Chipper Tip: How to Improve Your Child’s Attention Span

Do you feel like you’re constantly saying “Focus!” or “Pay Attention!”? Do you wonder if your child has ADHD or if he or she just merely has trouble focusing? Read on for tips for creative and effective ways to increase your child’s attention span.

Most child development experts assert that 4 to 5 year old children “should be able to stay focused on a task for two to five minutes times the year of their age” (O’Hanlon). However, these numbers should be used merely as a guideline and not a hard-and-fast rule: attention span is often situational.

Here are some tips to improving your child’s attention span:

1. Give Attention to Get Attention

A good rule of thumb is for parents to give attention to get attention from their children. Dr. Neal Rojas, M.D, of the University of California, San Francisco, says, “Our attention is often scattered. But, if our attention is scattered, we can’t bring ourselves back to the moment [and] we can’t expect a child to be able to do so.” So, give direct attention to your child: while giving directions or delivering assertions, be in close physical distance to them. Margret Nickels, Ph.D., a clinical psychologists and the director of the Center for Children & Families at the Erikson Institute in Chicago, says that “the best way to get them to pay attention is be physically close to the child. Don’t shout requests from the kitchen to the living room. Go into the living room, stand in front of your child, make eye contact, [and] be level or though their shoulder, and say
I need you to do this now.”

2. Increase Creativity of Mundane Activities

The amount of attention that a child gives something is directly proportional to their amount of interest in the matter. So, turn something dull into something fun with a little creativity to increase your child’s attention on that particular task! For example, instead of asking your child to do math out of workbooks, trying adding and subtracting with fruits and vegetables, doing problems on the sidewalk with chalk, etc. The possibilities are truly endless!

3.  Decrease distractions as much as possible

Some common distractions include: hunger, siblings, and an overwhelming amount of instructions. To combat hunger, make sure to feed your child healthy, filling snacks. Some suggestions include whole-wheat pretzels, fruits, Greek yogurt, and raw veggies dipped in hummus.  If other siblings are a distraction, make sure the two siblings work in separate rooms. To minimize being overwhelmed with instructions, give your child one instruction at a time to make sure they stay on task.

Research has also shown that a good night’s rest and consistent exercise can increase attention span. To help energize your kids, make sure they get enough rest. Perhaps, even consider a routine nap time to increase attention span. “A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention research review from 2010 revealed that elementary school children who took breaks from classwork to be active during the day could concentrate better on schoolwork. Other studies have reported that parents who make exercise a priority in their family life will have more physically active kids; parents should help their children find a sport they like, provide outdoors toys such as balls and jump ropes, and set aside time each day for activities such as going on a walk or riding a bike together” (O’Hanlon).

4. Vary Tasks

Although this sounds counter-intuitive, varying tasks actually increases attention span!  According to Edward M. Hallowell, M.D, child and adult psychiatrist, building variety and varying individual tasks helps improve attention span. As with adults, staying on one task too long will create boredom. To combat this, try to organize your child’s tasks so there is a good amount of variety.

Let’s Go Chipper for Improving Your Child’s Attention!