As adults, sometimes our attention can be scattered. If we have to struggle to focus back on the task at hand when we find ourselves distracted, we cannot expect children to be able to focus on a task for a long period of time.
Children often lose focus easily, and, when asked to perform a task they perceive to be challenging or difficult, they are especially likely to give up before truly trying. If you notice that a child is regularly struggling to pay attention during challenging tasks, here are some strategies that might help improve that attention span and hence the overall outcome of these tasks.
Don’t Be Afraid to Get Creative
A little creativity goes a long way when dealing with a mundane task. Many children struggle when asked to do something they do not want to do. Instead of insisting your child should resort to working out problem sums on a worksheet, you can get him to use a few toys to represent variables, illustrate them with Play-Doh, or even writing them in coloured chalk outdoors. A child who is enjoying himself is much more likely to give the task at hand more attention. Learning activities like these will not only stimulate the senses and refine motor skills, but also reinforce memories as well.
Show your child what paying attention means and how it looks through example. Take the time to notice and point out small and fascinating details about your environment to your child. Talk about the colours of items or the taste of a certain food; pick up a rock or flower you see along the way and describe its weight, feel and texture. Additionally, play games within your surroundings. Memory and/or board games will help to strengthen attention muscles. Some great examples are ‘I Spy’ and ‘Simon Says’.
Give Attention to Get Attention
In order to get your child’s attention, you must also give him attention. It is crucial to be in close physical proximity while giving clear and succinct instructions so that your child can focus on what is being said better. Avoid yelling requests from one room to another. Instead, go to the room your child is in, stand in front of him, make eye contact, be at eye-level or touch his shoulder while saying, “Hey, I need you to do this now.”
It is vital to remove both visual and physical distractions as much as possible. Clutter in the classroom or on the desk can make it really hard to keep his brain where it needs to be. Therefore, remove unnecessary items and/or visual experiences from your child’s workspace. This gives him fewer reasons for not being focused on what he needs to do.
Siblings are often another major cause of distraction to one another. If this is the case, have them work in separate rooms. This method also allows you to give each child individual attention and maximise everyone’s productivity.
Hunger and fatigue are also common needs that rapidly reduce a child’s attention span. A healthy snack before any homework or structured task can help your child out greatly. Choose low-sugar, whole-grain foods, raw vegetables in dip, yoghurt and fruit. Good sleeping habits significantly make a difference as well, and many children require a little downtime after they return from school.
Get Up and About
Research has also shown that exercise and physical activity can help children to pay attention. A study in 2016 also showed increased memory performance in children when exposed to physical activity. It is a good idea to include some minutes of active play before getting your child to perform a challenging task. Also, include breaks for some quick stretching and/or jumping during homework time to help your child stay more engaged.
Break it Down
When a task is perceived to be too difficult for a child, he can often choose to tune out and give up his attention. It may therefore be helpful for instructions to be divided into smaller steps. For example, instead of telling your child to tidy his room, you may say,” First, put all your toys away, and then I will tell you what you need to do next.” Writing down instructions and displaying the note on the wall also serve as fantastic visual reminders of what needs to be done, instead of frequent missed verbal reminders. Shorter instructions are perceived more positively and more effective than long-winded explanations. Finally, remember to assure your child by praising his efforts and not just the outcome.