Whilst technology has totally changed our world, it has undoubtedly made it harder to focus on any singular task. This is specifically true with young people. Everything they want they can get instantly; music, TV shows, movies, information. This makes anything that takes time seem like a chore.
Two of the most common questions I get from parents is this; how can I increase my child’s attention span and how can I get them to focus better? It is a wide-spread issue and one that isn’t a quick fix.
The mind, like any muscle of the body grows in small increments. It is why we don’t drop kindergarten students in to trigonometry and expect them to pick it up naturally. Instead, we work on foundations – building understanding brick by brick.
The ability to focus is exactly the same. It needs to be learnt and grown over time. This is why it can be frustrating as parents when our children can’t handle 30 minutes of reading time – when the most they’ve done before is 5 minutes.
If focus is a challenge for your child, here is what I recommend:
Sit them down somewhere with as few distractions as possible and get them to read a book that they will be interested in. If they are not of reading age yet, give them a picture book – the goal here is not to get them reading, but to get them to focus on one thing for an extended period of time.
I recommend that you start with just 3 minutes. 3 minutes of quiet time for them to read to themselves. Set a clock and let them know they need to do it for 3 minutes. They might laugh at the idea of just 3 minutes – or they might struggle. If they can’t do it (which I see all the time!), aim for the same the next day. If they make the 3 minute mark, strive for 4 minutes tomorrow.
Increase by one minute each day. Just one minute – don’t try to jump ahead. If you’ve ever done a running program you’ll know that small intervals are effective – you can’t go from running 100m to 5kms overnight. You can probably cap it out at 30 minutes and start trying activities other than reading – revising their class work or doing some writing.
These 1 minute intervals are also smart because your child won’t even notice them. At the start they will look at it and think that 4 minutes is nothing. In 2 weeks, they might complain about 18 minutes, but you just need to remind them they did 17 minutes the day before and it was easy for them.
I have seen this strategy work in nearly every student I have tried it with. Not only do they build up their attention span, they usually look forward to it by the end – because it is 30 minutes of peace when they can disconnect from everything else and get lost in their own little world.
Remember that even the world’s greatest athletes had their first day in the gym. 3 minutes may not seem like much, but it is the first step to something much greater.