Teaching your child to focus

Leanne Gray, of The Prepared Environment, shared some ideas about children’s focusing on her blog and I appreciated them so much that I’m hopefully disseminating them further!


Focused attention is necessary in the classroom and in the home.  We all know how annoying it is when we trying to speak to someone and their attention is clearly wandering.  Even more important, teachers despair when children struggle to maintain focus on a topic or a task. So what should you be doing to help them learn to focus?


First of all, we know how difficult it is to return to something that we were doing after we’ve been interrupted.  For example, the phone rings and we have to break concentration to attend to the call; or our child rushes in with news that distracts us from a task.  Keeping this in mind, how often do we interrupt our young children when they are attending to something and in the process, teach them to be easily distracted?  For example, a young child is trying to master tying their shoelaces.  Do you become impatient and offer to help too soon?


We interrupt by asking questions, commenting, offering praise or encouragement – even smiling.  Try to be more patient.  Realise that very young babies can focus on something for a very long time.  Their brains take much longer to process than ours and children as young as 3 years old can spend up to 20 minutes focusing on an activity.  If this happens with your child, don’t interrupt with anything.  Wait until she is clearly finished, then perhaps offer an encouraging remark.


If he is playing with jumbo crayons, let him play.  Don’t interrupt by telling him the crayon’s colour is blue and getting him to say ‘blue’ after you.  Don’t take away the box she is trying to open and do it for her.  Don’t help her butter the slice of bread she wants to eat. 


In other words, don’t interrupt children when they are focusing on something.  It’s very easy to interrupt a child and you might find it takes some practice to stand back and let them persevere by themselves.  See their endeavours and play as opportunities to practice the ability to sustain attention on a task – without being distracted.


Speaking of distractions, try to create an area in your home where your child can be focused without too much in the environment that may draw attention away.  Don’t allow them free access to a multitude of toys – let them choose one or two toys at a time and focus on those.  Don’t always have the TV or radio on where the child is playing but keep the area quiet and inviting.


Be careful of allowing too much screen time and electronic ‘toys’.  Remember that it has been recommended that children under the age of 2 years should have no screen time at all and until aged 5, only up to one hour of quality, parent-chaperoned use.


Then be cautious too about the plethora of modern toys available that interfere with the ability to focus.  Media-type toys, or active, fast-paced ‘learning’ toys can have attention-robbing qualities.  No children should engage in play with toys that result in a trance-like state.  No learning happens in these situations but they may be negatively affecting children’s developing minds and fracturing their ability to focus and pay attention.


The kinds of toys children benefit most by are concrete objects, real experiences and social interaction.  Magda Gerber (http://www.magdagerber.org) wisely said: ‘The best toys for babies don’t do anything.’  Just like the old adage about how children typically throw the toy away and play with the box in which it was packaged!


So the bottom line is to refrain from keeping your child happy and amused and solving all her problems.  She needs to practice on her own, make mistakes, and go through difficulties.


The Prepared Environment can help you know when and how to offer help to your children. Read more about how to do that at the following sites:


0-3 years (https://www.thepreparedenvironment-com/blog/8-steps -to-help-infants-and-toddlers-do-it-myself

3-6 years (https://thepreparedenvironment-com/blog/four-steps-to-offer-as-little-help-as-possible-primary

6-9 years (https://thepreparedenvironment-com/blog/how-to-offer-your-elementary-children-as-little-help-as-they-really-need


Integrated Learning Therapy is focused on helping children fulfil their potential. If you enjoyed this post, please visit our website at www.ilt.co.za and Like and Share our Facebook posts.


We also offer courses for parents to understand the root causes of learning difficulties and challenging behaviours.   For more information, email us at info@ilt.co.za.









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