Lack of attention in children is a common problem, but “attention” is a tricky word because it does not refer to just one aspect of your child’s behavior. It may refer to an ability to complete a complex task, the presence (or absence) of some form of automaticity in the ability to perform tasks, an ability to resist distractions, working memory capacity problems, divided attention, and so on.
Children’s lack of focus and attention varies in intensity and can manifest itself through behavior such as:
• Varying degrees of inattention
• Find it hard to follow through instructions
• Trouble with organizing and planning tasks and activities
• Trouble completing tasks
• Day dreaming
• Jumping from one activity to another
• Impulsive or hyperactive behavior
• An absence of motivation
• Shoddy work
While your child’s lack of attention may point to learning difficulties such as ADHD, in reality, a very low proportion of preschoolers suffer from this disorder. Children with ADHD have great difficulties in paying attention, are very hyperactive and have trouble expressing themselves, often because of their inability to manage strong emotions.
What influences your child’s lack of attention?
It is important to know that your child’s capacity of attention varies depending on different contexts and situations. His ability to concentrate and pay attention is influenced by:
1) His emotions
It is human nature to focus on the things we are preoccupied with and your child is no different. If he is struggling with difficult emotions such as anxiety, he is more likely to appear distracted and inattentive because his focus will be on that anxiety or the anxiety-provoking situation. For instance, your child’s anxiety about his inability to read as well as his classmates may be reflected in behavior such as inattentiveness. Difficult emotions diminish your child’s performance, and it is therefore important to help him learn to manage his emotions effectively.
2) Time of day
No consensus has emerged on the best time-of-day for attention, nor on the days that kids are least attentive. While there have been suggestions that material learned in the morning is remembered better in the short term (short-term memory), and material learned in the afternoon in the long term, other studies have found that kids need greater motivation in the afternoon, or that certain children, for instance gifted children or those who have certain difficulties, are more focused in the afternoon.
Generally speaking, your child is more likely to be most attentive toward the end of the morning and in the middle of the afternoon, but it is important to respond to individual needs and to try out different activities at different times of the day to identify what works best for him. He is also likely to be less concentrated on Monday mornings because of the weekend rhythm, and on Fridays because of accumulated fatigue.
The more motivated your child is about a specific task, the more he will be able to focus and concentrate on that task
4) Physical state
Your child’s ability to focus and concentrate can be affected by her physical or psychological state. Lack of focus can point to disorders such as ADHD or psychological disorders that affect her ability to concentrate on a given task. Poor sleeping habits can also affect your child’s ability to focus.
5) Cognitive development
The more developed your child’s cognitive capacities, the easier it will be for him to remain focused on activities. Cognitive development is associated with the development of skills such as language acquisition, the ability to remember things, and problem-solving skills. Remember that there are easy ways to develop your child’s cognitive skills at home.
It can be difficult to cope with your child’s lack of concentration. The good news is that it is possible to increase her focus and concentration, and this has been proven scientifically. Here are five things you can start doing today to help increase your child’s attention.
Five things that will help increase your child’s focus and concentration
1) Find what works for your child
The research on focus and concentration in children has found inconclusive results. Some children concentrate better in the morning, some are more focused in the afternoon. Different children’s concentration on specific tasks can vary depending on whether the task is proposed in the morning or in the afternoon. Some children are able to concentrate on tasks processed by different resources (for example read and listen to music at the same time), others are not.
The first thing is to understand what works for your child. Some children require background noise to be able to focus, others require absolute calm. Observing your child to find out when he enjoys doing certain activities and under what circumstances (calm, soft music…) can help increase his concentration.
2) Help your child focus on the objectives
One of the most common reasons behind children’s lack of focus is their inability to clearly determine what they are expected to do. If your child is unsure about the set objectives, she may find it difficult to identify the steps that will lead her to achieve those objectives and is more likely to lose concentration.
Helping your child focus on the objectives means making sure that she clearly understands what she is expected to do. Asking her to write down or verbally state what is expected of her and/or the steps she will take to attain her goal may help focus her attention:
- “What is the objective?”
- “What three things can I do to get there?”
- “What will I start with?”
- “What will I do next?”
- “What results am I expecting?”
Reducing distractions can also help your child focus on what she is expected to do. For instance, a clear desk or avoiding asking her to do her homework in front of the TV can help her focus better.
3) Concentration exercises
Evidence suggests that concentration exercises can help develop your child’s focus and attention. Several studies have found that specific activities, easy to apply at home, can help improve children’s focus and attention. The majority of these activities work by:
• Helping your child develop his selective attention.
• Focusing on teaching your child to learn to ignore distractions in order to reach set objectives.
• Teaching her to learn to differentiate between relevant and irrelevant information
• Teaching her to learn to select required specific information from a large amount of information given
• Raising her spatial awareness
Concentration exercises have been found to have an impact on children’s ability to concentrate on school-related activities. Resources such as the “Nurturing Constructive Boredom: Over 101 fun activities to boost your child’s concentration and autonomy” guide propose more than 100 exercises to help your child work on his focus and concentration.
4) Respond, instead of reacting to your child’s lack of focus
Punishing your child for inattention is unlikely to lead to the results you want. Similarly, telling him “you have to concentrate” is unlikely to work. The most effective strategy is to find what works for him – morning? Afternoon? Which tasks, when? Calm? Background music? – then to help him clearly identify what he is expected to do and the specific steps he will take to reach his objective.
5) Mindfulness exercises
Mindfulness exercises have been proven to help increase children’s focus and attention. Several studies have found that, by helping individuals focus on the present moment, these exercises have a positive impact on overall focus and concentration. They have also been proven to reduce anxiety and to have a positive impact on overall child behavior. But mindfulness is not an easy practice to implement for children who generally have a hard time keeping still. The good news is that there are relatively easy mindfulness exercises you can start doing with your child from today.
When should you seek help?
Unfortunately, your child’s lack of attention can be a sign of a more serious problem. It may be a sign of learning disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or concentration deficit disorder (CDD), or even psychological disorders. Please seek professional help if you notice some of the following issues:
• Constant lack of energy
• Great trouble staying alert
• Social withdrawal
• Inability to process information despite help
• Depression tendencies
• Incoherent behavior
• Delusions and hallucinations
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