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Is there a natural way to boost children’s concentration? Are there science-backed or other strategies to help your child focus naturally?
We all know that the more children are able to focus and to resist temptations, the greater their future success. In a well-known scientific experience known as the “Marshmallow experiment”, Walter Mischel and his colleagues placed four-year-old children in front of a table on which was placed one marshmallow and told them that if they waited for a few moments (approximately 15 minutes), they would get two marshmallows.
Not all kids were able to wait for the second marshmallow.
The studies found that some of the children who had been able to resist did so by focusing their attention elsewhere.
Studies that have attempted to reproduce Mischel’s findings have highlighted several shortcomings of his initial study.
For instance, children from disadvantaged backgrounds may find it harder to wait for the second marshmallow because they prefer the “sure thing” over the “promised one”, or those who are accustomed to broken promises may make little effort to resist the goodies.
That being said, many studies have shown that children who are capable of displaying focus and self-control also have a better chance of attaining career success, a satisfactory family life and physical health, and they also enjoy greater happiness overall.
In other words, an ability to focus, especially in a world filled with constant distractions, makes it easier for children to reach their full potential.
Understanding concentration in children
Almost every parent struggles with their child’s focus and concentration at some point for the simple reason that concentration is a learned skill. This means that your child’s ability to focus increases as they grow older or as they practice their focus skills.
Younger children have shorter concentration spans and are more easily distracted than older ones. Also, when your child has reached their attention span, there is little that you can do to make them “keep going”.
Understanding children’s attention spans is therefore a good place to start if you’re wondering about how to help your child focus naturally.
Attention span refers to the duration during which your child can concentrate on a given task before losing focus. Many experts suggest that the average duration of a child’s attention span varies from two to three minutes per year of age.
In other words:
- a 2-year-old can focus for between four to six minutes
- a 3-year-old for between six to nine minutes
- a 4-year-old for between eight to 12 minutes
- a 5-year-old for between 10 to 15 minutes
- a 6-year-old for between 12 to 18 minutes
- a 7-year-old for between 14 to 21 minutes
- an 8-year-old for between 16 to 24 minutes
- a 9-year-old for between 18 to 27 minutes
- a 10-year-old for between 20 to 30 minutes
That said, experts today are saying that there have been drastic drops in attention spans over the years. Fortunately, there are many ways to help your child focus naturally.
Here are nine easy ways to get started.
9 simple tips to help your child focus naturally
1) Positive reinforcement can help your child focus naturally
Many people believe that positive reinforcement is synonymous with bribing kids. They are wrong. This parenting strategy is one of the most effective strategies that can help you change your child’s behavior.
It is based on the idea that the behavior that gets reinforced gets repeated. Positive reinforcement is about showing your child the expected behavior, then showing them that you have noticed when that behavior is displayed.
Simple tactics such as giving them a dot-to-dot drawing and having them complete it each time they remain focused for a specific period of time is an easy and effective way to help your child focus naturally.
2) Ensure that your child is receiving sufficient rest
Fatigue has a negative impact on your child’s ability to concentrate and focus, so ensure that they are getting sufficient rest and sleep.
It is also important to avoid overwhelming them by breaking down activities into more manageable tasks, taking breaks, and paying attention to their attention spans.
3) Introducing mindfulness is an easy way to help your child focus naturally
Several studies proposing mindfulness programs to elementary school students have found that mindfulness-meditation training can help reduce attention problems.
In one study, 16 seven-to-eight-year-olds received mindfulness training over an eight-week period.
Three meditation exercises, presented as exercises or “games”, were used to help promote the children’s awareness of the aspects of the self related to breath, body parts and thoughts (mindfulness of breathing, (ii) mindfulness of body parts, (iii) and mindfulness of thoughts).
The study found that after just eight weeks, the children who had participated in the program were more focused.
In addition to improving your child’s focus naturally, introducing them to mindfulness can also make it easier for them to deal with issues such as anxiety.
If you don’t know where to start, books such as Sitting Still Like a Frog have great tips to introduce your child to mindfulness. You can also download this free 5-4-3-2-1 grounding exercise which works really well with kids.
4) Ensure that your child is eating their breakfast
There is proof that breakfast – or lack of breakfast – has an influence on behavior and academic performance in children and adolescents.
In one study, researchers found that children who ate their breakfast on a habitual basis had better academic performance and were more focused in the classroom. Skipping breakfast on a regular basis was found to lead to poorer executive functions.
In other words, the available studies suggest that there is a high chance that hungry kids are less-focused kids.
Although the available scientific evidence is too scant, there have been suggestions that banning food stuffs such as artificial food dyes, too much sugar, caffeine, dairy products (for lactose intolerant kids) from your kid’s can help reduce focus and anxiety-related issues.
To help your child focus naturally, it is therefore important to ensure that they eat their breakfast on a regular basis, and that they avoid food stuffs with too much sugar, caffeine or artificial food dyes.
5) Connecting with nature can help your child focus naturally
There is now scientific proof that nature is good for children. Research has shown that learning in nature can help improve motivation, especially in the kids who struggle most with focus and attention issues.
Nature-based instruction has been proven to improve focus and attention, reduce anxiety and stress, improve self-discipline and control, increase learner interest, and keep kids physically fit.
The available research suggests that exposure to nature and to natural settings boosts focus, and several studies have shown that children tend to concentrate more when they are exposed to views of greenery rather than to windowless classrooms.
Taking your child outdoors for nature-based activities is an easy way to help them focus naturally. You could also propose views of nature or greener learning environments in the spaces where they need to concentrate, for example when doing their homework.
6) Regular exercise is an easy way to help your child focus naturally
Many studies suggest that regular exercise keeps the body in shape, improves concentration, reduces stress and anxiety, and stimulates brain growth.
In a study that sought to understand how sports influences performance, children’s cognitive functions such as their working memory, attention, and logic and reasoning skills were analyzed immediately after they had exercised, and then 45 minutes later.
The researchers observed higher concentration levels immediately after the children had been involved in physical exercises.
Proposing regular opportunities for physical activity is an easy way to help your child focus naturally.
Remember that even activities such as raking leaves, riding bikes, playing hide and seek, skateboarding, skipping, playing with hula hoops, and so on can all help kids get their daily dose of physical exercise.
7) Remove distractions
Most children (and many adults 😊) cannot resist distractions, meaning that diminishing or removing all distractions is the easiest way to help them concentrate. For example, preparing a space free of distractions where your child can do their homework can help them remain focused.
Identifying their key distractors is therefore an easy way to help them focus.
8) Use games
9) Make your child feel like they are in control
Simple strategies such as giving your child an alarm clock and telling them that they can stop or take a break when the alarm goes off are an easy way to make activities more interesting for them and to help them remain focused.
Such a strategy also gives them the opportunity to manage their concentration by themselves.
Last thoughts on helping your child focus naturally
Children’s attention spans vary and there is rarely any cause for concern if your child appears to be more distracted than usual.
Also, some children are naturally “less focused” than others and may find it frustrating to remain seated for long periods of time.
That said, do not hesitate to talk to your family doctor or your child’s pediatrician if they are always easily distracted and seem unable to pay attention and to practice self-control.