Looking for tips on helping kids focus? These three techniques will help! Perfect for the child who can’t pay attention for a long time.
They told you kids can’t sit still, but it feels like your child has taken that to a whole new level.
She struggles with staying put at the dinner table, fidgets at school, and hops from one activity to the next. The only time she seems to be able to focus is when she’s doing something she enjoys, like playing with building toys or solving puzzles. Distractions lead to trouble focusing on what she’s doing.
If you’ve struggled with helping kids focus on one activity for a long time, you’re not alone. Many parents understand the benefits of focus but can’t seem to convince their kids to follow suit.
How can we get young children to focus for a long amount of time, without the constant reminders?
Helping kids focus with these 3 techniques
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Perhaps we can start with why kids—and let’s face it, adults—can have a lack of focus. Author Nir Eyal writes in Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life:
“We can take solace in knowing we are hardwired for this sort of dissatisfaction… Feeling contented wasn’t good for the species. Our ancestors worked harder and strove further because they evolved to be perpetually perturbed, and so we remain today.
“Unfortunately, the same evolutionary traits that helped our kin survive by driving them to constantly do more can conspire against us today.”
In other words, our brains are wired to constantly look for more.
Still, I know it’s not impossible for kids to stay focused. In fact, I knew I was onto something one day when I took my toddler to the park. I watched him toss acorns, rocks, and leaves into a puddle, as he observed which items sunk or floated.
While I was bored out of my mind, he remained engrossed with this simple activity that I realized he had been at it for an hour and a half. Ninety minutes of plopping rocks and acorns into water.
It was then I learned that helping a child focus, without the anxiety or power struggles, is absolutely possible. Much of that has to do with their temperament, but it turns out, we can also influence their ability to focus.
These three simple techniques will do just that:
1. Follow your child’s lead
Have you noticed that your child is more likely to focus for long periods of time when you leave her be? One of the best ways to nurture focus and concentration is to simply follow her lead. Don’t explain the rules of the game or dictate how to play.
Instead, let her decide how to play, no matter how unconventional her behavior might be (Pushing the swings instead of riding in them? Sure!). Lay toys and books all over your home and allow her to decide what to play with, when, and for how long.
Yes, you can still create general routines (“Let’s finger paint this morning”) and make suggestions (“You can use this piece to make your car steadier”). But allow her to determine the course of play. She gets to decide that she’ll play with her stuffed bunny, and maybe later, stack the blocks.
And be careful not to cram too many commitments in your schedule that would encroach on her down time. She’s more likely to stay interested and develop a longer attention span with child-led play.
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2. Don’t interrupt your child’s activity
Imagine you’re at work, concentrating on an assignment. A few minutes in, a coworker asks if you could send her a particular file, so you stop your work to look for it.
But just as you finished that task, another coworker swings by and starts talking about her day. By the end of the hour, you realize you hardly made any progress on your assignment from all these interruptions.
The same is true for kids.
Pay attention to how often you interrupt your child, from calling her over for snack to suggesting another toy to play with. We mean well, and sometimes we need to interrupt (like when it’s time to go to the grocery store).
But as much as possible, sit in the sidelines and allow her to stay focused. Give her the space to concentrate until you absolutely have to cut the activity short. Let her transition to the next activity on her own. And don’t hover over every minute of the activity or decide what she should do next.
Instead, ask questions, but in a way that allows her to continue the task and not lose focus. Stay nearby to answer her questions or offer help when she asks. You can even use this opportunity to do your own tasks nearby, like chopping vegetables or reading a book.
She’ll let you know when she wants company or wants to move on. Otherwise, give her uninterrupted time to play and discover. You’re also encouraging new skills like self-control and the motivation to finish a task.
Get more tips about how to stop hovering over your child.
3. Find activities between easy and hard
Give your child an easy toy, especially one she has already figured out, and she’ll lose interest quickly. But do the same with a toy too difficult for younger children, and she’ll get frustrated and give up.
Either way, one thing is for sure: she’ll lose focus immediately.
If you notice she’s unable to concentrate for long periods of time, see if the activity itself is either too easy or too difficult. If so, find one that falls right in between: not too easy, but not too hard, either.
The activity should be challenging enough that it takes effort, but not so difficult it leaves her frustrated. This way, curiosity drives her to continue to explore and experiment, with the expectation that she’ll eventually master it on her own.
Helping kids focus is more important than ever and, thankfully, simple to do at home.
Start by following your child’s lead—her initiative will drive her focus more than following your directives. Then, avoid interrupting unnecessarily so she has plenty of time to play and concentrate.
And finally, provide activities that fall between easy and hard. They should be challenging enough to keep her interested, but not impossible for her developmental level.
I’m not sure what my toddler learned during that hour and a half at the puddle. Maybe he realized that leaves float while rocks sink, or he found new ways to play with water that he can try during bath time. Or he just liked looking at the reflection of the trees above him.
Whatever he got out of it, he loved every moment. Beeping trucks and yelling kids and even a Mama trying to coerce him to go home didn’t deter his focus.
Get more tips:
- How to Teach Our Kids to Embrace Mistakes
- Teach Your Child the Value of a Job Well Done
- How to Keep Your Child Learning in the Summer
- 8 Long Term Benefits of Reading to Children
- How to Raise a Bright Child
Don’t forget: Join my newsletter and get sample worksheets from my workbook, Letters and Numbers—at no cost to you:
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