Do you multitask when you teach your child?

Do you multitask when you oversee your children’s work?  Do you listen to little Sia read while stealing glances at your smart phone for text messages?  Do you cut away from little Andy writing his ABCs to check your Facebook page?


According to research, those little breaks in concentration — just two or three seconds — can double the number of errors a person makes in his or her work.  When your work is supervising your child’s work, you can miss your child’s victories and mistakes and miss opportunities to intervene.

All the technology around us and our speed in using it encourages us to multitask.  We run the treadmill while watching TV.  We drive with buds in our ears.  We push the baby carriage while texting.  We make dinner while we supervise the children’s homework.  It’s not possible all the time to stop multitasking, but when it is possible, we should.  Research shows that multitasking is just another word for doing two things poorly. Single tasking, or as Grandma used to say, “paying attention” is the way to do work well.

I have seen parents on their laptops or cell phones or both while their preschooler works a puzzle in a doctor’s waiting room.  The child looks up for affirmation, but no one notices: an opportunity to show the child how important he is — wasted.

When your work is teaching children to read or write, turn off the electronics.  Put the tablet and cell phone out of sight.  Sit close so your child can see he has your full attention.  When he speaks, respond not with “uh-huh” or “um” but with specific words that show you are listening.  Look at your child’s body language.  When her grimace shows you she is confused or needs help, offer encouragement.  When she pronounces a word well or writes a big kid word like “irritable,” say how proud you are of her work.

If you must take a call, answer an email, or mix the meatloaf, tell the child you will work with her in four or twelve or however many minutes.  Then set the kitchen timer so the child can see it, and when it rings, give her your undivided attention.  Let her know some of your time is just for her.  Make her feel treasured.

For more information on the ineffectiveness of multitasking, read an article in The New York Times, at

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