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Shed that nagging mental weight, Part 2: Deter distractions to stay on track

Updated: Nov 9, 2019

Janie Beaumont had a problem: She couldn’t seem to finish what she started. The scatterbrained girl flitted from one idea to the next, from one chore to another, never completing anything. Her schoolwork was suffering. And her mother’s nerves were frazzled.

Sound familiar? Do you have a little Janie in your house whose actions—or lack thereof—affect the rest of the family and your homeschool efforts? Or if you were completely honest, perhaps that person is you?

As a homeschool mom, I sometimes struggle with completing a current task when an unexpected item pops up. You know the kind: a quick phone call leads to two more, the bathroom somehow runs out of toilet paper, your science class's makeshift ocean (i.e. sink) overflows when a “tsunami” hits. At times my initial reaction is to stop what I’m doing and jump right into taking care of the immediate need. Okay, water pouring all over the kitchen floor necessitates that. Usually, though, the pop-up can wait.

Besides, for most homeschoolers, each day is already full of distractions. Social media accounts, pop-up ads on websites, must-read articles on the latest celebrity feud. While the constant switching back and forth between, say, your cell phone and your child’s handwriting attempts, might seem normal, it comes with a price. It interferes with your ability to focus for more than a few minutes at a time. It also leads to elevated stress and anxiety, which further interfere with your focus. And the more you give into such distractions, the more you crave them. The more you crave, the more you seek them out. Hence, your phone gets more attention than your child. It becomes a vicious cycle, making it difficult to attend to the tedious or boring. And that’s a problem.

“I think the generation that is most at risk are the millennials, who have zero tolerance for boredom,” noted Tim Wu, author of The Attention Merchants and a Columbia Law School professor.

If we as adults have so easily succumb to distraction, how can we expect to keep our kids from doing the same? Especially when they’re not particularly jazzed about the lesson at hand? If you were Janie’s mom, you would turn to Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, the friendly neighborhood sage of children’s fiction. This short, round grandmotherly figure has an upside-down house with cookies always baking. She uses magic to solve a multitude of problems, including distractedness. Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle gave Mrs. Beaumont some Accomplishment Powder, which the mom sprinkled on her daughter’s hands and feet while the girl slept.

The next morning, as Janie was making her bed, she tried to do something else halfway through, but found herself stuck. “Mom!” she wailed. “I can’t stop making my bed!”

Much to her mother’s delight, Janie couldn’t turn away from anything she started until she had completed the task. As a result, Janie finished an overdue paper for school, stayed on track during science class, raked all the leaves in the yard, and finished knitting a scarf for Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle's birthday.

If only it were so easy. In lieu of magical Accomplishment Powder, try these remedies:

Mute or turn off your phone during homeschool hours. And put it in a different room on the other side of the house, somewhere not readily accessible.

Establish set times throughout the day to check email and social media accounts, preferably after breakfast and not during school.

Limit your own screen time and that of your child, whether it be a phone, tablet, computer, videogame, or TV.

Write down your tasks using pen and paper rather than typing them.

Model the habits you want your child to emulate.

The next time you’re tempted to give way to distractedness, remember, your child is watching, ready to copy what you do. Cultivating a homeschool environment in which your youngster can thrive begins with you. So do your best to stick to good habits consistently. And toss in a little Accomplishment Powder while you’re at it.


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