The powers of the mind are like the rays of the sun. When they are concentrated, they illumine– Swami Vivekananda
A few months back, we had done a survey of young parents to understand their pain points in raising their children. Lack of concentration and low attention span were one of the common issues worrying most parents. This is what some of them had to say:
“I struggle to keep him engaged as I have to be extremely innovative to keep his attention on work that I want him to do, else he gets attracted to mobile and TV.”
“My child is hyperactive, not ready to sit at one place.”
“Lack of attention and focus is the biggest pain point, and it seems to be getting worse.”
Even teachers face this problem – “I have children in class who are always fidgeting, who cannot concentrate on what is being taught. They sometimes don’t even complete their activity work if it takes a slightly longer time to complete.”
Children, in general, have a lower attention span than adults. As adults, we can, when the need arises, spend hours on end to complete the task at hand – but children cannot.
Ideal Attention Span for Different Age Groups
The first thing that we need to understand is, whether our expectation of how much concentration and attention we want our kids to have, is correct or whether it is exaggerated. Note that ‘attention span’ here means that the children are able to ignore minor distractions and focus on the task or activity at hand.
The Paediatric Health Advisor at Summit Medical Group suggests that for young children attention span should be approximately 3 to 5 minutes times their age.
For example, a 3-year-old child’s attention span should be between 9 minutes to 15 minutes while a 7-year-old should be able to pay attention for 21 minutes to 35 minutes.
The Paediatric advisor suggests that a child entering kindergarten should have an attention span of at least 15 minutes.
While children may have a tendency to wander off and not concentrate on the activity, there are certain things that we can do to increase their concentration powers. Even if your children don’t have problem in paying attention, these suggestions will help increase their concentration levels.
1. Have a Conducive Environment
Reduce the distractions to a minimum in their area of studies/activity. There should be no gadgets, no television (if television is in the same room, then do not switch it on when you want them to concentrate on any activity). Keep all the required things like paper, book, pencils, eraser, notebooks close-by so that they do not have to get up and go in search of these things in the middle.
Excessive use of gadgets and screen time can be a major reason for poor concentration. Read ‘Screen-time – How Much is too Much’.
2. Play Focus Enhancing Games
Puzzles like jigsaw puzzles, crossword puzzles; thinking games like Memory or Uno; building games like Lego or Mechanix; or sitting games like ‘Statue’ or ‘Who can keep quiet the longest without speaking or moving’ are some games which increase focus and build concentration powers.
3. Follow a Fixed Routine
Children thrive on routine. Try to do things at the same time every day – wake up at same time, eat breakfast, lunch and dinner at same time, have set times for play and studies and go to bed at same time every day. It is difficult to maintain it strictly but be as close to the routine as you possibly can. As they get into the habit, their brain aligns with the routine and doing the activities for the same time period every day becomes easier.
4. Plan Ahead
This is similar to the above point. If children knows what is expected out of them at a particular time, it is easier for them to do it.
Therefore if you tell your children, who are playing – “Come on its time to study- now!”, you will probably hear a “No Mom, I want to play. Can I please play for 10 more minutes!” or if you force them to study you will see a low concentration level.
Instead, if you tell them – “You can play for 30 minutes now and then you will study for 30 minutes”, you will see they are more pliable, more open to studying with increased attention. A valuable tip – keeping an alarm for both the play and study time helps a lot.
5. Break the Task into Smaller Pieces
Sometimes, the lack of attention is because the task at hand might be too big or difficult for the child. The chapter is too long and difficult, the project requires too many things to be done.
Help them by breaking the task into smaller, more manageable tasks (for projects, ask them to come up with the plan of action themselves). As they achieve each smaller task, they keep feeling a sense of accomplishment and their interest level is maintained.
6. Do Deep Breathing Exercises
There are many concentration and deep breathing exercises that can be done. Two of the simplest and yet effective ones are:
- Concentrate on an object for a few minutes – Take any object and ask your child to concentrate on that for some time. You can even just draw a big dot on a paper and ask them to focus on that. You can also do it with closed eyes for older children, but that is little difficult and therefore we recommend starting with concentrating on a real object with open eyes.
- Tell your children to sit cross legged, close their eyes and breathe deeply, while focussing on the breath as they inhale and exhale. They can also chant ‘Om’ as they exhales if they choose to. The inner vibrations from Om chanting have been known to create a positive impact on brain and improve focus and concentration.
7. Eat and Exercise
Brain uses around 20% of the body’s calories, therefore proper nutritious food and enough physical activity helps with increasing concentration and brain power. Harvard Health Publishing article suggests that green leafy vegetables, oily fish, nuts (especially walnuts) and berries are the best brain foods. Give your children a handful of nuts early in the morning and ensure that fruits and vegetables are a part of their daily diet.
Children need to let out the energy by a lot of physical play, and if that doesn’t happen, they will not be able to sit still to complete an activity that requires sitting at one place.
8. Understand the Type of Learner your Child is
Children may be auditory, visual or kinaesthetic learners and you many need to understand what type of learning works for your child and ensure that you use the right means.
Building concentration is not something which a person can learn in a day. It takes time and practice and the earlier we start the effort, the sooner we will see the results and the impact.
The ability to concentrate and to use time well is everything.– Lee Iacocca
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