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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How we are with them, when they are their everyday selves and when they aren’t so adorable, will build their view of three things: the world, its people, and themselves. This will then inform how they respond to the world and how they build their very important space in it. 

Will it be a loving, warm, open-hearted space with lots of doors for them to throw open to the people and experiences that are right for them? Or will it be a space with solid, too high walls that close out too many of the people and experiences that would nourish them.

They will learn from what we do with them and to them, for better or worse. We don’t teach them that the world is safe for them to reach into - we show them. We don’t teach them to be kind, respectful, and compassionate. We show them. We don’t teach them that they matter, and that other people matter, and that their voices and their opinions matter. We show them. We don’t teach them that they are little joy mongers who light up the world. We show them. 

But we have to be radically kind with ourselves too. None of this is about perfection. Parenting is hard, and days will be hard, and on too many of those days we’ll be hard too. That’s okay. We’ll say things we shouldn’t say and do things we shouldn’t do. We’re human too. Let’s not put pressure on our kiddos to be perfect by pretending that we are. As long as we repair the ruptures as soon as we can, and bathe them in love and the warmth of us as much as we can, they will be okay.

This also isn’t about not having boundaries. We need to be the guardians of their world and show them where the edges are. But in the guarding of those boundaries we can be strong and loving, strong and gentle. We can love them, and redirect their behaviour.

It’s when we own our stuff(ups) and when we let them see us fall and rise with strength, integrity, and compassion, and when we hold them gently through the mess of it all, that they learn about humility, and vulnerability, and the importance of holding bruised hearts with tender hands. It’s not about perfection, it’s about consistency, and honesty, and the way we respond to them the most.♥️

#parenting #mindfulparenting
Anxiety and courage always exist together. It can be no other way. Anxiety is a call to courage. It means you're about to do something brave, so when there is one the other will be there too. Their courage might feel so small and be whisper quiet, but it will always be there and always ready to show up when they need it to.
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But courage doesn’t always feel like courage, and it won't always show itself as a readiness. Instead, it might show as a rising - from fear, from uncertainty, from anger. None of these mean an absence of courage. They are the making of space, and the opportunity for courage to rise.
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When the noise from anxiety is loud and obtuse, we’ll have to gently add our voices to usher their courage into the light. We can do this speaking of it and to it, and by shifting the focus from their anxiety to their brave. The one we focus on is ultimately what will become powerful. It will be the one we energise. Anxiety will already have their focus, so we’ll need to make sure their courage has ours.
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But we have to speak to their fear as well, in a way that makes space for it to be held and soothed, with strength. Their fear has an important job to do - to recruit the support of someone who can help them feel safe. Only when their fear has been heard will it rest and make way for their brave.
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What does this look like? Tell them their stories of brave, but acknowledge the fear that made it tough. Stories help them process their emotional experiences in a safe way. It brings word to the feelings and helps those big feelings make sense and find containment. ‘You were really worried about that exam weren’t you. You couldn’t get to sleep the night before. It was tough going to school but you got up, you got dressed, you ... and you did it. Then you ...’
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In the moment, speak to their brave by first acknowledging their need to flee (or fight), then tell them what you know to be true - ‘This feels scary for you doesn’t it. I know you want to run. It makes so much sense that you would want to do that. I also know you can do hard things. My darling, I know it with everything in me.’
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#positiveparenting #parenting #childanxiety #anxietyinchildren #mindfulpare
Separation anxiety has an important job to do - it’s designed to keep children safe by driving them to stay close to their important adults. Gosh it can feel brutal sometimes though.

Whenever there is separation from an attachment person there will be anxiety unless there are two things: attachment with another trusted, loving adult; and a felt sense of you holding on, even when you aren't beside them. Putting these in place will help soften anxiety.

As long as children are are in the loving care of a trusted adult, there's no need to avoid separation. We'll need to remind ourselves of this so we can hold on to ourselves when our own anxiety is rising in response to theirs. 

If separation is the problem, connection has to be the solution. The connection can be with any loving adult, but it's more than an adult being present. It needs an adult who, through their strong, warm, loving presence, shows the child their abundant intention to care for that child, and their joy in doing so. This can be helped along by showing that you trust the adult to love that child big in our absence. 'I know [important adult] loves you and is going to take such good care of you.'

To help your young one feel held on to by you, even in absence, let them know you'll be thinking of them and can't wait to see them. Bolster this by giving them something of yours to hold while you're gone - a scarf, a note - anything that will be felt as 'you'.

They know you are the one who makes sure their world is safe, so they’ll be looking to you for signs of safety: 'Do you think we'll be okay if we aren't together?' First, validate: 'You really want to stay with me, don't you. I wish I could stay with you too! It's hard being away from your special people isn't it.' Then, be their brave. Let it be big enough to wrap around them so they can rest in the safety and strength of it: 'I know you can do this, love. We can do hard things can't we.'

Part of growing up brave is learning that the presence of anxiety doesn't always mean something is wrong. Sometimes it means they are on the edge of brave - and being away from you for a while counts as brave.
Even the most loving, emotionally available adult might feel frustration, anger, helplessness or distress in response to a child’s big feelings. This is how it’s meant to work. 

Their distress (fight/flight) will raise distress in us. The purpose is to move us to protect or support or them, but of course it doesn’t always work this way. When their big feelings recruit ours it can drive us more to fight (anger, blame), or to flee (avoid, ignore, separate them from us) which can steal our capacity to support them. It will happen to all of us from time to time. 

Kids and teens can’t learn to manage big feelings on their own until they’ve done it plenty of times with a calm, loving adult. This is where co-regulation comes in. It helps build the vital neural pathways between big feelings and calm. They can’t build those pathways on their own. 

It’s like driving a car. We can tell them how to drive as much as we like, but ‘talking about’ won’t mean they’re ready to hit the road by themselves. Instead we sit with them in the front seat for hours, driving ‘with’ until they can do it on their own. Feelings are the same. We feel ‘with’, over and over, until they can do it on their own. 

What can help is pausing for a moment to see the behaviour for what it is - a call for support. It’s NOT bad behaviour or bad parenting. It’s not that.

Our own feelings can give us a clue to what our children are feeling. It’s a normal, healthy, adaptive way for them to share an emotional load they weren’t meant to carry on their own. Self-regulation makes space for us to hold those feelings with them until those big feelings ease. 

Self-regulation can happen in micro moments. First, see the feelings or behaviour for what it is - a call for support. Then breathe. This will calm your nervous system, so you can calm theirs. In the same way we will catch their distress, they will also catch ours - but they can also catch our calm. Breathe, validate, and be ‘with’. And you don’t need to do more than that.
When things feel hard or the world feels big, children will be looking to their important adults for signs of safety. They will be asking, ‘Do you think I'm safe?' 'Do you think I can do this?' With everything in us, we have to send the message, ‘Yes! Yes love, this is hard and you are safe. You can do hard things.'

Even if we believe they are up to the challenge, it can be difficult to communicate this with absolute confidence. We love them, and when they're distressed, we're going to feel it. Inadvertently, we can align with their fear and send signals of danger, especially through nonverbals. 

What they need is for us to align with their 'brave' - that part of them that wants to do hard things and has the courage to do them. It might be small but it will be there. Like a muscle, courage strengthens with use - little by little, but the potential is always there.

First, let them feel you inside their world, not outside of it. This lets their anxious brain know that support is here - that you see what they see and you get it. This happens through validation. It doesn't mean you agree. It means that you see what they see, and feel what they feel. Meet the intensity of their emotion, so they can feel you with them. It can come off as insincere if your nonverbals are overly calm in the face of their distress. (Think a zen-like low, monotone voice and neutral face - both can be read as threat by an anxious brain). Try:

'This is big for you isn't it!' 
'It's awful having to do things you haven't done before. What you are feeling makes so much sense. I'd feel the same!

Once they really feel you there with them, then they can trust what comes next, which is your felt belief that they will be safe, and that they can do hard things. 

Even if things don't go to plan, you know they will cope. This can be hard, especially because it is so easy to 'catch' their anxiety. When it feels like anxiety is drawing you both in, take a moment, breathe, and ask, 'Do I believe in them, or their anxiety?' Let your answer guide you, because you know your young one was built for big, beautiful things. It's in them. Anxiety is part of their move towards brave, not the end of it.

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