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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One of our rituals was in the week before Christmas, we’d go shopping and each kiddo would choose a keepsake decoration for the tree. This would forever be their decoration. To make sure we’d remember who owned what (a year is a long time!) I wrote their name and year on the box. The idea is that when they leave home, they’ll have a collection of special decorations for their own tree, plump with throwbacks (‘Oh I remember when we bought this!).

Then of course there was Christmas morning. Santa would leave a note on the table and bootprints on the front path, which smelled remarkably like talcum powder. So magical the way the snow was under the boot and never melted, even in an Australian summer! But that’s the magic of Christmas, right?!

We often put so much pressure on ourselves to make Christmas magical. Rituals can make this easier. They get the special memories, you get to make the ‘magic’ without having to come up with something new and different each year.

It’s very likely that there will already be Christmas rituals happening in your family, even if you don’t realise it. Ask them what they remember most, or what they loved most about last Christmas, aside from the presents.

They might surprise you with things you’d completely forgotten about, or which at the time didn’t seem to be a biggie. It can be the simplest things. Maybe they loved the way they were allowed to have ice-cream with pancakes at breakfast last Christmas. (Ice-cream at breakfast?! Told you Christmas was magical!!). 

If it’s what they remember, and if it lights them up, let it become a ‘thing’. Maybe they loved the magic ‘neverending carrot’ sprinkles you put on the scrawny carrot you found in the vege drawer (remembering reindeer groceries can be so hard sometimes!)

You’d be surprised what they find special. It doesn’t have to be big to feel magical.

What are your Christmas rituals? Let’s share ideas in the comments.♥️
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Because sales are the best, and Christmas is the best, and helping kiddos find their brave is the very best of all! So, to celebrate the end of the year (because truly, it's been a year hasn't it), and to help you settle brave hearts for next year, or night times, or separations, or, you know, all the things, we're taking 25% off books and plushies in the Hey Sigmund shop.

There's no need to enter a code. The books and bundles are already marked with their special sale prices. You'll find them all there - plushies, books, bundles - doing shopping cartwheels, beside themselves excited about helping your young ones feel bigger than anxiety, and shimmy on to brave. 
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It can feel as though the only way to strengthen them against their anxiety is to make sure they have nothing to worry about, but when their worries are real this might not happen quickly. 

Instead, we need to focus on helping them know that even though those worries are there, they will be okay. ‘Not worrying’ isn’t the antidote to anxiety, trust is. This will start with trust in you and your belief that they will be okay, and trust in your reaction if things don’t go to plan. Eventually, as they grow this will expand into trust in themselves and their own capacity to find their way through challenges to a place of hope and strength. 
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Strong steady breathing will reverse the fight or flight physiology that causes nausea, butterflies, or sick or sore tummies during anxiety. BUT telling an anxious brain to take a strong steady breath will potentially make anxiety worse unless strong steady breathing feels familiar. Practising during calm times will make it familiar. 

During anxiety we’re dealing with their amygdala, and it wants short shallow breathing to conserve oxygen. It doesn’t want strong steady breathing and will work hard to resist this. 

An anxious brain is a busy brain and it will be less able to do anything unfamiliar. A few minutes of strong steady breathing each day will set up a strong neural pathway to make strong breathing more automatic and accessible during anxiety. 

In the meantime though, you can do it for them. This is the magic of co-regulation. When you do strong steady breathing during their anxiety, it will calm your nervous system which will eventually calm theirs. You will catch their anxiety, and this will feed into their anxiety. Your strong steady breathing is the circuit breaker. They will catch your anxiety, but they will also catch your calm. Don’t worry if this takes a few minutes (and maybe a few more after that). Anxious brains are strong, powerful, beautiful brains working hard to protect. Breathe and be with. This will open the way for that distressed young nervous system to find its way home. And you don’t need to do more than that.♥️
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Needs and behaviour can get tangled up and treated as one. When you can, separate the need from the behaviour. Give voice to the need - let it find a way to breathe - and redirect the behaviour. 

The need might always be clear, especially if it’s being smothered by angry shouting words. If we stifle the behaviour without acknowledging the need, the need stays hungry. Help usher it into the light by making it clear that you’re ready to receive it. Then wait. Wait for the big behaviour to ease, for bodies to calm, and angry voices to soften - but keep the way to you open. ‘You’re a great kid and I know you know that behaviour wasn’t okay. Talk to me about what’s happening for you.’

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