13 Ways to Improve Concentration in Kids

“Can’t you just stop fidgeting and finish your homework?”

I’m sure we’ve all asked our children this at least a few dozen times while they’re studying. I know I have! As a mother of a vibrant, fun-loving, talkative eight-year-old girl, it is often a challenge for me to get her to sit in one place, focus on her homework and finish it without getting too distracted. And yes, I say “too distracted” because children are naturally energetic and exuberant and we cannot expect them to focus completely and not get distracted at all! But, having said that, it IS possible to help children concentrate better and focus on a task for a longer period of time. Hereare a few techniques to boost your child’s concentration.

1. Prepare the Environment

Some children respond well in an environment that is soothing and calming but other children may thrive in an environment that has a lot of hustle and bustle. Understanding what kind of environment your child prefers to study in may be the first step towards better concentration.

  • Ambience – Soft instrumental music and soft lighting helps to set the mood for studying. “Manav used to be quite hyper all the time, but after I put a fish tank in his room, I find that he has calmed down quite a bit!” says Kalpana, mother of 4 year-old Manav. “I think just watching these fish calmly swimming around has had an amazing effect on him!”
  • Gadgets – Ideally, all gadgets including televisions, iPads, cell phones etc. need to be switched off or kept in a different room to avoid distractions. If you need to use a computer to study, make sure that it is used only for studying and nothing else.
  • Reachable Material – Keep everything that is required at hand so that your child does not need to get up to get anything. All homework books, crayons, textbooks, pencils and even water can be kept on the table or nearby. This also helps keep track of how much work is left and helps you to manage your time better.

2. Routines are important!

Anita, mother of 4 year-old Rahul has everything planned to a T. “Rahul comes home from school at 3.30 pm and has a snack. At 4 pm, I take him outside to cycle or play with the neighbourhood children. At 5 pm, he is back home, has a wash and snack and is at his study desk by 5.30. He studies or does homework till 7.30 pm after which he has his dinner and is in bed by 8.30,” she says.

While we don’t need to be as regimented as Anita, it is important to maintain a schedule for your child, even if it is a more flexible one. This not only helps with time management but also helps program your child’s brain to know when he has to study. For example, Rahul knows that after playing, he has to study and automatically gets into “study mode” once play is done.

3. Healthy Eating

Eating healthy food has a direct link to how well a child concentrates. Eating junk food or food rich in sugar makes a child sluggish while food rich in proteins such as almonds, eggs and lean meat have the ability to raise awareness and concentration levels!

  • Caffeine – A recent trend in the US shows that children have increased their intake of coffee and caffeinated energy drinks. This gives them an unhealthy dose of sugar which can lead to a “crash” of energy later.
  • Green food – An interesting study in the University of Ulster, UK shows that eating toast and baked beans for breakfast increases cognition. Experts say that eating greens and fruits inject the body with antioxidants which in turn boost your brain power.

4. Physiologically Speaking

Most children are able to concentrate best after a good nights’ rest. A power nap for twenty minutes after school or in the afternoon should also do the trick. All bathroom breaks, hunger pangs etc. should be taken care of before the study time begins as they have the tendency to interfere with concentration.

5. Is my child Visual, Auditory or Kinaesthetic?

All children learn in different ways. Some children process information easily when they see it, some when they hear it and some when they have practical knowledge of it and can touch it. It is important to understand which category your child falls under, mostly because this will help them understand information better and the learning will be more long term than short term.

  • Visual – Children who are visual understand information better when they are able to see In this case, the child will be able to concentrate better if she is allowed to read the information and write it down as well.
  • Making flash cards – If your child is learning spellings or even concepts, writing them down on small cards and repeatedly showing them to her will help her understand and learn these concepts that much faster.
  • Drawing – Asking the child to draw what he is studying may also help him visualize the material better. A bonus is that this also helps his fine motor skills to develop.
  • Doodling – Often, we see our children scribbling while studying and think that they’re distracted but what really happens is that the doodling helps them recall what they have been studying at that point and so remembering it at a later stage becomes easier.
  • Auditory – Children who learn better when they hear information are auditory in nature.
    • Reading aloud – Children who are auditory in nature learn better by reading the material aloud or listening to someone else reading. In this regard, they might find audio books more helpful than paperback books.
    • MusicListening to music while studying may also help these children concentrate and remember better.
  • Kinaesthetic – Children who are kinaesthetic need to be able to touch and feel their subject matter to understand and process it better. For these children, learning by practical applications may be more helpful than reading aloud or writing. “When my child was learning about planets, I took him to the planetarium and when we got back home, we sat together and made a model of the solar system and coloured it. Ever since then, he has never forgotten the order of the planets or which planets have rings etc.” says Nina, mother of 5-year-old Prakash.

6. Divide Bigger Tasks into Smaller Tasks

Studying an entire chapter in one go is quite difficult for a child. It always helps to break it down into pages or even paragraphs so that the child feels a sense of accomplishment for finishing a small task and this will motivate him to continue on. This is true not just for studies but for household chores as well. Nita, mother of 8-year-old Ankit says, “I had been nagging Ankit to clean out his cupboard for weeks but he never got round to doing it. Then I started breaking it down and I’d tell him ‘today you need to do the bottom shelf’ and sure enough, by the time I get back home in the evening, it would have been done!”

7. Time Limit

Set a time limit for the completion of a goal. If it is studying, then you can say that a certain number of pages need to be done within twenty minutes. Keep in mind that the average time for an adult to concentrate completely is about 42 minutes and so the concentration span of a child would be much less. Therefore, it would be wise to have shorter time limits such as 15 minutes to 20 minutes. Another thing to keep in mind is that while some children thrive under time goals, other children might feel pressurized and may start feeling anxious and lose focus.

8. Allow Time for Distractions

Kids are naturally energetic and exuberant. Giving them time to vent out their energy once their time limit for a task is up may actually help them focus better on the next task! It would help if your child did something completely different during this time. For example, Shantha, grandmother of 8 year-old Shifrah says, “When I’m teaching my granddaughter spellings, we do 10 spellings at a time after which I allow her to run or skate around the house for a minute or two. I find that this helps her focus on the next 10 spellings.” She finds that mixing a physical activity with a mental activity is very effective.

9. Play! Play! Play!

Since children learn more by playing, it is always a good idea to try and make their activities a little more fun. Keep away gadgets, tablets and computers and allow children to play with regular toys. Studies have shown that gadgets actually reduce attention span of children so they should be used sparingly or not at all.

  • Thinking games – You can train and strengthen a child’s ability to focus by playing games that require thinking, planning and the use of memory. Crossword puzzles, jigsaw puzzles and card games such as “Memory” and “Uno” actually improve attention for words,numbers and pictures, while picture puzzles—in which your younger child has to look for things that are “wrong” in the picture or look for hard-to-find objects—also improve attention and concentration.
  • Sequencing – The link between sequencing and concentration is a strong one. Following recipes, setting the table and putting things in alphabetical order are great activities for kids who have concentration difficulties.
  • Just sit – This game involves challenging your child to sit in a chair without moving or fidgeting to see how long he can do it. Another game in this category is “Statue!” Through repeated play, the child’s brain is “exercised” and challenged, which strengthens mind-body connections and improves focus.

10. Prepare your child for the next task

When your child is busy, tell him what he has to do next, but allow a few minutes, till he stops and starts the new activity. This helps, especially when a child is engaged doing something he likes and enjoys doing, since there would be reluctance to stop what he is doing and start do something else.

11. Reward System

Rewards don’t necessarily have to be tokens such as chocolates or toys. They can also be in the form of praise or even further studying! Says Anushka, mother of 7 year-old Mansi, “My daughter loves to solve maths problems so as a reward for studying Hindi which she hates, I allow her to do a page of sums.”

12. Use Energy Effectively

Some children have high energy in the mornings while others have high energy in the evenings. Studying or doing activities during this time will help your child focus better on the task at hand. Always start your child on the tougher activities during his high energy time. As energy levels go down, you can always switch to a lighter activity.

13. Deep Breathing and Imagery

Combining simple relaxation techniques such as deep breathing with positive visual imagery helps the brain to improve or learn new skills. For instance, you can ask a child to close her eyes and imagine that she is paying attention in class. In her imagination, what can she see? What can she hear? What is distracting her? You can further ask her to imagine how she would take care of those distractions. Once she is able to clearly picture this, you will find that her behaviour at school also changes!

Like any skill, concentration can be improved and made automatic. The trick is to be consistent. These 13 tips are a win/win solution, because they not only help improve concentration but also strengthen the relationship that you have with your child.

Featured Image Credit: John Morgan on Flickr

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