A 2009 study of multitaskers discovered that “heavy media multitaskers are more susceptible to interference from irrelevant environmental stimuli and from irrelevant representations in memory.”
For children, “irrelevant environmental stimuli” takes a more profound meaning as their senses are sharply attuned to their environment. The risk of distraction, therefore, is much higher. When pursuing task completion with a child, patiently focus on one task at a time. Calmly go through each step of a problem in chronological order, covering up the other problems on the sheet with a piece of paper, so they don’t get overwhelmed with the slate of work.
Keep media devices away from the designated work area. Turning off sound sources like a TV or wireless speaker can also help your child concentrate better, although white noise or soothing instrumental music (lyrics tend to cloud concentration) may be used for a calming effect.
Break Goals Into Milestones
One way to get a child to focus on the task in front of them is to break bigger, more challenging goals into smaller milestones and tasks. Large, hairy projects can be overwhelming, especially for young children who’ve yet to learn optimal methods for organizing multi-step tasks.
Help your child visualize a project by drawing a diagram with the desired result at the very top and the multiple steps it takes to complete it below in chronological order. Have fun with this–use colors, doodles, stickers, and anything else that makes the activity exciting for your child. Reward your child with stickers, a snack, or something simple they’ll appreciate. Motivating them to reach milestones will show them big goals can be accomplished by putting effort into pre-planned objectives.
Be Mindful of Time Constraints
Allow your child to have as much time as they need to figure out a solution to a problem, but keep goofing off and task avoidance to a minimum. Avoiding time restraints will give a child the opportunity to work uninterrupted on the problem at hand without getting overwhelmed by the amount of work left to complete. Time constraints can trigger a stress response in even the most composed of individuals, and in children, they can cause considerable anxiety and discourage them from completing specific tasks altogether.
To build your child’s time management skills, begin by assigning them a task around the house, such as putting away laundry or cleaning dishes. As they progress, make note of how quickly they get the job done and provide gentle motivation to complete it faster. Once they’ve reached a point where they can efficiently complete a task within an average timeframe, move on to another task to keep developing this skill. By establishing small-scale expectations for your child that require them to stick to a tight schedule, they’ll be better prepared for greater responsibility that involves an actual time constraint.
Allow Time For Breaks
Giving your child time to rest can actually be highly beneficial to their overall ability to focus on tasks for an extended period of time. Childhood development experts say that a reasonable attention span to expect from a child is two to three minutes per year of their age. If a child is forced to focus on a task beyond this point, the quality of their work will likely decline as they are unable to commit their full attention to it. Everyone needs a break from their work eventually, and oftentimes the frequency of those breaks must be variable to the age and attention span of the person.
If your child has a lot of homework they need to get done, allow them to take brief breaks between assignments so they can recharge. Free time is important to children as it’s important to anyone else, and allowing for little breaks gives them a chance to still do the things that kids enjoy between responsibilities. Whether it’s with a walk outside or a light snack, it will allow them to decompress for a moment and prevent them from feeling bogged down by a bunch of work all at once.
In a world full of more distractions than ever, getting kids on track can seem like an insurmountable task. Just like anything in parenting, however, it’s possible to guide children towards greater focus with a little patience and persistence. By establishing this base for growing their attention span, in time, you’ll be able to watch your child grow into a productive, well-rounded adult.