Fidget! Fidget! Fidget!
How to help your child concentrate
Do you feel exhausted from trying to get your child to sit still, stay in one place for more than ten minutes and focus? Is it an effort to get them to finish whatever it is they are supposed to be doing, whether eating, doing their home work or tidying up the toys strewn all over their floor?
Children are naturally energetic, curious and have much shorter attention spans than adults, so don’t expect them to stick at completing tasks as easily as you can. As adults, we make ourselves finish tasks (mostly!) because we know we have too. Children are wired differently, and still learning!
Children commonly feel bored with a task, toy or experience because they have outgrown it; they need to be challenged and stimulated at a higher level – and this will happen naturally as they grow through school and home life. But they may need extra encouragement and tools to help them concentrate if they:
- quickly lose interest in something
- frequently daydream
- often find it hard to sit still and listen
- have difficulty following instructions
- flit from one thought to another
- are very easily distracted
What can you do to help your child focus better?
Know your child’s learning style
Is your child primarily a visual, auditory or kinaesthetic learner? When you understand how your child learns best you can match that style to tasks that are more likely to maintain their attention and interest for longer.
Establish and maintain routines
Homework, mealtime, bath, story / leisure time, bed! Our lives are full of routines because humans are social beings and creatures of habit. We get up at a certain time in the morning to go to school or work because we have to. We do household chores or go to the gym on the same day or days each week. We clean our teeth, shower and dress in a certain order. Routines help us to structure a busy day, they help make us feel safe and secure and help us to get things done! Young children particularly thrive with routine because they understand what is expected of them. If your child knows that food and time to play a video game will follow their homework, they are more likely to focus on the task of completing it.
Routines help both parent and child. They don’t have to be too regimented, allow for flexibility, but consistency is key. You are aiming for your child to successfully complete something so they gain a sense of achievement and feel good about themselves.
Keep routines healthy
Plenty of sleep and healthy, nutritious meals are a must if you want to prevent your child from losing focus. Just remember how you feel when you have had a number of very busy days in a row and a series of late nights! Avoid sugary food rather than food that is going to nourish your child’s energy levels and brain power! Sugar and highly refined food will cause your child to feel more sluggish and demotivated.
Allow nature to nurture
There is nothing so energising as a breath of fresh air. Spending time in nature is so important – for us all. Take walks in the park, rainforest or along the beach. Make outdoor play a part of a balanced healthy routine for the whole family. Keeping the mind and body active in nature will help your child to stay more alert and refreshed generally.
Divide and conquer!
Your child’s least favourite homework, or any large task that must be completed, will feel less daunting if it is broken up into sections. Help your child divide the task in hand into smaller parts. You could encourage them for example to read two small paragraphs of a chapter, jotting down notes or talking about it, rather than labour over the entire chapter in one go! Breaking tasks into timed segments can be helpful too for some children. “Spend 20 minutes on your maths and then come and get a snack. I’ll help you by timing you! Are you ready? Ok, ready, steady, go!” Set short goals that your child can meet realistically.
Factor in breaks
When your child arrives home from school they will feel tired and unlikely to want to head straight into more school work. Allow them a little respite! A power nap (20 minutes), or simply a chance to unwind, followed by a healthy snack will help power up their focus for the task ahead. Avoid passive activities such as simply letting them watch something on the TV or computer. These are more likely to zap their energy and just cause them to feel sleepy, making it more difficult to approach homework with enthusiasm. A short break every now and again, which could be a simple exercise routine – skipping on the spot, jumping jacks, a walk around the block – any short activity that energises your child’s system, will help to increase their concentration, ready to tackle the next segment.
Whether at home or out and about exploring or visiting something that requires focus – a museum or art exhibition – your child will quickly lose focus when they need to go to the toilet, when they are hungry or when they feel tired. Planning ahead will certainly help the day or family outing run more smoothly.
If you want your child to focus their attention on what they are doing, for example, eating during a meal time, then prioritise that activity. Children can be easily distracted by so many things around them – noise, lights, colours, movement, interesting looking objects – all manner of things can draw their senses away from the task in hand! Put away all gadgets if they are not specifically needed for study, turn off the television, avoid bright white lights and ideally, sit and eat with your child at the table too! Soft instrumental music and warm lighting helps many students focus better on their studies so when it comes to homework, for example, think about the kind of environment your child feels most comfortable in.
Train the brain
Have fun playing concentration games with your child. From blocks, construction toys and jigsaws to card games with numbers, shapes, objects, buildings, animals and so on, observational games and memory puzzles, will all help children across the ages develop their ability to focus on tasks for longer, aid memory, and strengthen their ability to think, create and problem solve.
Sequencing activities, such as helping to set the table for dinner, or baking a cake by following a recipe, are particularly good ways to train the brain about what comes next, helping children who find it particularly difficult to concentrate even for a few minutes. Activities like these move quickly from one small task to another, are interactive and present the child with a tangible completed object at the end.
At Chiltern House Preschool, mindfulness practice is now an integral part of the school’s curriculum. Encouraging children to sit or lie still for ten minutes or so, focus on their breath and become aware of their body and their surroundings is a healthy and useful practice. Allowing for these simple mindful moments aids concentration, helps build self-confidence and self-esteem, establishes a sense of calm, and encourages qualities such as empathy and gratitude. Even the very simple practice of encouraging your child to stop whatever they are doing, and take three deep breaths in and out, can help return them to a place of greater focus.
Children learn differently and need to be challenged in a variety of ways to help them concentrate. Be aware that a task may appear daunting to a child but that they are likely to manage it better when it is broken into sections and if they take short breaks in between. Consistency of healthy routines and a balance of indoor activities and outdoor play will all contribute to a less fidgety and more focused child.