Most kids are fidgety and do not or cannot stay in one place for long. They also tend to shift from one subject to another during conversation, and they are likely to change activities when they’ve had enough of the first one. Because they generally do not have a long attention span – not in the same way that grownups do anyway – some parents tend to judge their kids as having attention problems.
I did a non-official research on this matter and three of four or 75 percent of parents I talked to think that their kids exhibit a certain level of attention problem. To be more specific, their claims are based mostly on reasons like their kids not being able to sit properly, not able to concentrate, are easily distracted, make careless mistakes with their homework, and so on. Often, the parents’ concern is due to their belief that these behaviors can affect their children’s learning effectiveness and their success in their studies.
I’m writing this article to give parents another perspective from which to look at the situation: instead of immediately thinking of sending your child to training or therapy to improve their concentration and/or attentiveness, it would be a good idea to re-evaluate them first. This means paying extra attention to those instances when they are doing things that they are genuinely interested in.
For example, observe when your son or daughter is reading, drawing, playing board games, having a pretend tea party, building a fort, or doing another activity that they enjoy. If they are able to do it for a significant amount of time, then it is likely that there is no problem with their concentration.
In contrast, kids with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) lack the ability to concentrate, even on things that are generally interesting for most kids. Their inattention, impulsiveness, and unfocused motor activities tend to be more severe and occurs more often.
Being a neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) coach for more than 10 years, the most common concerns I hear from parents are:
1. their kids are not attentive enough
2. their kids exhibit bad academic performance, and
3. their kids fail to control their emotions.
Interestingly, though, among the children I’ve seen, those with real attention or concentration problems (who fail in the concentration test I’ve given them) are actually the rare breed.
So why do some parents think their kids have concentration problems even though they’re tested normal? Here are few possible reasons:
If kids live in insecure environment, it’s difficult for them to concentrate and finish tasks that they would otherwise be able to do if they feel more secure.
For instance, kids cannot have a sense of stability and security if they move to a new house or apartment often. They would have to keep on adjusting to each new place and to try to fit in. Being a new kid in a neighborhood or school is not very easy for many children.
Another example would be kids who are exposed to fights between their parents. They become fearful and feel unsafe in their own home. Ugly words, raised voices, sarcastic remarks – these affect kids more than many grownups can comprehend.
Kids who face these types of situations tend to blame themselves and start believing that they are the problem or a part of it.
To help your child with their concentration, is important to provide them with a secure and comfortable home and learning environment. Also, consistency in your parenting style is vital – you should avoid contradicting yourself, or the grownups in the house should not give conflicting rules or even signals.
Should change be unavoidable, make sure that your child understands that it’s not them who created the mess or they are not responsible for it.
In many cases, our kids exhibit inappropriate behavior either because they are curious about how the grownups would react or because they are trying to get some attention. In either case, their means of getting noticed is by doing naughty things. After all, negative attention is still attention.
However, behaviors like being talkative in class, walking around instead of sitting, and other inappropriate acts tend to create the impression that the child has concentration problems.
To minimize inappropriate behavior, you should avoid over-reacting when your child is being naughty. Rather, state clearly what correct behavior you want to see in them. Also, give more notice to correct actions. For instance, if your child tends to leave the water running in the bathroom, thank them when they do turn the faucet off rather than scold them every time they forget. This way, they would resort to gaining positive attention for positive behavior instead of exhibiting negative behavior to gain negative attention.
More importantly, make time for your child. When they speak, turn away from the computer screen, face them, and listen attentively. When you’re reading or doing other activities together, turn off your phone’s ringer. Spend more time with your child so they don’t resort to other things just to get your attention.
There are usually underlying reasons why kids are unable to focus, and one of them is that they don’t understand. It could be that they can’t grasp the lesson because it’s beyond their ability level, or they don’t know why they have to do a particular activity. For example, a child may question why they have to go to school or why have to do their homework.
Not being able to understand a concept or not knowing the underlying reason behind what they’re doing usually leads to frustration. Therefore, it’s important for parents to observe what their kids are having difficulty with and provide an explanation when needed.
For example, if your child is having difficulty with math and is asking what it is good for in real life, you can use their interests to explain. Say that scientists use it to measure the distance between planets and stars, or to figure out how deep the sea is, or to find out how fast a storm is moving. Without math, no one would know how old or how tall they are.
Moreover, choose age-appropriate activities for your child. When they not doing an activity properly, say playing the piano, motivate them by explaining why they need to practice. Arousing your child’s interest in various tasks is far more important than finishing them.
I’ve seen parents who arrange a full-day schedule of activities for their children of only 3 or 4 years old. These include learning Spanish, attending drawing class, piano class, swimming class, and many others. The parents then complain to me that their kids have lost motivation and are not passionate about what they do.
While it’s okay to let children try various activities, it’s not okay to force them into any or all of them, just because it interests us or it would make our child look impressive. Kids, although young, will have a sense of what they like or dislike. Instead of pre-arranging everything for them, only to turn out that they have no interest at all, why not let them decide what they want to do and learn?
We all care about the growth and development of our own kids, but always remind yourself that the kids are also responsible for their own growth and development. We should let them experience the process and take responsibility for the consequences.
For example, I see some parents perceive kids’ homework time as their own homework time – they sit next to their children to make sure they complete the work. Unfortunately, they are actually educating the kids that homework is their parents’ responsibility. This then results in the pupils’ inability to do their own work properly when their parents are not there to help.
It’s possible that the little ones may create mistakes when you are not next to them. It’s possible that they may run around instead of sitting quietly when they are working on their homework. Just let them do that, let them experience the process, let them know what consequences will come with how they behave.
Next time, before you think of sending your kids to some sort of attention / concentration training, do think about the things you can do in order to motivate them. Children are natural born learners and they are curious about anything. Make things fun for them, let them do things that suit their age, and arrange a suitable amount of activities for them to do. Pay them proper attention but give them room to grow. Let them enjoy their life as kids, the time when they are learning and growing and experiencing new things, and they will have great things to look back to when they grow up.
I believe our kids are the key to the future of the world and, as parents, we have a lot of influence while our children are still learning and growing. We set ourselves as our kids’ role models. Consciously and unconsciously, we pass on to them what we know, what we believe, and what we value. This is why partnering with parents in teaching life lessons and soft skills to get kids prepared for the world has become my key purpose in life. I hope that through my experience in teaching communications in university and in NLP training and coaching, I’ll be able to equip you with more tangible methods so that you can be your children’s life teacher, too!