By Heidi Stevens: The Parent 'Hood
11:14 AM EDT, October 1, 2012
Your 6-year-old’s attention span seems to be getting shorter and shorter. Can you help with specific exercises or activities?
Parents panel advice:
“Have a quick chat with the teacher to see if your kid’s attention span is atypical compared to his/her schoolmates. Back at home, try doing more activities together that require multiple steps and prolonged concentration but produce fun results, like making smoothies or baking a pie.”
“There are video games that encourage deeper attention and longer-term strategy: Spore, for one. Or the Wikipedia game where you start them at one entry (the Liberty Bell, say) and challenge them to get to another (ice cream) in the fewest possible links. At the same time, since short attention spans seem to be related to one or another of the home’s video screens, consider going back to the strict usage limits you enforced when they were younger and you were more idealistic.”
“It’s highly unlikely a child’s attention span is actually getting shorter,” says Susan Kaiser-Greenland, author of “The Mindful Child: How to Help Your Kid Manage Stress and Become Happier, Kinder, and More Compassionate” (Free Press). “My guess is, it’s not really that his or her capacity to attend is getting shorter, just that the child is becoming understandably more distracted by more and more interesting things.”
A simple remedy is to try lessening the distractions. Homework, crafts, reading time should happen in a quieter place — away from a blaring TV, sparring siblings and other people’s phone conversations.
But that’s just a start. Kaiser-Greenland recommends teaching children a more mindful approach to concentration.
“It’s about developing a more universal worldview of attention, balance and compassion: the new ABCs,” she says. “Attention alone isn’t enough. Snipers have really great attention skills. The key is being able to regulate your emotions.”
Parents of daughters, take note: Kaiser-Greenland says boys tend to receive the bulk of focus, as it were, when it comes to difficulty concentrating.
“There are plenty of girls who are distracted easily too,” she says, “and there isn’t nearly as much support for girls on the less-regulated side of the attention spectrum as there is for boys.”
Practice awareness-based behavior with your child when you’re sitting in traffic, waiting in a long line or engaged in other patience-testing pursuits. “Remind them to breathe in and breathe out. To listen to the sounds going on around them,” she says. “Shifting your attention from the thoughts in your mind to your physical sensations has a way of grounding us in the present moment and chilling everyone out.”
Two exercises promote this:
The tone game
“Have the child sit and listen with her eyes closed to different sounds,” Kaiser-Greenland says. “Shake jingle bells, strike a tone bar, and have her count the different tones. ‘I heard three tones and four jingle bells.’ Or tap out a sequence and have the child tap it back or clap it out with your hands and have the child clap it back.”
Pass the cup
This works best in groups. Sit on the floor in a circle; fill a cup about two-thirds with water. Pass the cup slowly around the circle, urging the kids to pay attention to sounds or physical cues that it’s their turn to receive the cup. Now blindfold them or have them close their eyes and let them draw on their previous observations to anticipate receiving the cup and not spilling its contents.
“In addition to teaching concentration, it really helps shift our awareness away from the contents of our minds into more sensory experiences,” Kaiser-Greenland says, “which makes us feel calmer and more collected and grounded.”
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