During the past four months, parents have been challenged in ways never previously experienced. Parents of school-age children have needed to be both parent and teacher. One parent recently described to me that she was now talking to herself on a regular basis, having what she called “parent-teacher” conferences.
Because so many parents now wear two hats with their kids, those of parent and teacher, there is an opportunity for parent/teachers to use daily activities that can help children learn attention and focus skills. Parents of kids previously diagnosed with ADHD or executive-function difficulties had been aware of children’s struggles to pay attention in school, but now it’s in their face 24/7. The freedom of teaching at home can allow for integrating activities into a child’s daily routine that can improve focus.
Here are three activities for children to improve their focus:
Intend to exercise. It is not only important that adults understand how regular vigorous exercise improves learning and attention, but also that children recognize this on their own. Work hard to engage your child in vigorous physical exercise and help him to step back and see the impact of this exercise on his attention span and learning. Emerging neuroscience research indicates that children can pay attention better and for longer periods of time after vigorous physical exercise. You may wish to encourage him to engage in physical exercise prior to doing homework or studying for a test. Help him chart or at least monitor the impact of vigorous exercise on his academic attention and performance. Spacing out exercise during the day can be effective in improving attention capabilities. It might also be helpful to get your child to exercise for 30 minutes before school in the morning by using an exercise bike or treadmill.
Stretch your body, stretch your attention span. This technique can be very helpful for children when doing homework, cleaning their rooms, or taking a test at school. Stretching or moving while trying to come up with a sentence for vocabulary homework or figuring out what needs to be done on a math problem can also be helpful. Practice a few basic yoga stretches and breathing techniques that go along with them to really make this strategy effective. If the stretches become part of a routine, they can free up mental energy for processing school work.
Improve your child’s attention span in conversation and family discussions. Some children with communication and attention difficulties may also experience problems in sustaining their focus, not only to activities but also to conversation. It may be helpful gradually to increase the amount of time your child is expected to pay attention. Give him feedback in family discussions such as, “It’s good to see that you’re still listening,” and teach him how to ask a follow-up question to be part of a family conversation.