Declining Attention Spans & How Parents Can Expand Them

There’s no doubt that technology has taken over nearly all aspects of our lives. While we can’t discount its obvious benefits, I can’t be the only one who’s worried about the negative effects of technology on our kids.

Of most concern, is what technology is doing to our children’s attention spans. I’ve heard several parents complaining that their children can hardly concentrate on tasks for more than a few minutes at a time. They seem to get easily bored and distracted and are always on the lookout for something more interesting to do. Thanks to technology, there’s no shortage of distractions.

I got to thinking, if we parents are finding it so hard to tear ourselves from our screens and pay attention to what is going on around us, how much harder is it for our kids? Is there anything we can do to help them stay on task?

I went searching for answers and here are some tips I found to improve your child’s attention span:

1. Give and you will receive.

With so many things clamoring for your attention, it’s sometimes difficult to focus on the moment. However, if we want our children to learn to pay attention to what we say, we need to give them our undivided attention too.

For instance, when giving instructions or making assertions, being in close proximity to your child works better than shouting requests from the next room. To get them to pay attention, be in the same room, get down to their level, make eye contact then make the request by saying, “ I need you to do this or that right now.”

2. Use creativity to make tasks more interesting.

The attention a child gives a task is directly proportional to their interest in the matter. This explains why some kids can play with Legos for 30 minutes but have trouble sitting still to write their names.

Employing a little creativity when tackling mundane tasks can solve this. For example, instead of asking your child to write out her name in a book, ask her to write it out with chalk on a board or shape it out with pebbles or Play-Doh. You can also teach your child to do math by counting fruits, building blocks etc. By incorporating these elements of play, you turn something dull into a fun activity, capturing your child’s attention.

Ensure that you also vary the tasks your child does and include adequate breaks to prevent boredom from setting in.

3. Watch what your child eats.

Hunger is one of those distractions that make it hard for kids to concentrate on what they’re doing. To combat hunger, ensure your child eats healthy meals that keep them fueled throughout the day.

Start each day by giving your child a nutritious breakfast rich in protein and healthy carbohydrates. Eggs, whole-grain cereals, peanut butter sandwiches are all excellent choices and will ensure your child’s energy level remains high for a long time. Also remember to provide healthy, filling snacks to keep them going between meals.

4. Exercise the body to improve concentration.

It’s easy to underestimate just how important exercise and play are to children. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), play can improve your child’s cognitive function, social skills, memory, attention and concentration. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends allowing children to participate in at least an hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity per day to improve their brain development.

So instead of letting your child vege out in front of the computer indoors, encourage them to take the dog for a run outside, ride a bike or take up rollerblading- anything to move their bodies. This will not only improve their muscle coordination but also help increase their concentration, intelligence and social development.

5. Adequate sleep will bolster depreciating attention spans.

Good sound sleep is known to work wonders for depreciating attention spans of both kids and adults. A full night’s sleep ensures that your child has a solid foundation for both body and mind development. Adequate sleep will allow your child to maintain optimal mental alertness– this is the state in which we have the greatest attention span and are more receptive to what is going on around us, allowing us to learn and retain more information.

Additionally, a good night’s rest allows your child’s brain to recharge while processing and storing the information received during the day, hence improving your child’s memory and retention.

6. Turn off electronics to turn on that focus.

All the exercise and sleep in the world counts for naught if your child is constantly distracted by electronic devices. A 2011 study conducted to study the impact of fast-paced cartoons on young children found that these programs significantly shortened the attention spans of 4-year-olds. Use of TVs, computers, smartphones and video games not only hurt your child’s concentration but also condition them to expect immediate results. Unfortunately, that is not how life works. In real life, we all have to put up with routine tasks which require patience and attention to get through.

To help your children regain their focus, limit screen time in your household and replace it with family time instead. Have your kids and teens unplug their devices and find ways to bond and strengthen your connection. Activities such as solving puzzles, playing memory or board games or reading together strengthen your kids’ attention muscles and bring you closer as a family.

A final word …

Helping your child improve their focus calls for a lot of positive reinforcement, encouragement and patience. However, if you notice that it’s becoming increasingly difficult for your child to concentrate on even the simplest tasks, it’s recommended that you seek help from a professional.


About the Author: Cindy Price

Cindy Price is a Northern Utah wife, mom, and writer. She has 15 years experience writing educational content in the many areas of parenting, with an emphasis on teen-related issues, from which she applies and expounds on her personal experience raising three teenagers. You can find Cindy on Twitter.

 

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Anxiety shows up to check that you’re okay, not to tell you that you’re not. It’s your brain’s way of saying, ‘Not sure - there might be some trouble here, but there might not be, but just in case you should be ready for it if it comes, which it might not – but just in case you’d better be ready to run or fight – but it might be totally fine.’ Brains can be so confusing sometimes! 

You have a brain that is strong, healthy and hardworking. It’s magnificent and it’s doing a brilliant job of doing exactly what brains are meant to do – keep you alive. 

Your brain is fabulous, but it needs you to be the boss. Here’s how. When you feel anxious, ask yourself two questions:

- ‘Do I feel like this because I’m in danger or because there’s something brave or important I need to do?’

- Then, ‘Is this a time for me to be safe (sometimes it might be) or is this a time for me to be brave?

And remember, you will always have ‘brave’ in you, and anxiety doesn’t change that a bit.♥️

#positiveparenting #mindfulparenting #parenting #childanxiety #heywarrior #heywarriorbook
The temptation to fix their big feelings can be seismic. Often this is connected to needing to ease our own discomfort at their discomfort, which is so very normal.

Big feelings in them are meant to raise (sometimes big) feelings in us. This is all a healthy part of the attachment system. It happens to mobilise us to respond to their distress, or to protect them if their distress is in response to danger.

Emotion is energy in motion. We don’t want to bury it, stop it, smother it, and we don’t need to fix it. What we need to do is make a safe passage for it to move through them. 

Think of emotion like a river. Our job is to hold the ground strong and steady at the banks so the river can move safely, without bursting the banks.

However hard that river is racing, they need to know we can be with the river (the emotion), be with them, and handle it. This might feel or look like you aren’t doing anything, but actually it’s everything.

The safety that comes from you being the strong, steady presence that can lovingly contain their big feelings will let the emotional energy move through them and bring the brain back to calm.

Eventually, when they have lots of experience of us doing this with them, they will learn to do it for themselves, but that will take time and experience. The experience happens every time you hold them steady through their feelings. 

This doesn’t mean ignoring big behaviour. For them, this can feel too much like bursting through the banks, which won’t feel safe. Sometimes you might need to recall the boundary and let them know where the edges are, while at the same time letting them see that you can handle the big of the feeling. Its about loving and leading all at once. ‘It’s okay to be angry. It’s not okay to use those words at me.’

Ultimately, big feelings are a call for support. Sometimes support looks like breathing and being with. Sometimes it looks like showing them you can hold the boundary, even when they feel like they’re about to burst through it. And if they’re using spicy words to get us to back off, it might look like respecting their need for space but staying in reaching distance, ‘Ok, I’m right here whenever you need.’♥️
We all need certain things to feel safe enough to put ourselves into the world. Kids with anxiety have magic in them, every one of them, but until they have a felt sense of safety, it will often stay hidden.

‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what they feel. At school, they might have the safest, most loving teacher in the safest, most loving school. This doesn’t mean they will feel enough relational safety straight away that will make it easier for them to do hard things. They can still do those hard things, but those things are going to feel bigger for a while. This is where they’ll need us and their other anchor adult to be patient, gentle, and persistent.

Children aren’t meant to feel safe with and take the lead from every adult. It’s not the adult’s role that makes the difference, but their relationship with the child.

Children are no different to us. Just because an adult tells them they’ll be okay, it doesn’t mean they’ll feel it or believe it. What they need is to be given time to actually experience the person as being safe, supportive and ready to catch them.

Relationship is key. The need for safety through relationship isn’t an ‘anxiety thing’. It’s a ‘human thing’. When we feel closer to the people around us, we can rise above the mountains in our way. When we feel someone really caring about us, we’re more likely to open up to their influence
and learn from them.

But we have to be patient. Even for teachers with big hearts and who undertand the importance of attachment relationships, it can take time.

Any adult at school can play an important part in helping a child feel safe – as long as that adult is loving, warm, and willing to do the work to connect with that child. It might be the librarian, the counsellor, the office person, a teacher aide. It doesn’t matter who, as long as it is someone who can be available for that child at dropoff or when feelings get big during the day and do little check-ins along the way.

A teacher, or any important adult can make a lasting difference by asking, ‘How do I build my relationship with this child so s/he trusts me when I say, ‘I’ve got you, and I know you can do this.’♥️
There is a beautiful ‘everythingness’ in all of us. The key to living well is being able to live flexibly and more deliberately between our edges.

So often though, the ‘shoulds’ and ‘should nots’ we inhale in childhood and as we grow, lead us to abandon some of those precious, needed parts of us. ‘Don’t be angry/ selfish/ shy/ rude. She’s not a maths person.’ ‘Don’t argue.’ Ugh.

Let’s make sure our children don’t cancel parts of themselves. They are everything, but not always all at once. They can be anxious and brave. Strong and soft. Angry and calm. Big and small. Generous and self-ish. Some things they will find hard, and they can do hard things. None of these are wrong ways to be. What trips us up is rigidity, and only ever responding from one side of who we can be.

We all have extremes or parts we favour. This is what makes up the beautiful, complex, individuality of us. We don’t need to change this, but the more we can open our children to the possibility in them, the more options they will have in responding to challenges, the everyday, people, and the world. 

We can do this by validating their ‘is’ without needing them to be different for a while in the moment, and also speaking to the other parts of them when we can. 

‘Yes maths is hard, and I know you can do hard things. How can I help?’

‘I can see how anxious you feel. That’s so okay. I also know you have brave in you.’

‘I love your ‘big’ and the way you make us laugh. You light up the room.’ And then at other times: ‘It can be hard being in a room with new people can’t it. It’s okay to be quiet. I could see you taking it all in.’

‘It’s okay to want space from people. Sometimes you just want your things and yourself for yourself, hey. I feel like that sometimes too. I love the way you know when you need this.’ And then at other times, ‘You looked like you loved being with your friends today. I loved watching you share.’

The are everything, but not all at once. Our job is to help them live flexibly and more deliberately between the full range of who they are and who they can be: anxious/brave; kind/self-ish; focussed inward/outward; angry/calm. This will take time, and there is no hurry.♥️

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