good example. Let your child see you working on something work-related. When your kid studies or completes a homework assignment, sit with her and work on something that you need to do. Set an hour aside each night for study—this includes you!
Take breaks. Balance out rigorous studying with unstructured play time. Make sure that your children take short breaks to decompress in the midst of a study session, or else they may get too stressed—which can negatively impact their health, their social life, and their academic performance. Studying for over 20 minutes at a time can lead young children to lose focus, so 20 minutes of rest for every 20 minutes of study may help your child memorize what they’re reading.
- Don’t make your kids sit at the computer all day. Make sure their eyes are properly rested, and make sure that they get plenty of time outside.
- If you force your children to work for longer than they are able to focus, they may not get as much out of their study—and they may develop negative associations with the whole act of studying.
Look at your child’s friend group. If your son’s friends aren’t very into school and studying, there’s a good chance that their habits and behavior are influencing your son’s attitude. Consider whether it is your place or your responsibility to interfere with your child’s social life. If the problem continues, you might consider speaking with your child, speaking with the parents of his/her friends, or limiting your child’s time with certain friends. Ultimately, short of changing schools, there may be few invasive ways to change your child’s social life and better study habits.
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Set up a reward system. We are wired to believe that our work should be rewarded, so make studying rewarding. One less chore, an extra dollar in their allowance, more TV time—whatever motivates your kids and works in your household. Make sure that you clearly explain how the system works, then stick to that system. There are two ways to “bribe” your kids:
- Tell your child that if they study, they can get something. For instance: If they study for an hour today, they can get a chocolate bar, or an extra 30 minutes of free time. Some children may not take the offer
- Tell your child if they don’t study, then they don’t get something. For instance: If they don’t study for an hour today, they don’t get to catch up with their friends.
Inspire your children with goals. Studying can feel pointless and abstract for children when they don’t see where it is all leading. Make sure that they understand where studying can take them. Talk to them about how studying can improve their grades, which will, in turn, increase the amount of colleges they can go to—which can empower them to do anything they might want to do in the future!
Engage your child by relating less “fun” topics to the subjects that she loves.Most kids will naturally click better with certain subjects. Over time, they may learn to love the subjects that come easy and dislike the topics that take more work. This dislike can lead kids to shut down when things get harder and find excuses as to why they don’t need to do it. Catch this early, before your child teaches themselves that they don’t need math because, “who really uses algebra anyways?” Help them understand that school is more fun when they follow their interests, but that it can also be important to be well-rounded.
- One way to stop this is to relate the subject they don’t understand to a subject they excel at. Use examples and comparisons. For instance, if your son loves history but hates math, you might try to engage him with the history of numbers; tell him stories about famous mathematicians to add a bit of romance to the subject; or help him understand how mathematical methods like carbon dating help us better understand historical timelines.
- Ask your child’s teacher, knowledgeable friends, or a private (in-person or online) tutor to help with this. Consider using online resources like games and educational YouTube videos to engage your kids.
Consider enrolling your child in advanced programs for subjects that he/she finds interesting. If your daughter hates doing her English homework, but spends hours working on science experiments, consider enrolling her in a science camp or a STEM youth program. If your son doesn’t like to study for his tests, but jumps at the chance to practice playing music, encourage his musical development by enrolling him in a youth orchestra or hiring a music tutor. If you make it clear that your child must maintain some level of engagement in the “boring” classes to keep learning about what he/she loves, you may be able to teach a sort of working discipline by getting your kid excited to learn.
Teach your children to learn, not just to study. Encourage them to learn new things every day, even if they’re small things. All the studying in the world will be empty rigor if your child doesn’t understand what it means to learn—and to love learning. Show your child the joy of learning, and you may not need to make her study.
- Take your child to public spaces that will stimulate her mind. Take her to an air-and-space museum, a natural history museum, an art museum, or an aquarium. Take her to the library, to the zoo, or to a play. Take her somewhere that she will still be talking about in a week.
- Find interactive ways for your child to learn at home. Show him documentaries, give him educational games, or give him books. Ask him questions, and teach him to question the world around him.
Find “fun” ways to study. Use flash cards, a personalized study guide, or sticky notes around your child’s room; you can even encourage your kid to study with friends over email. Think outside the box. Perhaps the material isn’t the reason that your child doesn’t like to study—perhaps it’s the way that the material is laid out. Try different methods and tweak your child’s study system until it works.
- If your child wants to study in a particular way, to make it fun, then do just that. If they don’t mind, or they simply don’t want to study, it is still good to suggest ideas that might catch their attention.
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Guiding Study Sessions
Be involved. Take an interest in what your child is learning, what they think is easy or what they think is hard. Become familiar with the material your children are studying. It’s quite difficult to help your child with algebra if you are not familiar with the basic concepts yourself. Once you’ve become familiar with what your children need to learn, you will be in a better position to help. Take the initiative for better study habits.
- If there is something your child finds hard that you don’t know, consult their teacher. Do not tell them to ask their teacher: chances are they will forget, or be too embarrassed to go alone. Instead, set up a meeting with their teacher, yourself and your child, and figure out an option that is best for your life style.
- Find the time to do homework with them—not by telling them what to do, but by guiding them along the way. Sometimes children do not like the tension of having someone else watching them study. Try either studying with them or giving them some space to better study habits.
Minimize distractions. Keep the TV off, and put away any gaming consoles. If your children are using a computer, keep an eye on them to make sure that they don’t play games. Consider blocking certain websites from a computer, or disabling the Internet altogether during certain designated study times.
Know how your child learns best. Understand what makes her engaged and productive, and try to build an ideal learning environment. Treat your child as an individual with unique needs and strengths. If your child remembers things easier by seeing things, try having him read something aloud and repeat in his own words what he read. Some children remember more if they write things down (touch/hands on), so reworking a math problem or writing certain history dates will help for them. You may need to read out loud to your child to help her retain the information, if she learns best by hearing.
- Try to understand the environment in which your child learns best. Do they learn best with food by their side, or no food? Do they like peace and quiet, or music? Do they like sitting at a desk, on the couch, or on a yoga ball?
- Some parents make the mistake of thinking that their child didn’t study enough because they didn’t sit down for a long time. Reading/writing and comprehension speeds vary wildly between children, which may begin to explain why your son only sat down to study for an hour before the big exam.
Consider hiring a tutor. Teachers may recommend a private tutor. If it’s in the budget, take the opportunity. It can be a great way for your child to learn, and you might even learn something. If you can’t afford a tutor, some one-on-one time with the teacher may do the trick. Many schools are developing peer-mentoring programs where students teach other students. Finally, you can always take to the Internet—there are a number of reputable chat and video tutoring services.
If you have young children, try to be present when they study. Make sure they know that you are there to help, but do not let them rely on you completely for the answers. Be patient, positive, and tolerant. As your children grow older, more disciplined, and more independent, you may need to back off and let them build their own better study habits.
Review your children’s homework when they get home and when they have finished it. Read over essays and writing assignments; look over their work for math assignments. Consider checking their answers and working with them to correct anything that’s wrong. Make sure that you do not demean your child or make him/her feel dull. Your guidance should be a positive light, not a stressful weight.