Imagine this: You’re heading out in the morning, taking off for the day with the kids in tow. They’re dressed, have their backpacks, and all they need to do is get their shoes on. You ask once… you ask again… maybe you offer to help or ask them to choose what shoes they want to wear for the day. Maybe you tell them more forcefully to get their shoes on. As your frustration rises, so does your voice. Sound familiar?
While it may seem as much a part of your routine as having your kids brush their teeth, getting your kids to pay attention is a skill. If your child struggles to pay attention (at home, in the car, at dinner, in school...), there are things you can do to help them focus that don’t require yelling or tears.
Whether your family is dealing with a specific diagnosis like ADHD, autism, or other learning disabilities, or you're dealing with typical, age-appropriate attention issues, these strategies can help.
Create a schedule: Keeping the same routine, day after day, can help! From snacks to homework to playtime, organizing your child’s day can help them understand your expectations, manage their own behavior, and keep them engaged. Be sure to establish your daily routine and talk it through with your child. Don’t expect them to just pick up on things as you go, take the time to teach them the routine and stick with it. With older children, get them involved in creating their schedules for a sense of ownership.
Do one thing at a time: Demonstrate and teach mindfulness, and focus on the task at hand. Don’t talk about what needs to be done next, or try to multitask. Help your child understand the importance of doing one thing at a time to be present and focused in the moment. Activities like yoga or tai chi may be helpful (and fun) for the whole family!
Keep your time frames realistic: If you’re running late in the morning, it’s not realistic to think your 5-year-old can get their shoes on in a minute. As you fine-tune your daily schedule, build in adequate amounts of time for each task. Keep in mind your child’s attention span for some of your tasks as well. Build your scheduled time slots with those attention spans in mind.
Create a space and a place for everything: From backpacks to toys, homework chairs to art spaces, help your child organize their belongings and remove distractions. Clear out a corner in a quiet room for homework, free of toys, unnecessary screens, etc. Plan outfits weekly and organize them by day in a hanging shoe rack in their closet. Make a command center in your entryway or mudroom with coat and backpack hooks, bins for shoes, mittens, and winter gear, and a message center for permission slips, homework reminders, etc. Helping your child organize their everyday items is an important skill.
Break things down: When a task is overwhelming, it’s easier to get distracted. Break big jobs down into smaller tasks to keep your child focused, set them up for success, and keep your own expectations in check. Be precise in your instructions and repeat them until your child understands.
Make lists, post the rules, and stick to them: Make your expectations very clear and set limits. Acceptable vs. unacceptable behaviors, as well and rewards and consequences, have to be well-known, consistent, and predictable. Once established, the adults in your home need to take charge and follow through immediately with both consequences and rewards.
Watch what they eat: The link between food additives or allergies and attention issues is controversial, so please work with your child’s medical team before eliminating any foods from your child’s diet. Be conscious of your child’s overall health and nutrition, with a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, grains and healthy fats!
Blame the behavior, not the child: Aim to teach (not punish) your child through your discipline. As embarrassed as you may be when your child doesn’t pay attention or acts up, accusations and criticism of the child as a person doesn’t leave them much room to improve.
Instead of “You’re really being naughty today,” try “When you yell or throw a fit, it makes it hard for me to make dinner.”
Instead of “Stop being so lazy,” try “It’s time to get outside and mow.”
Instead of “You’re not even trying,” try “I feel frustrated when you don’t start to work on your homework.”
Give them a dose of nature: Spending as little as 20 minutes a day outside can boost concentration and attention! Get the whole family outside for some fresh air. We could all benefit from improved short-term memory, less stress, and more energy, right?
Consider using intervention programs that can improve your child’s attention: Fast ForWord Home is a computerized language, reading and cognitive skills development program that can generate results (at home) in as little as 8 weeks. It helps build processing and memory skills that will improve their ability to pay attention. With weekly check-ins with our professional educational consultants, we give parents the support you need to amplify your child’s treatment at home!
Talintervention program could be the right fit for your family!