Working on chores or homework assignments with children can sometimes feel impossible. One minute, they’re focusing intently, and the next minute, they’re up out of their seats, interested in anything and everything around them or holding their head in their hands, unwilling to do any more. Your child’s flighty attention span can be frustrating to deal with…but it is also normal.
A child’s attention span might be impacted by a number of things. It’s pretty common for kids to give up on tasks they find challenging or confusing. However, their sleep, diet, exercise and creative outlets can also factor into their ability to pay attention. Returning to these root causes may help you improve your child’s attention span naturally.
Consider your expectations
When looking for ways to improve your child’s attention span, you should first understand what a normal attention span is for your child. As young brains develop, they gain the ability to focus on single items for longer periods of time.
Most experts believe that children should be able to focus on one thing for two to five minutes per year of age (with five minutes per year being the upper limit). Thus, the average five-year-old might focus for around 10 to 25 minutes, while the average nine-year-old should be able to focus approximately 18 to 45 minutes. However, these are estimates—your child’s attention span might be slightly higher or slightly lower, and it may even change depending on the time of day.
Increasing your child’s attention span
Because so many things impact attention—from diet to learning style to environment—you may be able to make some simple changes in your child’s day-to-day life that help them pay more attention. Consider implementing these five tips.
- Improve their diet: Diet plays a huge role in everyone’s ability to focus—including children. Sugar-laden diets and processed foods are more likely to cause brain fog, which can make it extremely tough for children to pay attention. Proper nutrition is also crucial for your child’s brain to receive nutrients like magnesium and B vitamins that it needs to develop and build neurological pathways. Beyond a nutritious diet, your child may benefit from added help from a few key herbs that assist in improving mental clarity and attention. Giving your child an herbal supplement may help stabilize their attentive performance even further.
- Maintain their sleep: Sleep also has a profound effect on anyone’s ability to focus, but children in particular. Without sleep, the brain is not able to stay as active, maintain short-term memory or react quickly. A tired child is more likely to get distracted, stare off into space or become more easily frustrated by challenging tasks. You can help your child pay greater attention at home and at school by ensuring they get an adequate amount of sleep for their age group and maintain a consistent sleep schedule. Depending on your child’s age, a brief after-school nap may also be in order before diving into homework. This gives your child a chance to rest after a long day of learning and reset before focusing hard once again.
- Introduce physical movement: Kids have a lot of energy, and they’ll need to let it out after sitting in a school desk or at the kitchen table for hours. Activity breaks can help them let out this excess energy and refocus on the task at hand. Lead your child in short activity breaks if they struggle to focus. Encourage them to take a short walk around the home, do a set of 15 jumping jacks or stretch.
- Minimize distractions: It’s extremely important for children (and adults!) to operate in an environment conducive to learning and productivity. To prevent distractions, remove clutter on the desk or in the room, limit noise and turn off distracting devices like the TV or cell phones. It might also help young children to play an active “cleaning game,” where they clear away distractions before work time by getting up and moving around.
- Break up overwhelming tasks: If your child needs to focus on a task for an extended period of time, teach them how to break that task up into smaller, more manageable chunks. Keep in mind your child’s age and how long you might be able to hold their attention for at a time. It can help to set a timer and encourage focus for 15 minutes or so, then offer a short mental break. Also, examine the task at hand and see if there are natural ways to break it up into pieces. This way, your child can finish a small piece and feel like they’ve accomplished something before moving onto the next piece of the task, rather than feeling overwhelmed by many pieces at once.
In addition to these tips, there are many other ways you can work on building your child’s attention span, including “gamifying” learning and catering to their specific learning style. However, by starting with the basics like diet, sleep and exercise, you’ll put your child on the path to more attentive behavior and healthy habits.