Many parents wonder about how to improve children’s concentration and focus, especially because lack of focus can have an important impact on their academic and social outcomes. But the truth is that all children struggle with concentration and focus at some point for the simple reason that this is a development skill that has to be learned.
That said, some children have a harder time with concentration and focus than others, and this can often be explained by their poor executive function skills.
In other words, while a child may appear to be struggling with concentration and focus issues, poor executive function may be the real reason underlying their behavior.
Executive function skills refer to a set of important skills that children learn in childhood which enable them to pay attention to detail, understand and solve problems, resist distractions, finish tasks, practice self-control, and so on.
Children with poor executive function skills are also more likely to display problem behavior because they have a harder time managing their big emotions.
But there is good news: it is possible to improve children’s concentration and focus by adopting specific strategies and by encouraging your child to participate in games and activities that enable them to strengthen their executive functioning.
This article will look at the factors that make your child’s concentration worse, what you can do to improve their focus and concentration, and the games and activities that can help them learn to work on these skills.
Factors that worsen concentration and focus in children
Many children struggle with focus and concentration issues and this explains why multiple research studies have attempted to identify the factors that make concentration in children worse.
These studies suggest that common factors influence children’s concentration:
Poor eating habits are thought to have a negative impact on children’s focus and concentration: It is thought that foods with high saturated fats or too much sugar (especially in energy drinks) can negatively affect your child’s ability to focus and concentrate. Also, there are higher chances that children who skip breakfast will have lower levels of concentration.
Insufficient rest: A child who is not receiving sufficient rest is more likely to be easily distracted. This may be because of engaging in too many activities.
Insufficient physical exercise: As a general rule, all children need some form of physical exercise every day.
Poor emotion regulation skills. Children’s inability to deal with difficult emotions such as anxiety can reduce their ability to concentrate.
Disorganized workspaces reduce focus and concentration.
Lack of practice: Like all other skills, focus and concentration are learned through repeated practice. We will see some of the best activities to help strengthen these skills later on in the article.
Distractions: Distractions are a common culprit among kids struggling with focus and concentration.
Too easy, or too hard: If the tasks expected of your child are not in line with their level of development and their actual capacities, there are likely to struggle with concentration and focus issues.
Learning difficulties: children with learning difficulties such ODD or ADHD often struggle with focus and concentration.
How to improve children’s concentration and focus: six strategies to help
We now know that several strategies can help improve children’s concentration and focus. Here are six things that you can do if your child is struggling with paying attention.
1) Reduce distractions
Children struggling with focus and concentration are easily distracted or are quick to find distractions to keep them from the task at hand. For instance, it is often after they begin their homework that they’ll discover that they’re starving, or that they need to use the bathroom.
All these distractions have an impact on their concentration. An effective way to get around this is to set a schedule for specific tasks and reduce distractions to a minimum.
For example, homework can be done after your child has taken their snack, and you can tell them before they begin that movement is limited during homework, so they need to do use the bathroom (or whatever else) before homework starts.
Being consistent in your approach to tasks will eventually allow your child to understand the behavior that is expected of them.
2) Ensure that your child is well-rested
Rest is important if you want to improve children’s concentration and focus. Encouraging your child to take breaks or even short naps between tasks can do wonders for their concentration.
3) Make tasks manageable
A child who is struggling with concentration and focus issues gets easily overwhelmed when presented with too much information. It is therefore important to break down tasks to make them more manageable.
4) Ensure that your child understands what is expected of them
Some children switch off or fail to complete tasks when they do not understand what is expected of them. If your child has concentration issues, make sure that they understand exactly what is expected of them.
Asking simple questions such as “what will you do first” or “what do you need to complete this task” are an easy way to help them reflect on how to accomplish tasks.
5) Manage your expectations
The ability to concentrate improves as your child grows older, and younger children generally have shorter attention spans. It is generally believed that children can concentrate for between three to five minutes for every year of their life.
A six-year-old can therefore concentrate continuously for between 18 to 30 minutes at any given time, and their concentration level tends to decline with time. In other words, after the 18 minutes, there are high chances that your six-year-old will find it more difficult to concentrate.
This information is important because it can help you determine the appropriate duration of the tasks that you give your child.
To improve children’s concentration and focus, it is always helpful to start with lower expectations – for example expecting your six-year-old to concentrate for 15 minutes – then to gradually increase your expectations as they are met.
6) Make it easier for your child to remember stuff.
Children with poor executive function skills would lose their head if it wasn’t attached! These kids are ALWAYS forgetting stuff – they forget what they are expected to do, forget things at school or forget to take them to school, appear absent-minded, and so on.
The good news is that there are easy ways to get them to remember things more easily. Using visual to-do lists is a fun and easy way for your child to remember the things that they are expected to do.
Even better news: visual to-do lists work for almost every situation – before and after school routines, what not to forget when preparing one’s backpack, visual guides to remember what to bring back home after school, and so on.
Games and activities that help improve concentration and focus in children
I mentioned earlier that poor concentration and focus is often a sign of poor executive function skills. What this means is that to effectively improve children’s concentration and focus, it is important to help them work on their working memory, on their cognitive skills, on their visual discrimination skills, on their organization skills, on their thinking skills and so on.
Also, kids tend to be more attentive to activities that capture their interest, so the chances of success are always higher when you propose attractive and age-appropriate activities.
Below is a selection of age-appropriate executive function activities designed specifically for kids.
- Memory games: Memory games are among the most effective games to help kids work on their focus and concentration skills, and they help them practice holding and remembering information. Your kids will love these colorful printable memory cards specifically designed for children.
- Mazes: Mazes are the perfect executive function tool because they help children to work on so many different skills. They help them work on their focus and concentration skills and also help them to strengthen their working memory. That said, it is important to choose mazes that correspond to your child’s level of development.
If your child is between the ages of 4 and 6, they will appreciate these mazes.
If they are between the ages of 7 and 9, they will enjoy these age-appropriate mazes.
- Cognitive thinking exercises are also perfect for developing different types of skills. I am a big fan of Picture Sudoku puzzles for kids because they help them work on their fine motor skills, their visual discrimination skills, and their thinking skills.
These Picture Sudoku puzzles are great for children between the ages of 4 and 6, and these ones are designed for kids between the ages of 7 and 9.
Remember that proposing different activities is the most effective way to help your child work on their poor focus and concentration. Executive function kits provide varied activities and resources targeted at helping to improve children’s executive functioning.
Final thoughts on how to improve children’s concentration and focus
Knowing the reasons behind your child’s distraction is the first step if you’re looking for ways to improve their concentration and focus. This information can help you to develop a plan to address their behavior more effectively.
Remember that concentration and focus, like any other skills, are developed with repeated practice. These Executive function kits are an easy way to ensure that your child gets to practice different skills while having fun.
Thanks for this article. One of the things from my son’s assessment report was that he loses focus when it’s an activity he has little interest in. Which I didn’t think was an issue given he is only 3 but perhaps it is.
Also you mentioned ODD and ADHD. What’s ODD? Did you mean ADD?
Thanks for stopping by 🙂
Lack of concentration and focus is very common in young kids, so I honestly don’t think that it’s an issue at 3. Kids generally get better at concentrating as they grow older and improve their self-regulation skills. The great thing is that simple games such as Simon says or activities such as mazes or puzzles are great at helping them reinforce these skills.
ODD refers to Oppositional Defiant Disorder and some of its symptoms include aggressive and defiant behavior. It’s not unusual for kids diagnosed with ADHD to also be diagnosed with ODD.
Here is an article with lots of activities you can try at home to help your son reinforce his focus and concentration: https://raising-independent-kids.com/10-evidence-backed-tips-teach-kids-focus-concentration/