Updated: Apr 7
Dr. Alison shares the top ways to help yourself and your children focus while in 2020 social isolation and still accomplish homework! From brain therapy, simple exercises, food, and even free math apps!
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Hello and welcome everyone. This is Dr. Alison with Little Black Bag Medicine and today we are going to be talking about helping your children focus on their homework while we are doing makeshift homeschool.
I'm sure you have already found that maybe your kids are struggling with focus, that they don't want to do their homework or their packets that they've been assigned. They're just so distracted right now. So I have an eight-year-old son who's in second grade. My daughter is 12 and a half and in sixth grade and everything just got kind of flipped upside down, right as we're doing our packets together, everyone's getting frustrated. Nobody knows what to do. My kids want to go play or do something else and I'm like, no, we have to do our work. We have to do this. And so I want to share some strategies that I use.
We either now, of course, also throughout the entire school year and summer, support our kids neurologically, emotionally, physically, and even nutritionally and allow the tricks that I use to get my kids to focus at school.
So right off the bat I'm going to tell you two things that you can go back and do. I have a podcast with a special guest, which is with my daughter where we talked a lot about what we did specifically for her to improve her brain performance. So that's way at the beginning of this podcast series. And then I also have a free program called the focused family. It's at my website at littleblackbagmedicine.com and you can join that for free. Go through all of the workshops, all of the videos. And I even have a neurotransmitter brain health and brain function form that you can fill out for your kids. (Course click here: https://alisondibartogoggin.podia.com/your-best-brain-program)
I give you the steps, the trainings, the rehab exercises to do. You'll see my son throw blankets at my head. It gets crazy in there. So it is what it is, but it's really helpful information cause in this podcast we're going to cover just a little bit.
So to start, when you're now all of a sudden a homeschool parent and you're trying to figure out what to do. I would really encourage you to lower your expectations. When we think about our kids at school, we think, Oh, you're here for eight hours. You're sitting in a chair for eight hours and it's really not that way. So really understand that your kids are also stressed. They're also emotional. They also don't understand what's happening or why. And if they do, they might be really scared. They might be perfectly fine, but they're missing, their friends are missing their routines.
They want to go to parks and play. It's kind of a bummer for everybody.
So as you're stressed out, think that your kids are equally stressed out and they're going to be distracted. They're going to be thinking about other things. A home is distracting and it should be fun for most kids, right? You want to watch TV, they want to play games, they want to go outside. The dogs are barking like it's totally different from school. So take the pressure off yourself, take the pressure off your kids, get done what you can. Figure out how you can make it fun.
And the most important thing that you can do to gear your kids up for work and have a focused mental state as well as the emotional state is to do rehab, supplements, oils, all of these things before you start your homework at least half an hour before because that's going to ready their brain, set their neurological system so they can sit down and go ahead and do the work.
Once homework is over, it's too late. You're, you're already fighting. Right? so I understand. I've been there. What we do is we go through all of our supplements. I have the multivitamin and Omega is from doTERRA, so they're chewable and they're liquid, real easy to get done. And then we do Apex Energetics has neurotransmitter spray, so we have them for dopamine, GABA and serotonin. That also helps them focus and be comfortable sleeping, sleep longer, sleep deeper, and they're a little bit more relaxed.
Ava said that over time took a couple of weeks that she was able to read longer, like for an hour at a time instead of, usually she's usually reading for like two or three minutes and then her brain's like, Hey, let's go do something else. So just the fact that she could extend her reading was amazing. I always start the diffusers when they get home from school.
That gives them about an hour before homework time starts.
You might wake up in the morning and get your diffusers going with peppermint or wild orange or something that's your favorite. That helps with energy and focus so that way they can sit down and do their homework. I also love to diffuse piece, which is a really calming blend cause sometimes too motivating is too exciting for them. So find your peaceful balance, whatever you'd like to use with that one. And then I also really like to use doTERRA's children's line. They have rollers that are for, I'm thinking. So there's one called thinker for focus and they smell amazing. So I roll it on the back of their neck and their risks are on their feet, wherever we can get it right as the name of that game.
They also have ones for emotional balancing. So they can feel calm, feel ready, they don't feel like they're set up to fight. And then they have ones for pain. So we use that a lot for anytime kids have headaches or growing pains, anything that they need there. That way I kind of just line up everything on the kitchen table and they're just putting the oils on themselves. They know how to do the spray themselves and they're good to go.
The next thing that we do before homework is what I call heavy work. And it helps the neurological system against slow down. And this is something that I learned when our son was going through occupational therapy after he was diagnosed with pandas, which is a brain infection, inflammation.
And what we have him do is are really simple. Maybe 30 seconds, HIIT workout. All right, everybody do jumping jacks. We're going to do pushups, we're going to do squats. We're going to do anything that you can think of, right? Just 30 seconds, get their blood flowing, get them engaged, get them moving. Then we do things like pushing heavy boxes, carrying the laundry basket. Anything that they're picking up that's heavy will really help them. And this like weighted blankets which are really helpful for kids and adults too because that compression helps.
The other thing I like to do for the kids, especially at least on the upper half of their body, is what we call joint compression. Where you take, say we are going to do that for the wrist, right? So you lightly gently grab the hand and then you grab on the other side of the wrist and you just kind of gently pull apart and across and five times each joint.
And my YouTube video, you can see this. So if you're watching this on a podcast, go back to either YouTube or you can see this on my free course or just Google joint compression which is something easy that you can do. So we gently compress the wrist, the elbow, the shoulder, go back down. When we did original occupational therapy, we also did the chest and the back very gently and then hips, knees and ankles as well. And it can be very quickly. It doesn't have to be something that takes a long time and just get it done.
The other thing that we like to do before homework for exercise is what we call cross crawl exercises. So you can Google, all of these things are everywhere in occupational therapy sites. And basically what it is is a baby crawling. Because for example, my son saw his sister walking when he was nine months old. He said, I'm going to do that too. And he started walking way too early.
When we don't have that cross crawl pattern from crawling when we were babies, our brain does not function the way it needs to. It does not connect the hemispheres. So sometimes I'll just have the kids crawling around on their hands and knees like a baby and have a baby race because it helps them integrate their brain, the right and left hemisphere.
You can do this on their back with like dead bug exercises. There are a million ways to do this. You're essentially just crossing your left side over to the right side and your right side over to the left side. Try different ways, try different ways with your kids. Don't feel like if they can't get one exercise because they just aren't neurologically set that way yet, flip them over, do something on their stomach or on their back or standing.
Again in my program, I have a number of tests and a number of rehab situations for them, so that is going to be for that. But I also just want to say like when we were doing Jacob's packet for second grade, they said do arm circles. And so he gets up and his right arm is just swinging like crazy and it's perfect and he's got great rotation and his left arm was not moving at all. It was just barely a circle. And so I slowed him down. I said, okay, show me your left arm. Is there something wrong with your shoulder? Which was my first thought. Is there a rotator cuff issue? There's not cause he can move it freely. He has no pain. It's just when he was doing double arm circles, his left hand and shoulder and arm were not keeping up.
So what does that tell us? That tells us his right brain was having an issue. So slowing him down, having him keep his right arm down and just focusing on the side that needs help the right or the left side for him. He was able to engage that part of his brain, make that connection and now his left arm is doing fine. So that's now something we're incorporating really quick like squats, pushups, swing your arms up, keep going, go forwards, go backwards. Let's take our time. Let's slow down, let's do this.
It's not something that we spend hours a day doing anymore. And really the test is the therapies. So if your kid is struggling with a specific exercise, have them keep doing it because that's going to make them the strongest.
Now the brain function assessment forum has a lot of different exercises on it. It has memory and cognition. Especially if your kids struggle with memory issues. There are all sorts of things about music listening to music and one side with one earbud end can help promote health of the brain as well. Visualization of task colors, objects is also very, very helpful.
And I can learn eyecanlearn.com has a number of eye exercises. So if you're a child, struggles with eye fatigue while reading or doing homework where they just take, they read a lot and then they have to fall asleep. This is a great, great website and you can do all of the different exercises, print them out and it really trains the eyes to focus and follow and it helps the the brain as well. So that's one of my favorite places to go. And then I think that's it.
We'll just keep moving on from that list cause that's a really, really long list. So have your kids try different exercises and if they can't do it keep doing it. Keep up with it.
Let's talk about blood sugar now because this is really important. I don't know about your house. But in my house, my kids are like now home, so we're going to have fruit snacks and fishes and all of, all of the snacks that they want to have and they're not eating what I want them to eat, like protein and healthy foods. So think about their blood sugar. If your kids are bouncing off the wall, they're not sitting down to do the homework they have to get through. And now if I don't know about you guys, but now we're extended so they will have to go to class online, which is great. I'm excited about that. But they need to be eating consistently.
So we implemented kind of the first few days of being home that they can have breakfast and it has to be something with protein, a set snack, a set lunch time with protein, a set afternoon snack, and then set dinner. There's no going in the pantry. There's no, I get to eat whatever I want. We have to keep them eating and eating consistently through the day and not just eating sugar breads, carbs, fun snacks, because that is just destroying their brain.
And of course they're not going to focus, they're going to crash or they're going to be cranky. And same with you. So make sure that you are consistently eating throughout the day. I know it's tempting to skip breakfast or overeat at dinner or snack all day, but keep a chart, maybe set timers, whatever works for you.
So let them eat, add in protein. The other trick that we have is, okay, you want to have a snack or you want to have more food or you want to have this street. We have to have a fruit before you get to do that. Apple, banana, strawberries, oranges, something. There's so much food and fruit in the house and vegetables that they have to have one healthy thing before they're allowed to have something fun.
So a couple of tips on actual work is when you're sitting down with them, let them lead. You're going to learn so much about how your kids work and how they learn best. And then when you figure out their pattern of learning, you're going to be able to help them expand that pattern across the board. So take it from math to reading, to science, to social studies, all of it across the board.
That actually gets really exciting when you figure it out. I work in columns, so I go straight down is my pattern of working. Some people go across right to left and working and my son goes in circles. Isn't that exciting? So I was really upset, not upset, but just like, no, we have to do one, two, three, four. We have to do it by numbers and he does this really weird circular pattern. We'll go across the row and then down and then back up again. So knowing that that's his pattern of working, how can we do that with reading? How can we move that around as well? So we've had a lot of fun with that. The other thing that has engaged him in his work is using colored pencils instead of regular pencils because it, the colors help the shapes, help doing different things has also been really helpful.
I keep a scratch pad and you probably have a whiteboard. There's a number of different things, but as they don't understand and they're learning new techniques from you, keep something next to you. Let them doodle, let them draw, let them work through the problem in a different way. Maybe drawing pictures might be easier to get through the work instead of just rote writing the way they're supposed to write and then they can write it the right way on the paper. But now they're starting to put the pieces together with them.
The other thing that I've talked with a lot of my patients about is that switching sub, I don't, this is how my packets look when we picked them up, it was one half a page was reading page was math, half a page was a different kind of math, half a page was spelling and then is every subject is on every page.
And that can be really difficult for kids because if you think about it, they have 45 minutes for math and then they get up and they go to lunch and then they come back. They have 45 minutes of reading and then in there, they're doing different things and then it's one subject at a time. So if you have to take five pages and say, we're just going to do the math on these few pages and then you'll be done tomorrow and we'll go back through and we'll do the reading that's on these pages and then we'll go back to pick out what one subject. If your kid is struggling, going through page by page, by page, okay, you have time. Have the ability to do this. Let your kid lead the way based off their strongest points.
Setting timers, I think also really helps with focus because they know I just got to get through the next 10 minutes.
I can do this right and after these 10 minutes, I'm going to get up. I'm going to play a game, we're going to dance, we're going to do some more exercises, or I get a snack, like something fun, like keep it, keep it really engaging and don't feel like you have to force them to sit down because this is not normal. This is not traditional, not even traditional homeschooling where you're allowed to leave the house. You're supposed to leave the house, you're going to the zoo, you're going to parks. You're going to the museum, you're going to classes with friends, you're allowed to see friends.
No, right now is totally different. So you don't have to be super regimented.
Get out toys. My son was really struggling with the concept of column and rows and I was having a really hard time explaining it to him by pencil and paper and drawing pictures.
So he had out Legos and built-up columns and built across rows and he's starting to get a little more and you can expand that with our older kids as well.
And when they're done, be done. So don't, when they get glazed over and they're not focused and they're falling apart, be done. Don't force them to keep going. Let them have a snack, let them have some proteins and not some fruit, whatever you, whatever doesn't matter. Let them let them be done.
And my super favorite app is called photo math. P. H. O. T. O. M. A. T. H. you take a picture of basically whatever that math problem is and it will solve it for you and give you the answer and like the work for it. So as we have gotten into harder math that I'd haven't had to do in 15 years. That has been very, very helpful. So it's even free right now. I might just got a notification from the app that they're, I'm expanding it so parents can get help. Don't be afraid to get help.
There's so many things that you can do right now.
So if your child needs help with their focus, their brain health, gut health, I always offer a free 30 minute consultation to talk to you as a family. I love doing the video consultations cause we have the kids come on as well. Tell me what's going on, talk about what they're feeling and how their focuses, what they need to do and really figure out what the next best steps are for them so they can start feeling better, be focused in school and feel confident and happy with themselves cause we all want to feel like that. Right. Well thank you so much for tuning in today. I really appreciate you being here and taking the time to learn how to support your kids. In a great way. So enjoy the rest of your week and we'll chat soon.
Connect with Dr. Alison DiBarto Goggin www.LittleBlackBagMedicine.com Facebook.com/LittleBlackBagMedicine Schedule an introductory consult: https://bit.ly/2Y2yMyF Healing Through The Heart Program: https://bit.ly/2uassZf Daily Dose with Dr. Alison FB community: https://www.facebook.com/groups/LBBMedicine