7 Ways to Improve Your Child’s Attention Span

7 Ways to Improve Your Child’s Attention Span

Experts share their top tips to increase focus and hone this important skill.

By Heather Chaet

Often, I feel scattered, as my attention constantly is bouncing from thought to thought, and lately, I’ve seen something similar happening with my daughter. If it’s hard for me in this fast-paced world, imagine how tough it is for my kiddo, who doesn’t have 42 years of building up those focus muscles.

What can a mom do to do help her kid stay focused on one thing at a time when so much of her young life is spent multitasking and getting pulled in 83 directions? “What’s most important for parents to understand is that helping your child increase his or her level of focus and attention is not about fixing it in the moment, but rather approaching it as a process that can be mastered,” says child and adult psychiatrist Dr. Ned Hallowell.

Just how can it be mastered? We asked some experts, and they shared their key tips that will help your child boost his or her attention span. Some of them are so simple, you can start doing them today.

1. Exercising the body means exercising that focus. The mind-body connection is true for attention spans. “Lack of physical activity in early childhood is actually the biggest single problem that will hurt the growth and development of the brain. Getting children to move is the most important thing of all that a parent can do,” says Robert Melillo, a professor and specialist in childhood neurological disorders. “Doing exercises that improve the timing and synchronization of muscles is good for all kids and will help improve their concentration, social development, and intelligence.”

And don’t think that the physical activity they’re getting in school (like PE or afterschool sports) is enough, says pediatric neuropsychologist Rita Eichenstein. “Children are designed to move,” she says. “Deep cardiovascular exercise 20 minutes twice a day or more is necessary. Send your child out to run with your dog around the block. Climb the stairs rapidly rather than taking the elevator or escalator. Take walks before school, or better yet, walk or ride the bike to school. Children who have had exercise before school will pay attention better in the mornings.”

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2. You are (and your attention span is) what you eat. We strive to give our kids the healthiest meals to grow those little bodies, but their diet also directly affects how they focus throughout the day. “Most kids I see have the scariest diets,” says Eichenstein. “Chewy candy breakfasts with hot chocolate is not unusual. Kids have a natural affinity for sweets and carbs. Do not let your child start the day with a breakfast of sugary cereal or a ‘nutrition bar.’ A high protein breakfast of eggs, sausage, fish, or Greek yogurt is necessary.”

3. Turn off the electronics to turn on that focus. It may be obvious, but limiting screen time is one of the best ways you can help your child increase her attention span. “The technology that our children use on a regular basis, such as video games, smartphones, tablets, and computers, condition us for immediate results,” says parenting coach and author Richard Horowitz.

What to do to fix that? “Limit use of electronics by setting aside family time for a family meeting, or have a family book reading time where all members of the family will quietly read for a period of time, preferably in the same room,” says Horowitz. He adds one more hint to get your kids to put down the remote: “Model the behavior you are seeking from your child. If a parent can't put aside their phone or tablet, how can he or she expect their child to do the same?”


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4. Use play to bolster attention span. Letting your kid be a kid and run around outside, or just goof around (think riding their bikes or climbing trees) allows them to build important brain functions, says Melillo. “Playing with other children, and communicating with others are the best ways [for kids to] build IQ and EQ,” she notes.

5. Pick focus-strengthening activities and games. Reading a book is a great activity to increase your child’s focus, as are crossword and picture puzzles – anything that forces children to search for details and unusual patterns and cues. “Memory and concentration games, where you remember certain pictures, patterns, and where objects are located, are great memory games for tots,” says child psychologist Robert Myers. “Also, relaxation and positive imagery games are helpful. Have your child close their eyes and describe a fun place and provide details about what they ‘see.’ You can also let them look at a favorite book or picture, close their eyes, and describe it to you.”

6. Sleep is a wonder pill for attention spans. Dr. Paul Ballas, a professor and child psychiatrist who specializes in ADHD, says having your child get enough sleep is one of the most important ways you can help her focus. “The symptoms of sleep deprivation in children are almost identical to ADHD,” he says. “To help your child’s attention span, try having your child get 30 minutes more sleep a night and see if it helps.”

7. Limit the time required to focus. When it comes to homework and school, a child’s focus may be disrupted because they may think certain things are too hard, or they need more specific instructions and strategies. “When doing homework, some children work best if they know that the time to pay attention is limited,” says Eichenstein. “Set an egg timer, and help the child learn to expand the amount of time they can pay attention. Start with two or three or four minutes, whatever they can tolerate, and work up from there.”

How have you been able to improve your child’s attention span?

Heather Chaet documents her mini parenting successes, epic mommy fails, and everything in between for a plethora (love that word!) of publications and websites such as CafeMom, New York Family, and AdWeek. While her online persona is found at heatherchaet.com , Heather lives in New York City with her film director husband and one insanely curious, cat-obsessed daughter.

Image ©iStock.com/shironosov

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