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 is a sign that the brain has registered threat and is mobilising the body to get to safety. One of the ways it does this is by organising the body for movement - to fight the danger or flee the danger. 

If there is no need or no opportunity for movement, that fight or flight fuel will still be looking for expression. This can come out as wriggly, fidgety, hyperactive behaviour. This is why any of us might pace or struggle to sit still when we’re anxious. 

If kids or teens are bouncing around, wriggling in their chairs, or having trouble sitting still, it could be anxiety. Remember with anxiety, it’s not about what is actually safe but about what the brain perceives. New or challenging work, doing something unfamiliar, too much going on, a tired or hungry body, anything that comes with any chance of judgement, failure, humiliation can all throw the brain into fight or flight.

When this happens, the body might feel busy, activated, restless. This in itself can drive even more anxiety in kids or teens. Any of us can struggle when we don’t feel comfortable in our own bodies. 

Anxiety is energy with nowhere to go. To move through anxiety, give the energy somewhere to go - a fast walk, a run, a whole-body shake, hula hooping, kicking a ball - any movement that spends the energy will help bring the brain and body back to calm.♥️
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#parenting #anxietyinkids #childanxiety #parenting #parent
This is not bad behaviour. It’s big behaviour a from a brain that has registered threat and is working hard to feel safe again. 

‘Threat’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what the brain perceives. The brain can perceive threat when there is any chance missing out on or messing up something important, anything that feels unfamiliar, hard, or challenging, feeling misunderstood, thinking you might be angry or disappointed with them, being separated from you, being hungry or tired, anything that pushes against their sensory needs - so many things. 

During anxiety, the amygdala in the brain is switched to high volume, so other big feelings will be too. This might look like tears, sadness, or anger. 

Big feelings have a good reason for being there. The amygdala has the very important job of keeping us safe, and it does this beautifully, but not always with grace. One of the ways the amygdala keeps us safe is by calling on big feelings to recruit social support. When big feelings happen, people notice. They might not always notice the way we want to be noticed, but we are noticed. This increases our chances of safety. 

Of course, kids and teens still need our guidance and leadership and the conversations that grow them, but not during the emotional storm. They just won’t hear you anyway because their brain is too busy trying to get back to safety. In that moment, they don’t want to be fixed or ‘grown’. They want to feel seen, safe and heard. 

During the storm, preserve your connection with them as much as you can. You might not always be able to do this, and that’s okay. None of this is about perfection. If you have a rupture, repair it as soon as you can. Then, when their brains and bodies come back to calm, this is the time for the conversations that will grow them. 

Rather than, ‘What consequences do they need to do better?’, shift to, ‘What support do they need to do better?’ The greatest support will come from you in a way they can receive: ‘What happened?’ ‘What can you do differently next time?’ ‘You’re the most wonderful kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen. How can you put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
Big behaviour is a sign of a nervous system in distress. Before anything, that vulnerable nervous system needs to be brought back home to felt safety. 

This will happen most powerfully with relationship and connection. Breathe and be with. Let them know you get it. This can happen with words or nonverbals. It’s about feeling what they feel, but staying regulated.

If they want space, give them space but stay in emotional proximity, ‘Ok I’m just going to stay over here. I’m right here if you need.’

If they’re using spicy words to make sure there is no confusion about how they feel about you right now, flag the behaviour, then make your intent clear, ‘I know how upset you are and I want to understand more about what’s happening for you. I’m not going to do this while you’re speaking to me like this. You can still be mad, but you need to be respectful. I’m here for you.’

Think of how you would respond if a friend was telling you about something that upset her. You wouldn’t tell her to calm down, or try to fix her (she’s not broken), or talk to her about her behaviour. You would just be there. You would ‘drop an anchor’ and steady those rough seas around her until she feels okay enough again. Along the way you would be doing things that let her know your intent to support her. You’d do this with you facial expressions, your voice, your body, your posture. You’d feel her feels, and she’d feel you ‘getting her’. It’s about letting her know that you understand what she’s feeling, even if you don’t understand why (or agree with why). 

It’s the same for our children. As their important big people, they also need leadership. The time for this is after the storm has passed, when their brains and bodies feel safe and calm. Because of your relationship, connection and their felt sense of safety, you will have access to their ‘thinking brain’. This is the time for those meaningful conversations: 
- ‘What happened?’
- ‘What did I do that helped/ didn’t help?’
- ‘What can you do differently next time?’
- ‘You’re a great kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen, but here we are. What can you do to put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
As children grow, and especially by adolescence, we have the illusion of control but whether or not we have any real influence will be up to them. The temptation to control our children will always come from a place of love. Fear will likely have a heavy hand in there too. When they fall, we’ll feel it. Sometimes it will feel like an ache in our core. Sometimes it will feel like failure or guilt, or anger. We might wish we could have stopped them, pushed a little harder, warned a little bigger, stood a little closer. We’re parents and we’re human and it’s what this parenting thing does. It makes fear and anxiety billow around us like lost smoke, too easily.

Remember, they want you to be proud of them, and they want to do the right thing. When they feel your curiosity over judgement, and the safety of you over shame, it will be easier for them to open up to you. Nobody will guide them better than you because nobody will care more about where they land. They know this, but the magic happens when they also know that you are safe and that you will hold them, their needs, their opinions and feelings with strong, gentle, loving hands, no matter what.♥️
Anger is the ‘fight’ part of the fight or flight response. It has important work to do. Anger never exists on its own. It exists to hold other more vulnerable emotions in a way that feels safer. It’s sometimes feels easier, safer, more acceptable, stronger to feel the ‘big’ that comes with anger, than the vulnerability that comes with anxiety, sadness, loneliness. This isn’t deliberate. It’s just another way our bodies and brains try to keep us safe. 

The problem isn’t the anger. The problem is the behaviour that can come with the anger. Let there be no limits on thoughts and feelings, only behaviour. When children are angry, as long as they are safe and others are safe, we don’t need to fix their anger. They aren’t broken. Instead, drop the anchor: as much as you can - and this won’t always be easy - be a calm, steadying, loving presence to help bring their nervous systems back home to calm. 

Then, when they are truly calm, and with love and leadership, have the conversations that will grow them - 
- What happened? 
- What can you do differently next time?
- You’re a really great kid. I know you didn’t want this to happen but here we are. How can you make things right. Would you like some ideas? Do you need some help with that?
- What did I do that helped? What did I do that didn’t help? Is there something that might feel more helpful next time?

When their behaviour falls short of ‘adorable’, rather than asking ‘What consequences they need to do better?’ let the question be, ‘What support do they need to do better.’ Often, the biggest support will be a conversation with you, and that will be enough.♥️
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#parenting #positiveparenting #mindfulparenting #anxietyinkids

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