Updated: Sep 13, 2021
Is this a common refrain in your household: “I’ll do it later. Honest!”
The problem of putting things off is discussed in the book, Learning How to Learn by Barbara Oakley and Terrence Sejnowski. Why study for a test on Monday when it’s not scheduled till Friday? Because what usually happens is that you run out of time to do the delayed activity.
The authors state that “time and practice will work together to help cement new ideas in your brain.” So how do you change your child’s habit of putting things off that seem too difficult or that they don’t want to do? Research is cited that there is an area of the brain, the insular cortex, that experiences pain when you think about doing something that you don’t want to do. However, once a task is started, after about 20 minutes, the pain goes away, and that part of the brain calms down.
That’s all fine and good but how can you help your kid get started on their assignments? One approach is the Pomodoro Technique. Developed by Francesco Cirillo this involves a tomato shaped timer. (Any timer will do, although there is a Pomodoro timer app for iPad or smartphones.)
Here are the basics of this technique:
Find a quiet place to work. You can also use noise cancelling headphones or even ear plugs. The key is, get rid of all distractions. Cell phones off!
Set the timer for 25-minutes
OK, now get going and focus; 25 minutes is not that long of a time although your kid may disagree.
Next is the reward, an important part of this process. “When you’re looking forward to a reward, your brain helps you focus better.” Some reward suggestions are, watch a short video, spend some time with your pet, have a snack, etc. It’s better if you do something that’s quite different than what you’ve been focusing on.
A student may have to do more than one Pomodoro, but the idea is to work as hard as you can for that 25-minutes. While this technique works best with older children, some benefit can likely be gained by younger children as well.