In a world of increased multitasking and smart devices that constantly compete for our attention, it has become harder to keep children on task during studying or household activities. Part of this is environmental, but part of it is also a lack of training that is taking place. Being attentive is a skill, rarely an innate talent, and must be cultivated in children for them to succeed.
If your child has learning disabilities, autism, and ADHD, improving your child’s attention span can be incredibly challenging. However, there are many ways that you can introduce an environment suitable for holding your child’s attention.
Normal attention span expectations of a child have significantly decreased in recent years, but when it comes to a ‘normal attention span’ what is normal and what can we do to improve it? Figuring out a normal attention span of a child should be less of your concern, instead just focusing on improving your child’s attention span is the way to go.
Below you’ll find a list of some of the easiest steps you can take to improve your child’s attention span, both at school and home. Implementing these steps will help you get individual lessons across to your child more effectively. It will also help train your child’s attention span for the long-term as well.
Decrease Distractions to Improve a Child’s Attention
Eliminating environmental distractions can be a smart way to improve a child’s attention. It’s important to remember that many things in a child’s environment can draw a child’s attention span away from the task or lesson at hand, including the following:
- Ambient noises: There’s a reason libraries are known as a study enriching environment – they’re quiet and free of environmental distractions. To improve a child’s attention span for a lesson or task, get rid of ambient noises that could distract them. The only noise that you might want to introduce is an auditory cue, such as a particular cleaning song for chores.
- Visual clutter: Science has shown that doing anything in a visually cluttered environment can cause subconscious distraction and frustration that can prevent a child from paying full attention to the task at hand. (Source: NBC) Make sure any areas used for lessons are minimalist in design and free of distracting patterns or clutter.
- Internal distractions: Children may be distracted by internal thoughts as well as their external environment. This includes ruminating on something, or playing pretend to keep themselves occupied during a lesson that bores them. Practice keeping children in the present moment to avoid their mind wandering off. Mindfulness is a great technique to help children be in the moment.
Providing an environment that is as free of distractions as possible can dramatically improve a child’s attention because it means there are fewer things around for the child’s attention span to be divided between. (Source: Parents) This is also why it’s a good idea to do studying in an area which is not usually used for other activities, such as in the lounge room.
Not being prepared for a lesson also serves as a distraction because it necessitates a five or ten-minute detour to gather the necessary materials. Help keep your child organized and make sure all necessary study materials are close at hand before it’s time to start a lesson to avoid a wild goose chase that will dissolve your child’s attention before the lesson has even begun.
Limit Overstimulation and Screen Time to Improve a Child’s Attention
Several scientific studies have linked a child’s decreased attention span to increased time in front of screened devices such as tablets and television, so parents should make an effort to limit overstimulation caused by these devices to leisure time and keep them away from studying activities.
This isn’t to say that children should avoid the use of smart devices, televisions, or video games indefinitely. These outlets provide much-needed relaxation to children and can even help to improve their hand-eye coordination.
Here are a few ways that you can limit screen time and overstimulation to improve a child’s attention:
- Make sure that screen-time is a privilege, not a right. Spending time in front of the television should be done after chores and homework are completed, and not before. Thanks to streaming services and on-demand television, there no need for a child to be stationed in front of the television at a certain time or risk missing a beloved TV show.
- Use screen-time as a reward. Screen-time with TV shows or video games is a strong motivator in many children, and you can improve a child’s attention on their task by promising screen-time as a treat once tasks or lessons have been completed. No child will be hurt by a lack of time in front of a screen, so be firm.
- Monitor your child’s activities with smart devices and monitors. You can increase the value of your child’s time in front of a screen by letting them play memory or attention-based games on a tablet or getting them to watch educational television programs.
- Screens are not babysitters. While it might be tempting to plop down a child in front of the television to zone out for an hour or so after a long day at work and school, this is not a healthy habit. Instead, make sure both parent and child get a break—but not in front of a screen. Give kids time to get a snack and run around a bit before starting chores or homework.
Smart devices, video games, and television aren’t evil, and kids shouldn’t be banned from them entirely or risk a lack of technological integration with their peers. Still, parents should be very conscious and deliberate about letting their children have time in front of screens, whether they’re watching television or playing games.
Physical Proximity Can Improve a Child’s Attention
It is much easier to get and keep a child’s attention if you’re present with them when they’re trying to learn something, rather than stationing them at a designated study area and moving off to some other area of the house. Many parents do this only to come back a half-hour later and find that the child has completely lost attention on their task.
While older children will eventually lose the necessity to have parents oversee their lessons as they become older and more disciplined with their schoolwork, younger children have a naturally shorter attention span. They will need more hands-on interaction to keep them focused.
Here are a few tips for using physical proximity to improve a child’s attention:
- Check your child’s work at timed intervals. Letting your child know that you will be looking and seeing how far they’ve gotten after ten or fifteen minutes can help keep them focused on getting the work done so it can be checked.
- Work on something else within sight of your child. If you need to get other tasks done while your child is doing a lesson, set them up nearby at a kitchen table or within eyesight so you can monitor your child and bring them gently back to the point of attention if they seem to lose focus.
- Be available for your child to answer questions (and have them answer questions in return). Keeping a child’s attention on the task can be hard, so keep them mentally engaged by asking them questions about what they’re learning and being nearby to answer their questions.
Ask the parent of any teenager how much attention gets paid to them when they yell at their child across the house. Instead, get into the habit of meeting your child at their level when it comes time to hold their attention. Make sure they can practice active listening by making eye contact and responding to engagement.
Keep Lessons Positive to Improve a Child’s Attention
If a teacher or parent makes a child’s lessons harsh or punishing, this will teach the child to avoid the lesson subconsciously. This also increases the child’s anxiety about learning things, which can act as an internal distraction that decreases their focus and self-confidence.
Parents and teachers should keep lessons positive, especially for younger children who don’t have the emotional regulation yet to handle constructive criticism. Focus on praising children for doing the things in their lesson they did correctly, rather than zeroing in on the parts of the lesson that need improvement.
Here are some of the advantages of praising a child when it comes to increasing their attention span (Source: Parenting Science):
- Praise makes people work harder. A child that receives praise will be more self-motivated to continue with an activity without prompting from an adult, and this will help improve their innate sense of attention over time. As children become more absorbed in their tasks, they are more likely to fall into a state of flow and enjoy it.
- Praise makes people more cooperative. If you want a child to be cooperative when completing a household chore or finishing a school lesson, praising them and keeping the activity positive can make them less likely to feel rebellious and act out.
- “Process praise” is motivational. Praising how well a child is doing or attempting an activity is more important than praising the activity’s correct results. This is the type of praise that rewards children for their efforts and encourages them to try harder. It allows them to give more of their natural attention to the task at hand.
- Praising positive social behaviors can help children be more attentive to the needs of others. Teaching children to be generous or helpful by praising them when they are helpful to other children or to adults (such as when they move to open a door) can help them be more attentive to those scenarios in the future. This leads to a child who is ultimately more helpful in general.
- Praise is more effective than a reprimand. Through studies, scientists have shown that children are up to 30% more focused in the classroom when subjected to praise rather than criticism. (Source: Science Daily). As much as some old school disciplinarians hate to hear it, scolding and lack of praise do not result in effective learning when tested by real science.
If you want your child’s attention span to improve, keeping them motivated and positive can go a long way toward maintaining their focus. It’s not just good for a child’s attention span and ability to focus either—positive learning environments lead to better emotional stability.
Exercise Helps with Improving a Child’s Attention
Children have a reputation for getting the “wigglies” if they have to stay in one place for too long, but here’s a secret—children aren’t the only ones whose attention span benefits from breaks for movement and physical activity. Regular aerobic exercise can change neural wiring in the brain to improve memory and cognitive skills (Source: Harvard University).
Here are some ways you can introduce more exercise into your child’s daily life to help improve their attention and your child’s focus:
- Incorporate dance breaks. Putting on a favorite song and dancing around exuberantly with your child helps with bonding and keeps them from becoming restless and inattentive during lessons. It also helps keep the child’s mood cheerful. That makes it easier to reintroduce the child to a more cognitive task after the break is over.
- Play tag. Tag is a great way for children to get some physical exercise while also getting a dose of play between lessons. If tag is played indoors, ensure that traction is laid down on slippery floors, sharp corners are covered, and all breakable or fragile items are put away before playing to avoid an accident.
- Do aerobics. Children enjoy aerobics because they like to mimic. Adding in lively music to an aerobics routine can make exercise fun and engaging on a sensory level, too. Aerobics help children learn their right from left, learn to synchronize their gross motor functions, and memorize a routine.
- Take your child hiking. Hiking is a great form of aerobic exercise for both children and adults. This activity also has the added benefit of getting children out into natural surroundings, which has been shown to have a positive effect on mental and emotional health.
- Exercise together with your child. Most adults would benefit from a routine of exercise right along with their children, and exercising with children shows them that you’re willing to lead by example. This is a great lesson for any adult to teach a child.
- Enroll your child in an activity-based class. There are tons of extracurricular sports and physical activities for children to be involved in – from karate to gymnastics – from preschool age up. These activities can help keep them fit while also improving their discipline and helping them engage with new social connections.
Exercise helps a child develop their focus and cognitive abilities, and it can also help prevent them from having to deal with obesity-related health issues from lack of physical activity. Additionally, parents can benefit from exercise just as much as children, making it a great activity to perform together for bonding and encouragement.
Board and Card Games Can Help Improve Attention
Along with physical exercise, exercising a child’s mind can also help increase their capacity to focus. Two major ways that children can increase their attention span through games is through board games and card games.
Here are some of the cognitive skills that children practice when playing these kinds of games:
- Cooperative play in a long-term goal
- Foresight and planning
- Progressive play
While board and card games are a great way to increase a child’s attention span slowly, parents and teachers must choose age-appropriate games. If a card game is too advanced, such as pinochle or bridge, the child will not have the necessary attention span to learn the basic rules. If the rules of the game are simple, then the child will absorb them and be able to apply them.
Board and Card Games for Children to Improve Their Attention
Here are some good board and card games for improving attention in children:
- Go Fish Card Game
- Monopoly Junior
- Crazy Eights Card Game
- Phase 10 Card Game
- Boggle Jr.
Be patient when children are first learning a game and keep the experience as positive as possible. Here are a few more tips for getting the most out of using games to improve a child’s attention:
- Make children face the natural consequences of inattention in a game. If a child misses an opportunity in a game because they weren’t paying attention, don’t allow them to fudge the results. This is an early (and harmless) lesson to children that keeping their focus during a game can lead to success, while inattention can lead to failure.
- Introduce small prizes for the winner at family game nights. This can sometimes motivate children who are impatient and find it difficult to sit through an entire game. It also motivates children to play their best and to pay attention better while playing.
Board games and card games are a great way for children to practice practical skills and are much more interactive than television or other leisure activities. Family game nights with traditional board and card games are a great bonding activity for parents and children, too.
Figure Out Your Child’s Learning Style to Improve Their Attention Span
All children tend to fall under one of three primary cognitive learning styles: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. Here’s a breakdown of the primary learning styles (Source: Missouri State University):
- Visual or sight-based learning: Children who are visual learners learn best through reading and writing. Visual learners may be gifted in writing or the arts but may also be easily distracted by environmental stimuli. Visual learners respond well to diagrams, maps, and charts.
- Auditory or aural learning: Children who are aural learners learn best by listening to instructions or concepts. Auditory learners may also be musically gifted or sensitive to auditory tones. Auditory learners prefer verbal instructions and are often gifted speakers.
- Kinesthetic or tactile-based learning: Kinesthetic learning is based on movement and hands-on activity. Children who are kinesthetic learners learn best through demonstrations or being allowed to do something themselves. These children are often gifted in math and science and respond well to experiments, lab work, and field trips.
When children are taught in a learning style that does not match their natural learning style (for example, a visual learner who is taught through oral lectures), they will have a much harder time maintaining focus. They also will absorb less information than they would if they were taught in their learning style.
It’s not always possible for children to receive information in their preferred learning style, but learning style can be incorporated into how they study and retain information.
If a child has a teacher who gives oral lectures, but they are a visual learner, have them practice taking notes to have a visual guide to refer to later while studying. If a child is an auditory learner, try having them record their notes on a recorder and play them back.
Encourage Monotasking to Improve a Child’s Attention
Multitasking seems inevitable in today’s busy society, and many people consider themselves to be excellent multitaskers. But science has shown that objectively all people do worse at a task when trying to do multiple tasks at once than if they were trying to do them one at a time. This is because your child’s attention span is divided and it’s hard for them to pay attention.
When a child is taught to place all their attention on a single activity at a time, it increases a child’s ability to focus and helps them attain a state of flow. This mental state is performed most effectively by the brain, and new information is absorbed easily.
Here are a few ways you can encourage children to monotask, or do one task at a time, to improve your child’s attention span:
- Teach children to make to-do lists. To-do lists are a great way to keep both children and adults on task and help children to prioritize their activities. To-do lists are also a fun way to keep children motivated since kids like being able to mark a completed task off the list.
- Teach children to batch tasks. For impatient children eager to get their chores complete, teach them to batch tasks by area or type rather than do them all at once in a scattered way. This also helps teach task progression, such as decluttering the floor before vacuuming it.
- Use a timer. If a child has difficulty focusing on one task or activity at a time, introduce a timer and give the child a break by switching to a new task after a few minutes or getting up for a stretch before resetting the timer and returning to the task. This can help children remain focused without getting frustrated.
- Don’t let children eat in front of the television or watch television while studying. This encourages multitasking and keeps children from enjoying their food or identifying triggers of hunger satiation, which may cause them to overeat. Watching television while studying decreases attention paid to the work being memorized.
It may initially seem like a slower way of getting things done to focus on one task at a time, but it sets a good precedence for mental discipline that can improve a child’s attention span. It also sets them up with good habits that can lead them to success in adulthood.
Add Creativity to Tasks to Improve a Child’s Attention
One easy way to get children more mentally engaged to improve their attention is to inject a dose of creativity into the activity. Here are some of the ways that creativity helps to improve a child’s attention:
- Interaction: Creativity increases the level at which a child engages with an activity—rather than being an observer. If a creative element is added, the child becomes an active (and hopefully willing) participant. One way to add creativity to an otherwise boring task is to turn household chores into a game. Another is to add sensory-based elements.
- Choices: When creative elements are added to an otherwise boring and mundane task, it introduces choices to the child. If a child is given a choice that they must decide and act on, this makes them much more focused on the task at hand than if they are given a list of directives to follow.
- Interest: Taking advantage of knowing a child’s special interests can help you tailor tasks and chores to the things that motivate them. For example, children who are especially appreciative of dinosaurs will be extra enthusiastic about dinosaur-themed chores, games, and lessons. These special interest areas can be used to the advantage of the child, parents, and teachers.
Creativity is great for increasing focus and helping children pay attention, but it’s also great because it increases their self-expression. There are countless ways to add creative options to everyday tasks and lessons for children to improve their focus and engagement with their learning material.
Improving a Child’s Attention Is Critical for Their Future Success
It is too easy for parents and teachers to throw their hands up and talk about how their child has a poor attention span, but it is much more productive to take active steps to improve a child’s ability to focus. This capacity is still developing in childhood, and children need positive reinforcement to help a child’s attention span grow. This can help them maintain a love of learning throughout the rest of their lives.
So many factors impact a child’s focused attention and ability to focus on a task. But child development experts & health professionals agree that children ages are absolutely are a factor.
In this article, we have gone through 9 ways that you can help your child pay attention for longer and increase their attention spans. Many kids struggle with attention spans and it’s not just in teen years, also in early childhood. As parents, we need to teach our children self control strategies so that they don’t develop attentional difficulties later in life.