Multitasking—for example, constantly switching between real life and online conversations, navigating mobile apps, or listening to music while doing homework—has become the modern child’s state of being.
All these different tasks are constantly battling for your child’s attention, making it very difficult for them to maintain their focus on one thing.
Yet the ability to concentrate on one task in the moment is the foundation for successful academic and professional life. This ability raises productivity and, according to recent studies, even has health benefits such as increased happiness and better stress management.
Some kids are born with stronger concentration abilities than others, but all kids can achieve better results by practicing and following strategies to improve their focus skills.
Here are some of the most helpful pointers:
Plan in advance
Plan the time your child is going to spend focusing on a certain task. It’s easier for kids to concentrate on tasks they like; so mix fun tasks in with more challenging ones. Alternating tasks in a way that has your child spending less time on unfamiliar and difficult activities and more time on fun assignments.
Let off some steam
Children have shorter attention spans than adults. One reason for this, among others, is their seemingly unbounded energy. Playing sports or engaging in other physical activities on a daily basis helps reduce restless energy and makes it easier for children to sit still and focus for longer periods of time.
The best way to keep your kid’s attention on one thing is to eliminate all the others.
A complete elimination is, of course, impossible, but narrowing down the distractions helps a great deal. Start with technology. Reduce the number of devices used to the only one (or ones) absolutely necessary for the completion of a task.
Have a designated “focus corner”
It’s important to have a designated space for study in the quietest and most distraction-free part of the house, with all the necessary supplies at hand. This space will act as a catalyst for learning and make it easier for your kid to get into “concentration mode.”
Incorporate planned breaks
The ability to concentrate drops dramatically after a certain amount of time. In adults it’s around 2 hours of straight engagement. Kids ages 4–5 usually can’t stay focused for longer than 20 minutes; thus, breaks are a very important part of the learning curve. Kids get to recharge with a snack, short game, or other social activity.
Split big tasks into little ones
Accomplishing a big, important task can seem too difficult for children. This can lead to losing interest in any kind of involvement altogether.
Breaking a large task into smaller ones and following the project step-by-step teaches endurance and patience, and makes it easier for children to concentrate. Finishing small steps lends a certain feeling of accomplishment along the way to the overall goal and encourages kids to continue.
Many parents are against rewards. That’s understandable: at some point it can become quite difficult to differentiate between rewards and bribes, but positive reinforcement is a great motivator for kids. The difficulty lies in choosing the right type of behavioral reinforcement. We advise using homework reward charts (you can download them for free) and giving out stars for every completed assignment. You can provide a list of rewards with the chart: different rewards in exchange for varying numbers of stars.
Rewards don’t have to be material or monetary. Praising your child’s good work is a reward too—and it might even be more successful.
To give children more confidence toward accomplishing their goal, giving specific praise regarding their completion of each task is always better than simply saying, “Well done!” Remember to praise your kid’s everyday progress and not only the end result.