Five ways to boost concentration
Dr Claire Halsey, parenting expert and child psychologist, shares her tips for helping children improve their focus.
Concentration is a vital life skill for your child and one that grows from the moment they’re born. It’s linked closely to children’s brain development and improves alongside your child’s memory and their ability to plan and organise their thoughts. Being able to stay focused helps with learning, solving problems and cooperating with you and others, as well as building confidence. You can help it along, of course, with a good dose of play, practice and praise.
1. Set up for success
Help your child concentrate by reducing big distractions – television, music and playing on a screen makes it difficult to listen and focus, so limit these to set times of the day.
Following your instructions is one way your child shows you they’ve paid attention. It’s easier for your child to listen if you get up close and say their name – always a good attention-grabber – then make a short, to-the-point, request. For example, a child in Reception will remember and follow a two or three step instruction such as “Stand up, put on your coat and go out to play” whereas an older child can handle something more complex with four or more steps.
2. Make it fun
Your child is much more likely to pay attention if there is a sense of fun around. Even everyday tasks can capture their interest when you make them into a game, use a silly voice or turn them into speed trials. Tidying up toys is much less of a chore when you time each child as they fill their toy box then the fastest gets a tickle. Without realising it, they’ve stayed on task for longer!
Variety helps attention too. Changing activities and introducing new things will engage your child and keeps boredom at bay.
3. Keep practising
There are lots of games and activities that can build your child’s concentration. Start by choosing ones with simple instructions or rules and some turn-taking games such as Snap or Picture Dominoes. Older children will enjoy concentration games such as Buckaroo which needs focus and a steady hand, Guess Who for memory or Top Trumps for persistence.
4. Pay attention to the good stuff
It’s all too easy to notice when your child has got distracted, didn’t pay attention or forgot their jumper or PE kit. Turn the tables and appreciate when they did remember or stayed on task. Give some specific praise so they know it was the concentration that you liked. For example “Well done for sticking with that puzzle till you worked it out”. You’re highlighting their developing concentration and making it more likely they’ll repeat this focus in future.
5. Don’t be afraid to seek advice
For a small number of children, paying attention and staying still may be a problem no matter how hard they try. A few extra ideas can help: ask your child’s teacher to keep them at the front of class in school or get them to say and write down important instructions. If you’re still concerned, see your GP for a proper assessment.
AGES AND STAGES
Children develop at their own pace and the development of attention varies a lot between individuals. The stages below are a guide to what you might expect.
Your toddler typically has a short attention span, often changing activity every few minutes, and can cope with one or two step instructions.
Their attention span is increasing for activities they’ve chosen themselves. Your child can remember and follow simple instructions and persist with a puzzle or game for longer.
Age 3– 4
Your child has begun to anticipate familiar activities. For example, knowing that going to the park involves a sequence such as getting on their coat, walking, playing and having a snack.
Your child can listen in class and follow teachers’ instructions, learn and remember some facts and figures, plan ahead and problem-solve if a project they’re working on isn’t working out.