Building a Winner: Putting Your Child on the Right Track for Education, Developing Attention Skills
A child who is inattentive is frustrating for both parents and teachers. Directions need to be repeated. The child may not complete tasks. These behaviors are exasperating and may hinder the child’s progress in school and impact his or her social interaction and ability to make friends. In general, children can only stay focused on a task for two to five minutes times his/her age. This means a child of four can only pay attention for 8-20 minutes.
A research study found that children who were rated high by their parents on attention and persistence had a 50% greater chance of earning a bachelor’s degree by age 25 than did children whose parents rated them low. This means that if your child can pay attentionand persist on tasks at age four, the odds of s/he completing college are greatly increased.
Children who have a hard time paying attention may have difficulty controlling their emotions as learning and attention require the ability to regulate emotions. When a child is stressed or fearful, s/he cannot control his/her emotions and focuses on other things. When something is more pleasurable and stimulates interest, children can pay attention more easily. A child may find it more difficult to pay attention in school to those activities he/she finds unpleasant such as math problems or writing an essay.
As adults, many of us try to multi-task. This is less useful that it seems. While trying to pay attention to several things at once, we do not give full attention to anything. In order to get your child’s attention, you need to model giving attention. When working with your child, make sure you pay full attention to the child. Be a positive role model.
The following are tips to help you develop your child’s ability to pay attention.
Stand close to your child. Make physical contact. Have the child look you in the eye. Give directions in a clear, calm manner. Break down complex instructions into a series of shorter instructions.
Before starting activities that require close attention, check to see that your child is not hungry or tired. Give healthy snacks before structured activities or homework and give a break between activities. Have your child do some physical activity as this can release stress and help your child focus better.
Limit television, computer and video game time. These can over-stimulate children and shorten attention spans. Introduce activities that will increase your child’s attention span such as playing games, reading and direct discussions.
Use the arts. When children take on the roles of other characters and pretend, they can attend to tasks for a long time. Consider using music as an engaging way to develop focus.
Make your child feel secure. When your child is nervous, feels threatened or feels s/he cannot perform the task, it is more difficult to focus on the task at hand. Once the “threat” is removed, the child will enjoy new and stimulating activities.
Roslyn A. Haber, Ed.D and Marlyn Press, Ed.D are Associate Professors at Touro College Graduate School of Education