Some children may face difficulty in focusing while doing their homework or during quiet time activities such as writing and colouring. This can be frustrating for parents as children with short attention span tend to get bored and impatient very easily, which causes them to lack motivation and self-initiative in learning activities.
According to child developmental experts, the average duration of a child’s attention span varies from two to five minutes for each year of their age. So, for example, a five-year-old child should be able to focus for 10 to 25 minutes, depending on the nature of the task and other variables such as the time of day.
To help you in your efforts to improve your children’s attention span, here are some things you can do to motivate them to focus:
1. Look into their eyes when you talk
When guiding your children through their homework or activity, do give instructions with short and firm sentences, get down to their height level and look them straight in the eye as you talk. This helps them to focus on the message you are sending without the need to constantly look up at you.
You can also get your child to repeat your instructions to ensure that he/she understands what you are trying to tell him/her and that he/she knows what to do next. This also goes a long way to help your child enhance their memory and listening skills.
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2. Establish routines and schedules
Despite your intentions to keep things fun and flexible, children with short attention span tend to do well with a set routine laid out for them. You can do this by allotting specific time periods for your children to work on different tasks (e.g. drawing, spelling, writing, etc). While they are doing these activities, take extra care to keep them away from distractions and loud noises such as the TV and computer games.
3. Shorter study times and one task at a time
As children with short attention spans tend to get bored easily, do keep study sessions short – preferably in bursts of 20 minutes – and focus on one task or activity at a time. When overwhelmed with a string of tasks, they will struggle to manage their ability to organise their thoughts, control emotions, memorise facts or instructions and complete the tasks at hand.
For example, you can start off with getting your child to focus on a writing activity before moving on to Math at the next session. This helps to break up the list of to-do’s for your child so that he/she understands and retains the information better.
4. Let them move
In between study time, let your children take short breaks to rest and move around. Apart from helping them recollect their thoughts on what they have learnt earlier, this short break also gives them the opportunity to eliminate their frustrations and disappointments. The combination of these actions help to steer their attention on the right track before moving on to the next session.
5. Reinforce positive behaviour
Positive words and encouragement will go a long way to motivate your children to improve their attention span. So, do take note of their efforts to stay focused, recognise their actions and reward them accordingly. For example, you could highlight how they were able to sit through a class and take note of what the teacher was telling them about homework. From here, you can tailor a reward that would make their day such as a simple hug or a delicious ice cream treat.
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Is your child’s short attention span a cause for concern of ADHD?
While a range in attention span is normal in younger children, it is important to work with your child’s teachers and doctors if he/she seem to be struggling excessively during lesson time at home and school. This could signal the onset of a learning challenge such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), which should be assessed by a specialist.
The following are some “red flag symptoms” to look out for:
Difficulty paying attention and/or concentrating on age-appropriate tasks – seem easily distracted by unrelated things
Struggling to complete schoolwork or chores (May be caused by their inability to listen well to instructions, and the tendency to make careless mistakes, lose focus halfway through or forget what they were supposed to do)
Can’t seem to keep still and have boundless energy (For example, running when they are not supposed to, and fidgeting and squirming a lot while sitting down. Although these are common in early childhood, they should taper off as the child grows older)
Tendency to interrupt others while they are talking
Childhood developmental specialists and occupational therapists can help to tailor learning plans and goals to help your child improve his/her focus and detect the onset of greater learning challenges. With encouragement and therapy sessions, parents can help their children work their way through these challenges and be empowered with a positive mindset to excel in school.