Continued from last week’s post “Growing Attention in an Age of Distraction.”
In researching ways to help children learn to pay attention, I came across a comprehensive, informative article by Jane M. Healy, Ph.D., a teacher and educational psychologist whose major area of interest has been identifying practical applications in current brain research for teachers and parents. The final paragraph in her article titled “Helping Kids Learn to Pay Attention” reads as follows:
“Helping our children develop good attention and self-management skills is one of our most important jobs. Studies of successful adults have suggested that “smarts” – or even advanced degrees — are actually less predictive of success than a person’s ability to focus effectively on a challenging problem and exercise the self-control to stick with it. After all, what good is frantic “multi-tasking” if a person is unable to “task” effectively? Many factors in today’s culture of childhood conspire to erode attentional abilities, but wise, patient, and caring adults can provide foundations and models that will stick for a lifetime. “
Her article includes a comprehensive, must-read list of practical tips for parents and teachers.
Rather than summarize her findings for you, I encourage you to click on the link above and read it all. Regardless of age and regardless of ability, everyone needs to work on growing attention skills. Not only is attention closely aligned with self management skills, but being attentive is the means by which we are able to keep God’s Word in our hearts.
“Be attentive to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. Let them not escape from your sight, keep them within your heart.”
Some Additional thoughts:
With Young Kids:
- Wherever your child is on the attention spectrum, purpose to see growth. For example, if he can only follow one command at a time, work on sequencing two. ( “Put on your PJ’s and brush your teeth”) When he has mastered two commands, add a third and so on. Explain to him what you are looking for and refrain from constant reminders. Make it a game to see how many commands can be followed.
- Likewise, if your child can only sit still and pay attention for 5 minutes, work on slowly increasing the time.
- Limit TV and screens. Most children can pay attention for long stretches to TV shows, which are designed to be captivating. Watching TV is linked to a decline in attentional abilities elsewhere however. The American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends no screen time for children age 2 and under and one hour per day for children age 3 -5.
- Teach them what “paying attention” looks like. “Give me your attention by looking at me, listening to my words, and by keeping your hands free when I am talking.”
- Check for comprehension. “Please repeat what I just told you.”
- Include in each day single-focused, peaceful activities such as gardening, walking, reading, and playing outdoors.
- Have them listen to a recorded story or book. For very young children, start with short excerpts such as nursery rhymes. Afterwards ask the child to retell the story. Listening to auditory stories helps children to relax, focus and listen for detail.
With All Kids:
- Made sure to work on all modes of learning. Whether your child is a visual, auditory or kinesthetic learner, they benefit from growing in all three styles. I find that most parents assume their kids are visual learners today and wonder if this is increasingly true with the growing reliance on visual methods to teach kids. Kids benefit from being well rounded learners however and auditory skills will increase their ability to pay attention like nothing else.
- Help them set goals for each time they set out to complete school work. What do they plan to accomplish in the next 45 minutes? What will their focus be on?
- Teach them how to start and how to finish – these are the bookends that hold up attention.
- Limit distractions during home work times. Help them see that by giving their full attention to school work, they will increase their leisure time as well. Multitasking splits attention and increases the time it takes to accomplish something well. Work while you work and play while your play: a great motto for a balanced, productive day.
- Avoid unnecessary chatter: nagging, lecturing, reminding. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Reminding you kids over and over to do something teaches them that they DON’T have to pay attention. In other words, if you serve as their reminder and their clock, why do they need to gain self management skills themselves?
- Engage in regular face-to-face conversations with them. Look them in the eyes as you speak and as you listen. Let them know that you not only want them to hear what you have to say but that you also desire to hear them.
- Have meals together: single-focused meals in which you are conversing with each other and not your gadgets.