Getting kids to pay attention is hard enough. But thanks to today’s technological advances, it can become an even bigger challenge. For instance, a University of Washington study found a link between toddlers watching TV and diminished attention spans by seven years old. Another study from UCLA found that kids who used technology had less reflective thought.
Interestingly, however, they did have greater visual-spatial skills. “Technology is producing learners with a new set of cognitive strengths and weaknesses,” said Lucy Jo Palladino, Ph.D, psychologist, attention expert and author of Dreamers, Discoverers & Dynamos: How to Help the Child Who Is Bright, Bored and Having Problems in School, a guide for kids who are inventive thinkers, crave novelty and are strongly drawn to distraction.
So how do you help your child overcome their concentration weak spots? Here are eight attention-saving suggestions that can help.
1. Practice what you preach.
As Palladino said, “Children do as we do, not as we say.” In other words, if your idea of winding down is watching TV for hours while your head is buried in your smart phone, your child will probably adopt the same habits. So Palladino encouraged parents to be good role models.
2. Reward attention.
When your child interrupts your work, it’s natural to shift your focus to them. But this rewards inattentive behavior.
Instead, when they’re quietly concentrating on an activity, “especially if it’s working on a school subject [they] don’t like or find difficult,” let your child know that you recognize and appreciate their efforts, Palladino said.
3. Give them the details about dragging their feet.
Educate your kids on “what it means to procrastinate, how we all do it and what a strong force it exerts on us,” Palladino said. Teach them the difference between avoiding a task and taking a much-needed break — and how to spot their own procrastinating tactics, she said.
Also important is helping them uncover the roots of their procrastination, such as “unacknowledged fear of failure, disappointment and embarrassment.”
4. Teach them how to get organized.
Teach your kids “how to set reasonable goals, break them into manageable steps and keep [themselves] motivated to the end.”
Also, help them learn to “use calendars, agenda books, to-do lists, clocks and alarms,” and keep a tidy and organized workspace.
5. Help them lead a healthy lifestyle.
Anxiety, lack of nutrient-rich foods and little sleep can quickly squash attention. “For good attention, children need adequate sleep, good nutrition [and] aerobic exercise,” Palladino said.
6. Establish limits.
Avoid encouraging a technology free-for-all. Instead, monitor your child’s use of technology, “especially TV, the Internet, video games, smart phones and other handheld devices,” Palladino said.
7. Believe in them.
“It takes courage to sustain attention in a world where distraction is the popular choice,” Palladino said. “Your child’s belief in himself begins with your belief in your child.”
8. Find out if there’s an underlying reason.
Sometimes inattention is a sign of a bigger problem. Take the example of bullying, which “has moved away from the playground where it’s visible, and into texting, on-line chatting, and social networking, hidden from the eyes and ears of supervising adults,” Palladino said. Even something as seemingly small as getting de-friended on Facebook can be utterly humiliating to your child — and they might struggle to focus on their schoolwork, she said.
So “if your child is having difficulty sustaining attention, take a closer look at what’s going on, especially with her peers.” And remember that “Kids today face new problems and have new needs.”
You can learn more about how to help your child pay attention in Palladino’s book Find Your Focus Zone: An Effective New Plan to Defeat Distraction and Overload, which has a chapter devoted to the topic.