After years spent in different sectors of the education system, one thing I know for sure is that concentration in children doesn’t always come easy.
Lack of focus and concentration is one of the issues most teachers struggle with. It is also one of the issues many parents struggle with.
Helping young children concentrate is important, especially when they start school. Starting school is a major transition and although it can be an exciting moment for both children and their parents, it is also a moment that has its fair share of challenges.
A chorus of voices is saying that how well kids navigate this transition may depend on self-regulation. Several studies have found that a child’s ability to develop self-regulation skills determines his or her ability the tools to create successful social interactions.
There is evidence that self-regulated learners demonstrate a higher sense of self-efficacy. They are more likely to be school ready, have a greater sense of well-being, and encounter greater academic achievement even beyond the childhood years.
What research says about self-regulated learners
- Self-regulated learners believe that success and failure are not determined by external forces but rather, lie within their control. There is evidence that children who have developed self-regulation are more accountable.
- Self-regulated learners believe that success involves practice and hard work. One study found that self-regulated learners are more likely to take on more challenges than other students.
- There is evidence that self-regulated learners are happier and more successful in life.
- Self-regulation is about teaching kids to follow instructions and persist even when they encounter enormous challenges. One of the key benefits of teaching self-regulation skills according to a recent study is because self-regulated children are able to listen, pay attention, think, then act.
Adele Diamond, a well-known Professor whose studies have focused on self-regulation, argues that self-regulation should take into account three components:
1. Develop self-control, i.e., teaching kids to do what is appropriate rather than what they want to do.
2. Develop the working memory, i.e., enabling children to hold information in memory while mentally incorporating new information.
3. Develop cognitive flexibility, i.e., teach kids to think outside the box.
The good news is that many self-regulation strategies can be easily applied at home. In other words, each parent has the tools to help increase her child’s focus and concentration.
Teaching kids to listen, focus, follow instructions, keep rules in mind and practice self-control.
1 | Play Head-Toes-Knees-Shoulders
Everyone knows the Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes song. Turns out it’s a great resource for teaching kids to learn about focus and concentration.
The natural tendency with the Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes song is to touch the part of the body mentioned. However, research has shown that asking children to do the opposite of what they are told (for example touch their toes when they are asked to touch their head) helps develop their concentration.
2 | Play Simon says
Having trouble with your child’s concentration? Play Simon says. Simon says helps kids concentrate and follow directions and is thus a perfect game to develop self-regulation.
3 | Try the day-night task
The day-night task involves showing a child a card (or picture) and asking him/her to say the opposite of what is on the card. For example, a child is expected to say “day” when shown a dark card with stars. This tool has been used for years by researchers to improve children’s concentration.
4 | Color a Mandala
A mandala is a circular abstract design with evenly distributed patterns that create a feeling of balance and harmony. Mandalas are an excellent art therapy to calm stressed kids.
5 | Make your child play a more active role
The more your child feels involved in choosing his activities, the more likely he is to focus and concentrate. Several researchers have found that asking kids to plan their activities in advance helps increase their interest, concentration and creative skills because it makes them feel personally responsible for managing their time and activities. Resources such as the “Nurturing Constructive Boredom: Over 101 fun activities to boost your child’s concentration and autonomy” are specially designed to help your child practise decision-making and to develop his ability to focus and concentrate, follow instructions and keep rules in mind.
6 | Use a “pairing chart”
By teaching your child to pair specific emotions (I feel angry) with appropriate responses (I can color my mandala), you can teach your child about self-control. Help your child identify different emotions, then help him or her brainstorm appropriate reaction to those emotions. Write those reactions done and hang your “pairing chart” where your child can see it. If you need help, The Emotions Kit is filled with resources to help reinforce your child’s emotion regulation skills.
7 | Encourage make-believe play
Many researchers and educationists argue that intentional make-believe play is an important aspect of learning. It is a central element in children’s cognitive development
Charles Schaefer, the play therapy expert, argues that role-playing helps a child learn to think ahead and reflect on appropriate responses to frustrating situations. When kids engage in role-playing, they are more thoughtful, flexible and creative in the face of everyday problems.
8 | Become a storyteller
Storytelling requires kids to stay focused for a specific period of time and is thus an effective way to develop your child’s concentration. However, all books are not created equal. There are things to bear in mind when choosing kids’ books. Select age-appropriate books that captivate your children.
9 | Try play planning
Play planning involves asking kids to determine what they would like to do (or will do) during a specific moment (for instance when they’re bored). This can be done by asking them to draw a picture or write about what they will do at that particular moment. The “Nurturing Constructive Boredom: Over 101 fun activities to boost your child’s concentration and autonomy” gives you the tools and resources you need to help even the youngest kids practise play planning.
10 | Play the freeze game
The freeze game was successfully used by McClelland and Tominey in a study to develop children’s concentration. The freeze game involves asking everyone to dance to music and then freeze when the music stops.
You can also ask your child to dance slowly to slow songs and quickly to fast songs. When this is mastered, ask your child to dance slowly when fast songs are played, and quickly when slow songs are played.
The Freeze game teaches your child to listen attentively and follow instructions.
Alternative natural options to increase your child’s focus and concentration
1) Natural supplements
While undertaking the research on improving children’s focus and attention, I came across parents who spoke of amazing improvement in their kids’ attention after using natural focus supplements. Many parents struggling with their children’s inattention spoke of Genius Drops, which are certified organic, gluten and sugar-free and non-GMO herbal supplements made specifically to help boost kids’ attentiveness and focus.
Here are a few supplements you can check out. Don’t forget to read the reviews to see what other parents think:
2) Essential oils
Not all essential oils are safe to use with kids. I have spoken in length about the precautions to take when using these oils with kids. That said, certain essential oils, used the right way, can help your kid calm down and can also boost his focus and attention. If you are already an essential-oil fan or want to try using essential oils to help boost your child’s attentiveness, here are a few ready-made 100% pure blends you can start with:
Remember you can also easily make your own recipes using kid-friendly essential oils.
An earlier version of this post was published on parent.co