Improving your child’s concentration is one of the foremost skills parents need to nurture, writes Dr. Maria Montessori in her book The Absorbent Child. It is hard to disagree with this, and as a teacher, the one most often is the stumbling block to achieving.
It lays the fundamental basis for the child’s character and social behavior. The two pillars play a role in academic success, career growth, and interpersonal relationships. However, children develop concentration at a different pace, so parents must know when to intervene and help them learn to focus. Helping them to study independently will ensure that they are able to succeed as they move through education.
Signs of Lack of Concentration in Children
Children whose concentration is severely poor for their age will need early intervention, which requires gradually developing their concentration skills. Here are some signs to look out for:
- Poor grades
- Forgetting chores
- Not following through with instructions
- Disruptive behavior
- Being fidgety
- Dislike for school
- Refusing to take turns or acting impatiently
- Struggling to sit still
- Feeling flustered when the child has to organize their belongings
- Unable to maintain friendships
- Distracted very easily
- Aggressive, irritable, and moody
- Loses stuff too often
- Spending too much time daydreaming
- Difficulty in keeping up with a conversation
Why Do Children Struggle to Concentrate?
When most parents notice a lack of focus and concentration in their children, the first thing they suspect is ADHD because it’s widely associated with attention deficit in children. But other possibilities exist that may not be immediately obvious. Some of these include:
- Poor nutrition or sleep: Poor nutrition or sleep severely affects your child’s energy levels, limiting their ability to concentrate on any activity at home or school. Before looking at other possible causes of lack of concentration, make sure your child is getting 8-10 hours of sleep and is eating a balanced diet daily.
- Inability to organize or prioritize: We take it for granted the test tomorrow is the priority. However for a child, unless they have had the repercussions they might do the art homework for next week that they enjoy. Here we look at ways to help them organize themselves and prioritize.
- Grief, trauma, or personal problems: If a child is struggling to concentrate it might be worth stopping homework and going for a walk. We give guidance here as to how to get your child to talk to you. This gives you the opportunity to talk with them and see why they can’t concentrate. For many sitting down to do their homework might be the first time that day they are left with their own thoughts. A child’s inability to focus or concentrate can result from grief, trauma, or personal problems. Grief can be caused by the death of a loved one or a pet. Personal problems can be more challenging to identify because children do not always know how to express themselves. It is a good idea to comb through recent events involving your child. This can help you make connections that may just be the reason for the absence of focus in your child.
- Distractions: A child’s will to stay focused is a lot weaker than that of an adult. Children are curious – their minds, hands, and feet wander easily. So anything can be a source of distraction, including televisions and pets. In the presence of so many distractions, even a full-grown adult will have to fight hard to maintain concentration on a specific task. Setting up a homework station will help as the area will be associated with work.
- Dyslexia and other learning disorders: Although being diagnosed more frequently, it is not a magic panacea or solution. I see many parents see the diagnosis as an endpoint and a justification. It is just a further tool to understand your child. For example, a child with dyslexia will struggle to decode logos and signs, tell time or follow directions. They might also find it difficult to take notes in class, sound out new words, and tell time. Their inability to carry out these activities causes severe frustration, which affects their mood and emotional stability. As it would for any of us. In turn, this makes it difficult to concentrate on any given activity. The diagnosis helps open up new research into ways that you can help your child such as different note-making techniques.
- Hyperactivity and impulsivity: An impulsive and hyperactive child will find it challenging to sit still long enough to concentrate on any single activity. In some cases, this hyper-activeness is fuel by sensory filtering disorder. A child with this disorder finds it extremely difficult to filter out the dozens of irrelevant sensory information their senses gather every second. This creates undue noise that keeps the child distracted, confused, and frustrated.
How to Improve Children’s Concentration and Focus
After you’ve identified the cause of your child’s poor concentration skills, here are some tips you can use to help improve your child’s concentration.
- Play concentration-building games: Certain games can help boost focus and concentration in your child. You need to identify your child’s interests and then find a game that’s connected. There are many games to choose from, like story-based games, memory and concentration games, and coins games. We discuss here why board games are great. Also, some computer games can benefit it, but they need to be carefully chosen.
- Teach them some core sayings: ‘Do the thing you have to do first’ / ‘ First my kit then me’. These are excellent sayings that are useful for anyone. When ingrained, it helps to make sure that it removes distractions as it means that priority tasks are completed. For example, the bag is packed for the next day before the iPad is turned on.
- Pick one thing at a time: Even in adults, multitasking is known to reduce concentration and performance. Having your child take on multiple tasks is not a good idea for a child already struggling with concentration. For example, if the child is studying a picture book, encourage them to concentrate solely on that. No mention of any other activities. Interestingly, according to a study published in Taylor and Francis Online, picture books provide sensory stimuli that can boost concentration performance in children.
- Minimize distractions: The fewer distractions there are, the more your child develops their ability to concentrate. The first step is to set aside a time and place for their activities. The study or some secluded corner of the house can be used for homework. Make sure that there are no gadgets in sight. Keep the television off, even when it’s in the sitting room. Sounds from the television can be a source of distraction. Also, you need to set timed breaks. After a long period of concentrating, your child needs to move around a bit and stretch their legs to keep them refreshed and interested.
- Structured physical activities: Exercise is quite beneficial to your child’s focus and concentration. A study led by Heldi Harris, a professor in the Physical Education department at Eastern Michigan University, found that coordinated-bilateral exercises significantly improve children’s attention. Some examples of coordinated-bilateral exercises include crawling, catching a ball with two hands, jumping ropes, climbing a ladder, jumping jacks, riding a bike, marching, etc.
Improving Your Child’s Concentration Can Improve Their Quality of Life
Children’s playful nature makes it easy to dismiss when they struggle to focus on things. However, paying attention to how this affects their everyday life and activities can help you spot when they need help. To be able to concentrate on something we are not interested in is a learned skill. For instance, I have background music if doing a mentally demanding but unpleasant job like my tax returns. This is something I have developed over the years. That little bit of stimulus can occupy my background thoughts as the other parts of my brain concentrate.