How To Help Your Child Study At Home

We are excited to announce our new blog series about Study Tips!


Many parents ask us whether they should help their children with the home-based studies (e.g., homework) and what they could be doing to support their child in these times. If you are wondering the same thing, then this series could be helpful for you.


Research finds that parental involvement in homework has positive impacts on student’s academic learning and achievement. Whether your child is in grade prep or late into their secondary school studies, parental involvement in homework can still benefit them. So, the question then becomes, what does “parental involvement” look like? What can I do at home to help my child?


As part of this blog, we have released 8 tip sheets about how you, as a parent, can support your child develop key skills that help them process and organise information that they learn and need to remember in the future.


Creating a Study-Friendly Environment at Home


To get the most out of these tip sheets, it will be important to first make sure your child has a study-friendly environment. Research shows that if a child has a consistent homework routine, combined with parental involvement, they are more likely to regularly complete their homework and to a higher standard. Parental modelling, reinforcement, and explicit instruction are some of the most helpful forms of creating a study-friendly environment for your child.


Take a look at our HOMEWORK TIPS FOR PARENTS for ways to create a study-friendly environment at home. These strategies include:

  1. Modelling

  2. Reinforcement

  3. Make a Plan

  4. Avoid Digital Distractions

  5. Have a Positive Attitude

  6. Share Information and Knowledge

  7. Create an Ideal Study Environment

If you want more information on useful strategies to create a study-friendly home, click here to view more excellent tips.


Building Study Skills: An Executive Functioning Approach


We have specifically focused on giving you strategies that will help your child build their executive functioning skills, which in turn benefits their study skills. Executive functioning skills are the mental processes that control and manage our thinking, feelings and behaviours. For more information about executive functioning, see our previous blog post about this topic.


Our study tips address the following areas:

  • Self-Monitoring

  • Goal Setting and Time Management

  • Planning and Organising

  • Flexibility

  • Working Memory

  • Initiation

  • Emotional Regulation

  • Inhibitory Control

  • Rewards and Incentives

In the remainder of this article, we will visit each of these skills separately (even though, in actuality, there is a lot of overlap between them) to provide you with strategies you can try at home to help your child build their skills in these areas. While a range of strategies have been provided, it is not suggested that all are to be tried at once. Rather, a variety have been provided so you can select the areas/skills and strategies that are most suitable to you and your family at this point in time.


Self-Monitoring

Self-monitoring is a person’s self-evaluation of their performance or behaviour. It is a fundamental skill across most, if not all, of the executive functioning domains.


Self-monitoring is important for some of the following tasks:

  • Asking for help when its needed

  • Self-correcting work (e.g., editing, revising, noticing mistakes)

  • Not repeating past mistakes

  • Trying new ways of doing things if the current way being tried isn’t working

  • Keeping track of progress on a task

  • Keeping track of time

  • Recognising when more work needs to be done to complete a task and/or when something is at its completed state.

  • Being aware of where your attention is at – for example, knowing when you are on-task or off-task when trying to focus on work.

  • Recognising when you are reading “without taking it in”

  • Noticing careless mistakes in work

  • Noticing when writing is on-topic or off-topic

If some of these behaviours describe things that your child is having difficulties with, you might like to take a further look at our SELF-MONITORING STUDY TIPS.


Goal Setting and Time Management

Goal Setting and Time Management are not executive functioning skills, per se. Rather, these habits play key roles in improving many executive functioning skills. We have given Goal Setting and Time Management their own special consideration because of the special focus and strategies that exist for improving these two important skills.


Goal Setting and Time Management are important for some of the following tasks:

  • Beginning projects well in advance

  • Studying for tests well in advance

  • Submitting work by the due date and meeting deadlines

  • Being able to keep track of task goals and staying on track to meet these goals in a timely fashion

  • Accurately estimating the amount of time and effort a task or project will take to complete

  • Being proactive in schoolwork (e.g., doing required readings well before they are needed to be done).

  • Having clarity about the purpose of one’s learning tasks to enable clearer and more focused actions.

We encourage readers to look at our GOAL SETTING AND TIME MANAGEMENT TIPS as a preliminary step to helping their child improve their executive functioning skills.


Planning and Organising

Planning reflects how well a person develops and implements strategies to accomplish tasks.

Organisation describes how well a person manages their personal belongings, work, or multiple tasks.


Planning and Organising are important for some of the following tasks:

  • Thinking ahead and planning for these expected events

  • Thinking about the consequences of one’s actions

  • Knowing the order of steps in a tasks and knowing where to begin

  • Being ready for school

  • Doing things in the right order

  • Sequencing and organising thoughts appropriately

  • Bringing home the right materials (e.g., newsletters, homework, all lunchbox pieces)

  • Studies for tests well before the test date

  • Keeping their bedroom, bags, and other personal spaces orderly

  • Knowing when important events (e.g., due dates, test dates) are

  • Working orderly and with the appropriate materials

  • Knowing where personal belongings are and sorting personal belongings

  • Managing time, money, and tasks well.

  • Managing multiple tasks at once well.

  • Not mixing up tasks or schedules (e.g., by finishing one task before moving onto another or by clearly dividing tasks up so confusion between these is avoided)

  • Meeting deadlines and submitting schoolwork on time

If your child tends to have challenges with their Planning and Organising skills, you might like to take a further look at our PLANNING AND ORGANISING STUDY TIPS.


Flexibility

Flexibility describes how well a person can adapt to circumstances, including problem-solving approaches.


Flexibility is important for some of the following tasks:

  • Creative problem-solving (e.g., trying new things to solve a problem or reach a goal)

  • Adapting approaches when things aren’t working as desired

  • Changing behaviours as required

  • Not using ineffective strategies repeatedly

  • Being receptive to suggestions from others about doing things differently to ways that are familiar to oneself

  • Being accepting and adapting to unexpected situations with little difficulty

  • Not getting “stuck” on questions and able to have multiple attempts on a question

  • Not “shutting down” when a first attempt isn’t successful

  • Being relatively calm when faced with unexpected (potentially stressful) events

If your child has some difficulties accommodating to changes or new information (as described above), our FLEXIBILITY STUDY TIPS might interest you.


Working Memory

Working Memory describes how well a person can keep information in mind that is important for knowing what to do and how to do it, including remembering important things, instructions and steps.


Working Memory is important for some of the following tasks:

  • Remembering instructions, especially multistep instructions

  • Remembering the steps for doing something

  • Remembering multiple pieces of information at once

  • Remembering to do chores and other important things

  • Bringing important materials home from school (e.g., homework, belongings, notices)

  • Keeping events that are not part of a typical, daily routine (e.g., sports carnival day)

  • Keeping track of decisions and actions made on tasks and assignments

  • Remembering where belongings and things were placed

  • Remembering what was immediately heard or seen long enough to do something with that information (e.g., act on it, respond to a question)

  • Keeping information or goals in mind while making decisions or actions

  • Keeping up with what the teacher is saying in class, especially while taking notes at the same time

  • Easily remembering facts and information through rote repetition and recital

You may be interested in reading our WORKING MEMORY STUDY TIPS if your child seems to be overly forgetful, disorganised, “lost” or distracted mid-action or mid-routine, and struggles to follow multiple directions correctly.


Initiation

Initiation is how well or easily a person can begin tasks, chores, or projects without being prompted (e.g., by parents, teachers).


Initiation is important for some of the following tasks:

  • Starting tasks without being told or reminded to do so

  • Choosing to take on new tasks or projects

  • Being motivated to start and do things

  • Being able to do tasks without having others tell you what to do

  • Making plans and putting them into action (“walking the talk”)

  • Creating and following a schedule (or just following a schedule, for younger children)

  • Finishing multiple tasks one after the other in a row

  • Managing multiple tasks without reminders

  • Starting homework and tasks soon after being assigned them

  • Starting conversations and interactions with others

  • Asking questions when uncertain (without prompting to do so)

  • Being motivated and taking initiative in one’s learning

If you’re finding your child is having troubles getting started on the tasks (e.g., homework, chores, plans, hobbies or interests), then you might like to look at our INITIATION STUDY TIPS.


Emotional Regulation

Emotional Regulation is a reflection of how a person controls and manages their emotions.


Emotional Regulation is important for some of the following tasks:

  • Can negotiate and compromise with others

  • Manages emotions well when feeling stressed or overwhelmed

  • Staying calm when faced with “minor” problems

  • Able to wait calmly and patiently

  • Responds calmly to feedback (or criticism) from others

  • Not becoming overly defensive when perceiving a social wrong

  • Being a humble winner or accepting loser in competitive games

  • Using coping strategies when faced with unpleasant or stressful situations

  • Asserting self in an appropriate way to peers and adults

  • Staying calm (e.g., not overly excited or aggressive) when in social situations

  • Responding well to surprises


Individuals who have difficulties with regulating their emotion might find it difficult to be wrong (or told they were incorrect), find it difficult to accept not getting their way, tend to be a “sore loser”, have a strong sense of injustice when things don’t go their way but see things as fair when they do (even if this is an unfair thing for others), get easily worried over small challenges or begin fretting about events in the future that haven’t occurred yet, and have little behavioural restraint when upset (e.g., easy to burst out into tears). If your child tends to have challenges with their Emotional Regulation skills, you might like to take a further look at our EMOTIONAL REGULATION STUDY TIPS.


If you find your child has a tendency to worry, feel overwhelmed, and upset, you might like to see our previous blog post about how anxiety impacts learning.


Inhibitory Control

Inhibitory Control reflects how well a person can control their behaviours or impulses.


Inhibitory Control is important for some of the following tasks:

  • Thinking before doing

  • Obeying rules and protocols

  • Not giving easily into temptations and whims

  • Pausing before saying (e.g., not blurting out information out of turn) or doing (e.g., not immediately “snapping” with anger)

  • Avoiding distractions

  • Waiting patiently (e.g., for items, activities, a turn)

  • Thinking about consequences of one’s actions

  • Controlling one’s behaviours and decisions

  • Maintaining self-control

  • Keeping promises and commitments

  • Responding thoughtfully and appropriately

  • Seeing tasks through to the end

If some of these behaviours describe things that your child is having difficulties with, you might like to take a further look at our INHIBITORY CONTROL STUDY TIPS.


Rewards and Incentives

Motivation to engage in tasks and activities can come “from the inside” (e.g., passion, interest, curiosity, enjoyment, personal values) and/or “from the outside” (e.g., being positively recognised, good grades, getting a toy, receiving money). Both types of motivators are important for influencing people’s behaviours and decisions to do something or not.


When it comes to studying and doing homework, internal and external motivators have roles to play in influencing students’ decisions to engage in and finish their academic work. Previous longitudinal research has found that intrinsic motivators (e.g., enthusiasm for learning, enjoyment of academic tasks) are linked with positive academic outcomes. Also, it has been found that, as children get older (e.g., from Grade 3 and onwards), their intrinsic motivation for academic work begins to trend downwards while their extrinsic motivation (e.g., to receive good grades) begins to increase. Of course, these are general trends that apply to most students and, as such, it is important to note that these findings won’t apply to all students.


Internal motivators (those that “come from the inside”) compel people to do things for their own sake. Think about a long-term hobby of yours – you’ve probably stuck with it because it makes you feel or think a certain way that you enjoy (this would be the internal motivator for your continuing to do the hobby activity). As you can see, internal motivators encourage people to continue to engage in a particular behaviour or activity (such as studying!) over the long-term. This is because the activity is intrinsically rewarding and motivating.


External motivators (those that “come from the outside”) also encourage people towards certain behaviours and activities but because there is an externally provided reward attached to the activity. Think about a time you remained in a job even though you strongly disliked it or, perhaps, a time that you took a subject at school even though you didn’t want to. It’s likely that there were some external motivators attached to these decisions (e.g., money, avoiding social judgment, avoided nagging from parents, being eligible to apply for/receive a particular university course). External motivators can be very powerful and helpful for creating immediate changes in behaviours (e.g., encouraging students to engage in studying when they have no motivation to do so otherwise).

Importantly, internal and external motivators are not mutually exclusive – it is not an either/or situation, both can be present at the same time. For example, a student may study very hard because they are genuinely interested in the subject (an internal motivator) and also because they want to get good grades (an external motivator).


If you are finding that your child has zero interest in engaging in a particular activity – whether it is doing their homework, brushing their teeth, taking a shower, cleaning their room, and so on – then our REWARDS AND INCENTIVES tip sheet may interest you. For individuals who are reluctant to make any changes to their routines or behaviours, it is likely that they do not feel very motivated to do so. In such cases, introducing rewards and incentives (as a means of introducing potential external motivators) can be helpful for inspiring changes in your child’s behaviour.


It’s important to note that, while a person may begin engaging in an activity due to an external motivator (e.g., the promise of screen time after completing homework), internal motivation can naturally develop by virtue of having regularly engaged in the activity (e.g., a sense of pride and accomplishment). In this sense, external motivators can help to build and lead to internal motivation for a particular activity.


To summarise, the use of external motivators should be with the aim to build internal motivation (e.g., helping your child find enjoyment or positive feelings towards “aversive” activities). This is because long-term use of external motivators can be impractical, unsustainable (e.g., financially), or have a deterring effect (e.g., a person no longer “sees the point” of doing something if no rewards are given to them for doing so). While building internal motivation is the aim, the reality is: people will not develop a natural drive towards all types of activities. There will always be things that we just don’t like to do and we won’t go out of our way to do them (unless, perhaps, we’re prompted by something external to do them). For example, most people won’t ever feel enthusiastic and naturally inclined to file their tax reports but will always only do so because of external motivators (e.g., tax returns, avoiding fines).


We hope this information has been useful for you to keep in mind when developing and deciding on the reward and incentive system that will work best for yourself and your child.


Final Words


Like any type of skill-building exercise (whether it is learning to knit, how to read, or how to improve inhibitory control), it takes time, practice, and changes in routines to become better at the skill. Changes tend to take time to happen and improvements tend to occur gradually. Remember, “set-backs” are a natural part of the process of change and learning. Learning from mistakes is, after all, an important skill (remember what we mentioned when we spoke about Self-Monitoring!) Be patient with yourself and your child when trying these new strategies as it will be an adjustment that everybody in the family will need to adapt to.

You may find yourself trying to juggle (a) the need to be persistent and consistent with the new changes but also, on the other hand, (b) the need to review and reflect on what is working and what isn’t, and making adjustments to the implemented strategies (e.g., tweaks aimed at making the strategies better for you and your family). This juggling act is also normal and necessary for finding what will work best for everybody. In short, try something, stick with it, and (after an adequate amount of trying) reflect and review on how well things are working so further adjustments can be made from there.


What do you think?

We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences about the strategies that work best for you and your family. Please leave us a message below.


Article by psychologist Andrea Sadusky, December 2019.


BIBLIOGRAPHY

  • Callahan, K., Rademacher, J. A., & Hildreth, B. L. (1998). The effects of parent participation in strategies to improve the homework performance of students who are at risk. Remedial and Special Education, 19(3), 131-141.

  • Castro, M., Expósito-Casas, E., López-Martín, E., Lizasoain, L., Navarro-Asencio, E., & Gaviria, J. L. (2015). Parential involvement on student academic achievement: A meta-analysis. Educational Research Review, 14(), 33-46.

  • Dawson, P. & Guare, R. (2009). Smart but scattered. New York, NY: The Guildford Press.

  • Dawson, P. & Guare, R. (2012). Coaching students with executive skills deficits. New York, NY: The Guildford Press.

  • Dawson, P. & Guare, R. (2018). Executive skills in children and adolescents (3rd Edition). New York, NY: The Guildford Press.

  • Drazinski, L. A. (2011). Adolescent executive functions training. East Moline, IL: LinguiSystems.

  • Gottfried, A. E. (1990). Academic intrinsic motivation in young elementary school children. Journal of Educational Psychology, 82(3), 525-538.

  • Gottschall, C. P., & Rozendaal, C. L. (2011). Elementary executive functions training. East Moline, IL: LinguiSystems.

  • Hoover-Dempsey, K. V., Battiato, A. C., Walker, J. M. T., Reed, R. P., DeJong, J. M., & Jones, K. P. (2001). Parental involvement in homework. Educational Psychologist, 36(3), 195-209.

  • Lepper, M., Corpus, J. H., Iyengar, S. S. (2005). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivational orientations in the classroom: Age differences and academic correlates. Journal of Educational Psychology, 97(2), 184-196.

  • Willingham, D. T. (2017). The reading mind: A cognitive approach to understanding how the mind reads. San Francisco, CA: Josey-Bass.