One thing we don’t hear enough of is that it is futile to expect your kid to act in a certain way or to do certain things if he or she is not developmentally ready. We so often forget that childhood is not a race, and that no two kids are similar. Here are a few things you need to know about how your kid’s development affects his or her behavior.
1) You can’t force your kid to concentrate
Most kids have a low attention span which means they are easily distracted and are thus constantly looking for something “new and exciting”. While it’s possible to keep your kid’s attention for varying periods of time, he will often need to pass on to something new fairly quickly and that’s normal behavior.
There are a few effective strategies to help your kid increase his attention span, but his ability to focus increases with age. Expecting him to focus and concentrate on the same activity for longer periods than he is capable of leads to fidgeting, “misbehavior,” or causes him to switch off.
For example, your three-year-old has a need to be in constant motion and this affects his ability to focus on activities that require him to be still and silent. Between the ages of three and four, most children can concentrate for five to 10 minutes on average although they can concentrate for up to 15 minutes if their interest is piqued.
At age five, your kid’s ability to ignore minor distractions increases his concentration. Many five-year-olds can focus on an activity for up to 25 minutes, and six-year-olds for up to 30 minutes on average, but only if they are engaged in an activity they find interesting.
What you should do instead
Finding out where your kid’s interests lie is the first step to improve her ability to concentrate and focus. In other words, your kid is more likely to focus and pay attention if she is interested and engaged. Don’t forget to take into account what your kid is already able to do. Activities that are too easy or too hard will only lead to boredom or frustration.
You can also improve her attention span by changing activities regularly or proposing multiple activities. Evidence suggests that encouraging your kid to practice regular exercise can help improve her ability to focus and concentrate.
You can improve younger kids’ focus by intentionally directing their attention to activities in which they are already engaged. For instance, if your kid is playing with a toy, asking her to name the colors or shapes she sees may help focus her attention. Research suggests that helping kids avoid distractions can also help them learn to effectively manage their emotions by themselves.
Your child is less likely to concentrate on activities if she’s angry, hungry, or tired. Ensuring that she is distracted by neither physical, environmental, or psychological issues can help maintain her concentration. That said, every child is different and some will struggle with focus and concentration more than others.
Fortunately, there are several evidence-backed tips that could help double your child’s attention span.
2) Kids don’t know how to fake it, yet
We all know some kids described as “inattentive,” yet the same kids can be extremely engrossed in certain activities. Kids have not yet mastered the art of faking. You can almost always count on young kids to tell you the truth, whether it hurts or not.
The same is true when it comes to the activities he’s expected to participate in, even at school. If he is not interested in what he’s doing or what he’s learning, he’ll put in a half-hearted effort at best, or simply switch off. The thing is, young children are primarily driven by self-interest. They are unlikely to be attentive if they do not see how the activity will be of personal use to them.
What you should do instead
Personal interest is one of the greatest predictors of kids’ focus and concentration. When you find ways to connect information with your kid’s interests, you make it easier for him to acquire new knowledge and to develop important skills, such as creativity and problem-solving.
Instead of trying to force your child to fit a pre-determined pattern of “good behavior”, show him the available options. Don’t force him to hug everyone he meets, but teach him how else he can say hello or goodbye.
Your kid does not have to be perfect and he needs to know that that’s okay.
3) Kids learn best when they are active
All education philosophers agree that your kid learns best when she’s actively involved in what she’s learning. She learns better when she’s encouraged to discover things by herself. Too much control, in school and at home, prevents her from learning important problem-solving and decision-making skills; it also prevents her from discovering where her true interests lie.
What you should do instead
Parental intervention is not always beneficial. Let your kid discover things by herself. Research suggests that providing unstructured but stimulating environments can help her develop important skills that she can use beyond the childhood years.
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An earlier version of this post was published on parent.com