Many children find it difficult to stay focused. When your child starts school, however, the ability to concentrate will become tremendously important – and, indeed, it will remain a crucial skill for the rest of his or her life. If you want to help your child develop the ability to focus, start with Step 1.
You can begin helping a child develop concentration skills well before he or she starts elementary school. Toddlers and preschoolers can be encouraged to look at a book for a little longer or to finish coloring a picture. Praise young children when they focus well or complete a task without getting distracted.
Reading aloud to young children has many benefits, including the fact that it teaches listening and concentration skills. Choose books that are appropriate to the child’s age and developmental level, and try to find stories that will encourage children to pay attention – these are usually stories that entertain, excite, or fascinate (rather than basic ABC books).
Play games that build concentration skills.
Blocks, puzzles, board games, and memory games all help children develop the ability to focus, pay attention, and see a task through to completion. And these activities are fun, so they do not feel like work to children.
Minimize screen time.
When young children spend too much time in front of televisions, computers, and video games, they often develop trouble concentrating – in part because their brains become accustomed to this particular form of entertainment (which is often passive entertainment) and struggle to focus without the mesmerizing graphics and flashing lights.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends avoiding screen time entirely for children under two and limiting it to no more than one to two hours per day (ideally of higher-quality content) for all children and teenagers.
Set up a homework station.
Your child should have a designated space for homework and study. A desk in his or her room might be ideal, but you can also set up a study corner in another room. Whatever location you choose, work to make it quiet, peaceful, and free from possible distractions.
You can let your child decorate this space to make it more welcoming.
Try to keep all supplies that are typically necessary for homework at or near this homework station. Every time your child has to get up to retrieve a pencil or more paper or a ruler, he or she may get distracted and lose focus.
Develop a routine.
Homework and study should take place on a schedule. Once you establish a designated time for homework and stick to the routine for awhile, your child will be less likely to complain or resist.
Every child and every schedule is different, but ideally, you should give your child some time to decompress before doing homework. If he or she gets home from school at, say, 3:30, wait until 4:30 to begin homework. This gives your child a chance to have a snack, tell you about his or her day, and get rid of some excess energy.
At the very least, plan to let your child have a snack and a drink of water before starting his or her homework. Otherwise, hunger and thirst will be a distraction.
Set realistic goals.
If your child is getting old enough to bring home a lot of homework, it becomes very important to break this work into manageable chunks and set estimated time frames for completion. Larger projects should be worked on periodically well before their due dates. Children get easily overwhelmed when they see what looks like a mountain of work, so encourage your son or daughter to set small goals and take it one step at a time.
Build in breaks.
If your child has a lot of homework, breaks are essential. After your child finishes a particular task or works for an hour straight (or even twenty minutes straight, for a younger child), suggest that he or she take a short break. Offer a piece of fruit and a few minutes of conversation before having your child get back to work.
You cannot expect your child to focus with the television on and a cell phone in his or her pocket. Make his or her homework time electronics-free (unless a computer is needed for the homework itself), and insist that siblings and anyone else in the house allow your child to concentrate.
Keep your child’s individual needs in mind.
There is no one-size-fits-all policy for focus and attention to homework. Some children work better with music playing (classical works better, since lyrics can often be distracting); others prefer silence. Some children like to talk to you as they work; others like to be alone. Let your child do whatever works best.
Aim for active participation.
If you work with children in a school setting, you will get the best results by teaching children to participate. Ask questions often. When children are involved, they are more likely to be focused and attentive.
Children are most likely to stay focused if you speak clearly and slowly (but not too slowly!) and avoid using foreign words or vocabulary that’s too advanced for the grade level. Everyone struggles to pay attention when faced with something basically incomprehensible, and children are no exception.
Raise your voice in a controlled way.
If children stop paying attention or wander off, it’s fine to raise your voice to call them back to attention. However, you don’t want to scream at children, and you don’t want to overuse the technique – children will simply tune you out.
Clap your hands.
For young children, it can help to have a non-verbal way to call them to attention. Clapping your hands works well, as does snapping your fingers or ringing a bell.