Image by Jerry Wang

Paying Attention

Children need to pay attention in order to learn. They must be able to focus on what teachers, parents, and other people are saying. Attention is like a funnel that lets kids select and take in useful information. Once the information is in, the brain can make sense of it and store it in memory to be used later (working memory).

But what does attention involve? Children need to be aware, alert, and ready to take in information. Kids who aren’t alert may have their heads down on their desk. Information is coming in all the time, and children can’t focus on all of it at once, so they also have to choose to give their attention to the teacher or parent over other things. Further, they must be able to ignore distractions in order to focus, but some distractions are hard to ignore (e.g., a loud noise in the hallway), so children also need to shift their focus back to the teacher.

What can cause attention difficulties? It could/be related to the exposure of variouslife events impacting a child’s emotions or wellbeing (e.g. a recent move, problems with peer relationships, loss of a relative, family problems) . Medical problems, limited food intake, malnutrition or or lack of sleep can also make it challenging to focus. Learning problems, stress or anxiety can also be a factor. However, if achild experiences ongoing difficulties with focusing, there could also be an underlying disorder e.g. Attention Deficit (Hyperactivity) Disorder (ADHD).

Children who find it difficult to pay attention might have a hard time:

  • Knowing when to focus on small details and when to focus on the bigger picture

  • Filtering out unimportant sights, sounds, or information

  • Paying attention without getting distracted

  • Holding a train of thought when they’re interrupted

  • Following through on a task without needing to hear directions a few times

  • Concentrating on one activity at a time

  • Following directions

  • Keeping up in conversation

If your child shows some of these attention challenges, then one of our experienced team members can help. Contact us for more advice or support.

Some of our favourite activities to develop improving attention skills are:

  • Break tasks into chunks to make it easier to get started.

  • Practice mindfulness - sit quietly and focus on breathing in and out.

  • Make sure your child gets enough sleep.

  • Allow your child to use a fidget.

  • Limit directions to one or two at a time.

  • Use schedules and planners.

  • Set a timer for how long your child needs to work before taking a break. You can increase the amount of time little by little as your child gets better at focusing.

  • Ask your child what works best for him. Some children need complete silence to stay focused, but others work better with music.

  • Come up with a signal for when your child’s mind starts to wander.

  • Use short movement/brain breaks between tasks.

  • Plan & organize tasks together, this can help to empower en motivate your child to continue with the work.

  • Think about your activity: is it really necessary to do this e.g. while sitting? Standing while working can sometimes give more vestibular and proprioceptive input what helps to keep attention to a task!

  • Be aware of your distractions at the place you are working.

Registered with the Dutch Occupational Therapy and Educational Psychology Association: Nederlandse Vereniging voor Ergotherapie and Nederlandse Vereniging voor Orthopedagogiek.

 

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