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Teach Your Kids How to Stay Focused

Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Health, Wellness, & Safety

How distractible are you?

If you’re like a lot of people, your attention is constantly being pulled this way and that. You may find yourself jumping from the activity you’re engaged in to something else that you’re afraid you’ll forget to do, then trying to recapture what you were thinking before you got detoured.

This is a “normal” part of our busy, complicated lives. Mostly, we’re okay with this. But our kids may not be. During the older elementary school years and middle school grades, children increasingly need to stay focused on the task at hand. The most successful kids have learned how to control their attention.

Now there’s a way to help kids do just that. A study in “mindfulness” with 10- and 11-year-old students has demonstrated that practice in staying “in the moment” helps kids be more focused and less distracted. Mindfulness involves paying attention on purpose, in a calm, relaxed state. It has been shown to reduce stress levels and increase feelings of well-being.

The study was conducted in England with 30 preteens. Kids’ ability to pay attention and stay on-task was measured, then played a computer game designed to improve their level of focus. Measurements were made at three-month intervals to gauge changes over time in students’ ability to stay mentally on-task.

The exercise was a success. Students increased in ability to pay attention and ignore distractions. As the lead researcher said, “The ability to pay attention in class is crucial for success at school. Mindfulness appears to have an effect after only a short training course, which the children thoroughly enjoyed!”

The training helped children actually watch their minds at work and monitor their own levels of attention. The researchers believe a program like the one used in this study could help students who have attention difficulties like ADHD.

Notice that what was used in this study wasn’t just any video game, but one specifically designed to require mindfulness. But parents without this sort of tool can still help their children pay attention to their attention:

  1. Use what’s known as “think aloud” to model paying attention to thinking. When you get distracted, say, “Oh, my mind drifted away. I’ve got it back now. Tell me that again…”
  2. Encourage your child to monitor her own thinking, maybe when she’s doing homework. Help her to notice when her mind wanders off.
  3. Practice doing one thing at a time. Give whatever you’re doing your undivided attention and invite your child to do this too.

The ability to control attention has been shown in numerous studies to be important in children’s learning. Now that you’re mindful of mindfulness, you can guide your child better in developing this essential skill.


© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Developmentally Appropriate Parenting, at your favorite bookstore.

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Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Dr. Patricia Anderson is a nationally acclaimed educational psychologist and the author of “Parenting: A Field Guide.” Dr. Anderson is on the Early Childhood faculty at Walden University and she is a Contributing Editor for Advantage4Parents.