Are You Done Yet? How Parents Can Help Their Easily Distracted Child

If your child is easily distracted and struggles to stay focused and finish homework, you are probably a frustrated parent! For some students, homework that should take 45 minutes ends up consuming two hours regardless of a parent’s cajoling and handholding. The good news is there is a better way to help these students.


Recognize the Consistently Inconsistent Pattern

One frustrating aspect of parenting easily distractible children (whether they’re hyperactive, inattentive, or a bit of both) is that they are consistently inconsistent. Some days they toil like a well-oiled machine. Other days they are like an old out-of-sync grandfather clock. Chil­dren with attention difficulties really want to sustain focus, but no matter how hard they try, they can’t always maintain it. Punishing inattentive behavior doesn’t work. Through the use of positive reinforcement and a few creative ideas, you can help your distracted child improve focus and get his work done.


Make a Mountain a Molehill

Depending on the age of your child, he may only be able to focus well for 20 minutes at a time. Often, the time you spend refocusing his efforts after 20 minutes may be better spent giving him a break so he can recharge and begin again. This can be done in two ways – by task or time.

By task – Fold a worksheet in half.  Instruct your child to do the top half, show it to you, and then finish the second half. Allow him to choose the problems or questions he wants to do first. When he’s done with half of them, go on to the rest.

By length of time – Set the timer for 5, 10, or 15 minutes. Tell your child, “Work as hard as you can for this time. When the timer goes off, you can daydream or play for 5 minutes.” Another option is to set the timer for a length of time for which you absolutely know he’ll be successful. When he succeeds, lengthen the span by a minute.


Keep a Homework Log

Teachers may be unaware that homework is so problematic because they only see the final, corrected product, not the inordinate amount of effort behind it. For at least one week, jot down the date and length of homework. You may also want to document any rea­sons you see for your child’s homework struggles. Meet with the teacher and share the information you’ve re­corded. Ask for suggestions to help your child accomplish homework tasks. Remember, students should be spending about 10 minutes per grade level on homework per night.


Let Her Fidget

Various studies have shown that distractible students can actually be more attentive when they are given something to hold or touch. A few good options are the Tangle Junior (, Wikki Stix (, or even a simple stress ball. By simply manipulating these toys in their hands, students are better able to focus.


Insist On Exercise – The Miracle Drug

Aerobic exercise almost immediately elevates the chemicals in the brain that increase attention and focus. These chemicals act a bit like Ritalin or other medications used to treat ADHD.  With frequent aerobic exercise, a distractible student can improve his ability to learn, so be sure to encourage your child to get out and exercise regularly.

With a few of these strategies, your child will be on the road to focusing and finishing in no time at all!



Ann K. Dolin, M.Ed., is the founder and president of Educational Connections Tutoring and Test Prep in Fairfax, VA and Bethesda, MD. In her award-winning book, Homework Made Simple: Tips, Tools and Solutions for Stress-Free Homework, Dolin offers proven solutions to help the six key types of students who struggle with homework. Numerous examples and easy-to-implement, fun tips will help make learning less of a chore for the whole family. Learn more at or

EC Success Stories: Charlie Rosas

From El Salvador to Stanford


Here at Educational Connections, we’ve been blessed to be a part of the lives of some truly incredible students over the past 14 years. We’ve taught children with disabilities how to read, helped young adults get into colleges they had never dreamed of, and inspired countless students to realize their full academic potential. Every once in a while, a student comes along who teaches us more than we teach him. This week’s success profile is on EC student Charlie Rosas, who went from not knowing a single word of English to turning down Harvard.


The Rosas family immigrated to the United States from El Salvador. Charlie was born in Los Angeles, and was raised in an entirely Spanish speaking community. “When we moved away to Virginia, I was determined to learn English,” says Charlie. “My family had a lot of paperwork to do, and I wanted more than anything to help them… There’s a funny picture of me at age eight trying to help my aunt fill out a job application.” To help Charlie with his English, the Rosas family turned to Educational Connections. Charlie was tutored personally by EC president Ann Dolin, who volunteered for the position free of charge. “After my tutoring with EC, I was reading on a 5th grade level in the 2nd grade. Ann has always been a big influence for me. She’s been in touch ever since… I never thought I’d make it this far.”


Charlie’s new-found skills proved invaluable a few years later when his family’s home was foreclosed upon. With his father working two jobs as a cook and a maintenance worker – on four hours of sleep – and his mother working full time as a nanny, Charlie took it upon himself to investigate their legal options. Charlie took on the role of the family attorney and steered them through the grueling legal process. Although the Rosas ultimately lost their home, Charlie proved himself to be an endless well of hard work, encouragement, and determination. Little did he know, the next test would far surpass the last.


Shortly after, tragedy struck again as Charlie’s mother was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. Charlie sprung into action, working with doctors and insurance companies to ensure his mother the best care possible. Charlie navigated the diagnostic and treatment process for his family when others would have lost hope. He did everything in his power to help his family – from relentlessly tracking down doctors for second opinions to filling out mountains of paperwork. His courage and confidence is truly humbling. With some help from a connection through EC, Charlie was able to get in touch with one of the best reconstructive surgeons in the DC area, who took on Charlie’s mother as a patient even though he was at capacity.


Somehow, in spite of all this, Charlie was able to maintain a rigorous high school schedule, taking as many AP classes as possible and maintaining a 4.4 GPA. Educational Connections was able to help Charlie and his sister, who has a significant learning disability, with scholarships and college placement – free of charge. “I can’t tell you how much that motivated her. It meant so much to us,” says Charlie. Despite getting into Harvard, Charlie turned it down for a full ride at Stanford, where he is currently studying political science.


Clearly, here at Educational Connections we only had a minor part to play in Charlie’s story, but he is effusive in his praise nonetheless. “I would recommend EC to anyone. They helped me address exactly what my issues were. Once they were resolved everything became faster and easier… Tutoring helped me believe in myself. It gave me skills that I definitely needed down the road. I can’t thank EC enough.” It is both humbling and inspiring to work with students like Charlie, and an honor to be a part of his life here at Educational Connections.

Why won’t my child ask for help in class?

Tactics parents should avoid, and 3 powerful strategies to turn your child into a confident learner.

“My child won’t raise her hand in class! If she just asked her teacher for help, she wouldn’t be so frustrated with her homework.” If this sounds familiar, you are not alone. Asking for help is not easy for many bright, young students, especially in front of peers. The result can be long, disheartening homework sessions at night, or low test scores and a loss of self esteem down the road. The good news is, there are a few strategies which can make a huge difference:

  • Don’t Scold or Interrogate.

    • “Why didn’t you ask for help?” is a perfectly reasonable question, but it doesn’t teach your child the skills she needs to solve the problem.

    • The more uncomfortable or embarrassed a child feels, the less likely she is to have the confidence to ask for help from a parent or teacher when she has a problem.

Try these instead:

  • Role-play with your child to practice approaching a teacher for help.

    • Start by playing the role of the student, with your child playing the role of the teacher, and then switch.

    • Works especially well with young children.

    • Walking through what it’s like to ask for help shows your child that it’s nowhere near as stressful as they thought it would be, and they will start to realize that their teachers are happy to help.

  • Show them how to write an email to a teacher.

    • Model the email yourself first, but involve your child in the process.

    • Many older students already feel secure and familiar with the medium.

    • For hesitant students, avoids a lot of the stress and social pressures of a face-to-face interaction at school.

  • Location can make a big difference.

    • After school study halls aren’t the best environments for learning. With a mob of students asking for help, the child’s needs may not be addressed properly.

    • Try to arrange a teacher meet-up away from peers in a more relaxed environment. Comfort is an enormous factor in learning and problem solving.

Ultimately, one-on-one instruction is ideal. Whether it is with a teacher, a parent, or a tutor, one-on-one education is the best possible learning situation. It provides more opportunity for positive reinforcement and personalized, specific instruction in a relaxed environment. One-on-one instruction is the best, most comfortable way to learn for many students and generally leads to an academic career of confident problem solving and strong report cards. If you can make the time, the benefits can be academically life-changing for a child.

Ann K. Dolin, M.Ed., is the founder of Educational Connections Tutoring in Fairfax and Bethesda. Her award-winning book, Homework Made Simple: Tips, Tools and Solutions for Stress-Free Homework, she offers proven solutions to help make homework less of a chore for the whole family. Learn more at

Talk So Your Kids Will Listen

Over the last 20 years, I’ve worked with hundreds of parents facing all kinds of homework and study issues.  Many have been successful in dealing with these issues, but others have not.

Those who have made the greatest progress have done two things:  They have opened up lines of communication within their household and they have learned to talk in a manner that their child will listen to regarding their expectations.


The Power of Effective Praise

So often, real progress begins when parents learn how to praise their kids successfully.  Praise is an especially powerful tool when it comes to homework, but many parents get it wrong.  Research shows that kids who are praised for effort rather than intelligence develop the motivation to keep trying — an important determinant of success and one the child can influence.

Dr. Carol Dweck, a professor of psychology at Stanford University and a leading expert in motivation, conducted an oft-cited experiment on the effects of praise on 400 fifth graders.  One at a time, the children were given a fairly easy non-verbal IQ test.  The children were divided into two groups: Some were praised for their intelligence (“You must be smart at this”) and the others were praised for their effort (“You must have worked really hard”).    Later in the testing session, the same children were given a choice of tests — a more difficult test than the first test which they would learn a great deal from, or an easy one very similar to the first one.


Praising Effort Pays Off

Ninety percent of the students commended for their effort chose the more difficult test.  The majority of those praised for their intelligence chose the easy test.  Why did this happen?  Dr. Dweck said, “When we praise children for their intelligence, we tell them that this is the name of the game. Look smart and don’t risk making mistakes.”


Be Specific

Other studies have demonstrated that specific praise is far more effective than generalized acclaim.  When words are too general, children disregard their parents’ praise.   Hence, rather than saying “Good job on that paper!” to reinforce good behavior, try “I liked the way you transitioned from your first point to the second”.   Instead of “I’m so proud of you” to bolster self-esteem, say “You went back to check your work.  That extra step was a great idea.”


Use a 2:1 Ratio

One last thought about praise – use it in a 2:1 ratio when you wish to suggest ways to improve on an effort.   In other words, begin with praise, make your suggestion, end with praise.


Eliminate Idle Threats

Helping your child with homework can bring out the worst in the best parents.  How many times have you wanted to say, “I’ve had it with you!  You’re grounded for the rest of the month.”   But idle threats made out of pure frustration are damaging to kids and add to our burden of parental guilt.  They also serious undermine a parent’s credibility.    What is needed to counter negative habits are rules that you apply consistently.  For example, if your rule is no video games until homework is done, institute a reward (games after work is complete) and a consequence (no games for the rest of the day) if the child plays the game before his work is done.   In order to make this work, the rule must be applied consistently every day.  When you demonstrate that you mean what you say, your child will beg and plead a whole lot less.


Give a Warning Before Consequences

Giving a child a warning before enforcing a consequence allows him to correct his behavior.  Be calm and matter of fact.  “This is your warning.  If you continue to doodle instead of completing your worksheet, bedtime is 8:45 instead of 9 pm.”  Say no more.  If you child responds after one warning, you’re golden.  Some children need two or three.  In advance, agree to a set number of warnings to help get your child back on track. Stick to that number.  State that you are giving a warning then walk away.  At any point when you see he is doing the right thing praise his effort.   Soon the need for repeating warnings should go away.


Try It for 21 Days

Even the smallest changes in the way you talk to your children can have huge effects.  For two days make a conscious effort to praise, eliminate idle threats and give warnings.  If you notice a positive impact in how your children respond to you, you’re on the right track.  Keep going.  The old adage “it takes 21 days to change a habit” is backed by research.  After three weeks, your efforts will pay off in big ways and a good habit in how you communicate with your kids will be established.

Should Parents Go Online to Check Their Kids’ Grades and Homework?

The iconic overstuffed student’s backpack is quickly becoming a relic of the past and as a result, the way parents oversee their children’s progress in school will never be the same.

Paperless Schools

With an estimated four out of five K-12 schools having some sort of presence on the internet, teachers are quickly turning to paperless web portals with names like Edline, Blackboard, Homelink and MyBackPack to make assignments, provide virtual handouts and communicate with parents.  The advantages to students and parents alike are many.  Students no longer have to retrieve reams loose pages from their backpacks.  And instead of relying on handouts and notices hand-carried by their children, parents now have a direct line of communications with the school staff.


The Dark Side to Portals

There is, however, a dark side to these portals.  The power of this technology gives parents the ability to tap into their child’s account, track assignments and take day-to-day control of when and how their children do their daily homework. I believe a certain amount of hovering is appropriate for elementary school student.  But as tempting as it may be parents to for access the portal and oversee the completion of homework each week, parents of middle school and high school students must largely resist this impulse. The most precious gift a parent can give to their child is the ability to confidently navigate life independently.


Going Online to Hover

I was taken aback recently to learn that a parent I work with in my tutoring practice taps into 16-year-old son’s school portal each day and prints out his assignments so they will be before him when he gets home from school.  When asked why, she responded, “If I didn’t he would never do them.”  I worry about this student once he goes to college because he has never developed the organizational and time management skills he will soon need for success.


What is the proper role for a parent in this age of school internet portals in overseeing the completion of homework and projects and studying for tests?   Here’s what I recommend:


  • Choice of System:  Expect that your student have a system in place to track assignments, projects, and dates of quizzes and tests.   It should be up to the student to determine which system works best for her.  Some students find that apps that run on smartphones or tablets are ideal for this application where they are permitted. Others prefer the old-fashioned assignment notebook.


  • Trust but Verify:  Trust that your child has completed his daily assignments and planned out those that are long-term, but be wise enough to verify.  This means that you may want to cross-reference what he says he has for homework against what is documented in the portal.  “Trust but verify” shouldn’t be daily, but should be used when a part has that uneasy feeling that work has gone undone.


  • Weekly Meetings:  Something that works well for many parents is to schedule a regular meeting with your student Sunday after dinner where they can update you on her progress during the past week and when and their plans for the week ahead.   Your student should be able to easily rattle off what is to be done if their assignment book and planner is up to date.  If he can’t maybe he needs some extra support.


In the end, portals are highly effective means of keeping track of assignments, tests, and other communication.  They should be used primarily by students, not by parents who insist on going online to hover.  And if you find yourself in a power struggle over homework, consider enlisting the help of one of our top tutors to help!

Posted by Ann Dolin, M.Ed.

“Tech Breaks” Can Help Students to Focus on Homework and Finish Faster!

I’ve always been interested in research-based ways to help students complete their homework more efficiently.  As parents, it’s our natural instinct to say things like “Turn that off!”, “Stop texting”, or “Facebook can wait.  Do you have to check your account while doing homework?”.  But in reality, our kids may “need” their technology and perhaps rewarding themselves in a disciplined way may just help them to focus a little bit more.

Author and psychologist Larry Rosen suggests some counter-intuitive solutions for students who are being distracted and overwhelmed by numerous tech gadgets and applications. Among them: a “tech break,” in which students are allowed to spend 15 minutes or so focusing only on technology — checking social-media sites, texting or watching videos on YouTube. Rosen suggests this disciplined approach allows students 15 minutes of tech time for each 30 minutes of focused study.

Here’s a great article on the topic from Hechinger Ed.  Read on!

Psychologist Larry Rosen laments the fact that technology is driving us all to distraction. This past weekend, he spoke at a Hechinger Institute seminar for education reporters, which focused on how digital media are transforming teaching and learning in U.S. schools.

In a forthcoming book, iDisorder, Rosen argues that all our tech gadgets and applications are turning us into basket-cases suffering from versions of obsessive-compulsive disorder and attention-deficit syndrome.

“Kids are thinking all the time, ‘Oh my god, who texted me? What’s on Facebook?’” says Rosen, a professor at California State University-Dominguez Hills. He says the average computer programmer or medical student can only stay focused on a task in front of him- or herself for three minutes.

Rosen has suggestions for fighting back, and some of them are counterintuitive. Instead of resisting the urge to text, check Facebook or watch a YouTube video, Rosen says just do it. That’s right: Cure the tech disorder with a dose of more technology!

Rosen calls it a tech break. But rather than taking a break from technology, you give yourself permission to embrace technology for a particular amount of time, be it one minute or 15. “It works amazingly,” he says.

Here’s why: If your brain keeps thinking about a text message you need to return, it’s better to send that text to get the nagging impulse out of your head. Once you stop thinking about sending that text, then you’ve literally freed up space in your brain to focus on more important things, like solving the global energy crisis or creating world peace. Or, just getting that research paper done.

The trick is to be disciplined and only take tech breaks at predefined intervals. One example would be to work hard for 10 minutes, and then allow yourself one minute to check email. For a child doing homework, Rosen suggests rewarding the child with 15 minutes of tech time for each half-hour of focused study. Rosen advises giving the child an option of spending the 15 minutes immediately or accumulating it for later use. After all, you need more than 15 minutes to get into a good video game.

Rosen’s theory has interesting implications for schools. Would kids be more focused and productive if teachers told students to take their cell phones out of their lockers and check their texts in the middle of every class?

Fortunately, there are other effective ways to reset the brain. Rosen lists a bunch: listening to beautiful music, looking at art and practicing yoga. Or going outside for a hike.