Must-Have Skill for Children #21: Focusing
President Theodore Roosevelt was well known for his “power of focus.” He even advised his son in a letter in 1902, “I need not tell you to do your best to cultivate ability for concentrating your thought on whatever work you are given to do.” However, these days, it seems harder for children to focus on their studies. They not only have plenty of distractions, from games to social media, but also are likely stressed and burned out from constant change and these extenuating circumstances. However, focusing is a muscle that they can strengthen if they practice it the right way—without overexerting themselves.
Here are a few tips on how they can hone this Must-Have Skill of focusing and turn it into a healthy habit.
Create a Conducive Environment
Your child should set up the right atmosphere that best enhances their ability to concentrate. This may require some experimentation or switching up depending on their moods or the activity, but it is sure to help them out whenever they really want to roll up their sleeves. Do they prefer music or no music? Do they like ambient noise in the background? And of course they should clear away any distractions, such as game consoles or phones. Soon, this set-up will automatically signal to their body and mind that it’s time to focus.
The intent to focus can be sabotaged by hesitation. Your child has to train their mind to jump right into a task without putting it off so their brain quickly gets absorbed in whatever they’re doing. There are many time-based suggestions for fighting off procrastination and entering the flow state, otherwise a state when their mind is focused on the task at hand. Whether it’s the 20-second rule or 2-minute rule, have them practice not taking any longer than a few minutes to start focusing on what they want to do for the following chunk of time. This practice will make it easier for them to cut off any distraction and complete what they need to do.
Multitasking used to be frequently listed as one of the most desirable skills anyone could have, but this idea has been challenged more and more as of late. Studies from esteemed universities like University of London, Stanford University, and Sussex University have shown that chronic multitaskers experience negative consequences, like a drop in IQ and weaker ability to focus. Trying to do so many tasks all at once can actually be detrimental to the attention span, so encourage your child to focus on one activity at a time. This will improve not only their ability to focus for longer periods of time but also the quality of whatever work they’re doing.
Taking breaks may seem counterintuitive, and many people don’t want to interrupt a state of flow. However, there is a limit to how long anyone can focus effectively. This can vary per person; one study has suggested that children from ten to fourteen have attention spans varying from 20 to 42 minutes while another said college students can pay attention for about 21 to 22 minutes. This doesn’t have to be set in stone, and this will likely depend on how much interest they have in whatever is before them. To improve their overall focusing skill, your child can practice gradually increasing their focusing stamina. But they should also accept that there will always be a limit, and that’s perfectly okay! Go ahead and take that break!
Timers are a great way to also prepare your mind for a set period of intense focus. Knowing that you have a specific amount of time to focus, which will then be followed by a break, will spur your mind on for the next twenty minutes or so. It’s another great way to signal to the brain that it has to kick into gear. Focus also requires a lot of patience, so knowing that there will be a specific end to this focus period will help ward off any restlessness. There are a few methods, like the Pomodoro technique, that can work alongside timers for maximum productivity. Apps like the Forest app further help with focusing by discouraging the use of their electronics during the set time.
Practice with Games and Exercises
There are games and exercises your child can engage in to improve their focus. Anything that requires a lot of thinking, like Sudoku, can be a great daily habit to exercise the mind; for an extra challenge, the activities can be timed. Your child can also do exercises like counting back from 100 to 1 and add extra challenges like doing the same thing but skipping every three numbers or five numbers. They could also recite things from memory, like the multiplication table or all 50 United States in alphabetical order.
Utilize Various Techniques at School
After sitting through hours of school, your child is understandably starting to zone out. It’s harder to control their environment and schedule when they’re both already set by the school. They can’t tell their teacher that they need a break, and then take a nap on their desk. However, they can try to use techniques that help them regain control of their focus, such as doodling. Doodling was found to be an effective technique for active listening, resulting in better retention of information. They could also ask a friend to take notes while they go on a bathroom break, during which they can splash cold water on their face or go on a brisk walk to get their blood pumping and refresh their brain. They could also ask the teacher questions, so they are more actively participating in the lesson and satisfying their curiosity.
Does your child need more help focusing? They can try to hone this skill at a JEI Learning Center near you. We create conducive environments for studying and help children learn at a pace that is right for them, which is excellent for improving focus.
Find a center near you or call us at 877-JEI-MATH to learn more about how we can help your child accomplish everything to their full potential!