Kids aren’t exactly known for their ability to focus for long periods of time. You can chalk some of that up to their natural attention spans (which aren’t that long to begin with). Combine that with our multi-tasking, tech-distracted tendencies, and you’ve got a recipe for kids who struggle to focus for even short periods of time. Thankfully, we can help our kiddos grow their focus and concentration over time with intentional changes to our routines, spaces, and instructions. Here’s what you can do!
Take Frequent Breaks
Keep in mind that we can only expect kids to concentrate for so long. In general, experts agree that kids should be able to focus for 2 - 5 minutes times their age. So a 5-year-old should be able to focus on a task for 10 - 25 minutes at a time. But this will vary depending on a ton of factors. Kids who are hungry, thirsty, tired, or emotional may have far shorter attention spans. Likewise, if kids have already been focusing for long periods of time throughout the day at school, it may be tougher for them to focus on tough or “boring” tasks at home.
One way to help kids reset and restore focus is to take frequent breaks according to their age and attention span at that moment (i.e. tired or “amped up” kids might need more breaks). These breaks can vary by time and activity according to what your kids need at that moment. Kids who need to get up and expend energy will benefit from playing actively outside. Kids who are hungry could use a snack break, etc. With a little time and observation, you’ll learn to pick up on cues from your kids that indicate they need to take a break and come back to the task at hand later.
We probably know to remove external distractions when kids need to focus – turning off screens, reducing noise, keeping the area tidy – but we should try to reduce internal distractions too. Temperature, an uncomfortable chair, or hunger can be just as distracting as the TV.
Set Up a “Focus” Space
With that in mind, it’s great to set up a space that’s always distraction-free for kids to focus on their homework and other tasks. A kids desk in a quiet area of the house is ideal. Since they’re ergonomically correct for tiny bodies, they’ll help reduce internal distractions like straining to reach a tabletop that’s too tall. Eventually, their brain will come to associate that space with quiet, focused work time instead of eating, playing, sleeping, or watching TV.
Focus on One Thing at a Time
We’ve all heard it before: multitasking actually reduces performance, and none of us really multitask that well. This is especially true when it comes to kids. They’re probably not trying to cook dinner, listen to a Podcast, and respond to emails at the same time, but they may be trying to lay out all of their homework and jump from task to task. Encourage them to focus on one assignment, one problem, one question at a time without looking ahead or switching to a different task.
Break Down Big Tasks
When kids find a task overwhelming, they’re more likely to lose focus or give up altogether. Whether it’s cleaning their room or finishing a project for school, help them out by giving them one simple instruction at a time. When that step is complete, move on to the next, taking breaks as needed.
Remember, to keep your expectations realistic and stick with good attention-building habits. Overtime, you’ll help your kids develop skills that will help them succeed in school and beyond!