Teacher tip: How to help your child pay attention (just think SLANT)

“Pay attention!” “You need to focus.” “Are you listening?”

If you have a child with attention issues, you’ve probably uttered some form of these words to her. And you may have been frustrated when your child kept looking away or slouching.

Inattention is one of those things that can easily anger us. Feeling like you’re being ignored is very frustrating. But have you ever stopped and asked if your child understands what “pay attention” means?

In my experience, many kids actually don’t know what being attentive looks like. They don’t understand how their outward behavior affects their ability to focus and how adults view them. They’ve never been explicitly taught the signs of attention that people look for.

So here’s a tip: Improve your child’s focus by teaching her to pay attention with her body.

I’ve been doing this for years in my classroom with the acronym SLANT:

S: Sit up straight.

L: Lean your body toward the speaker.

A: Ask and answer questions.

N: Nod your head “yes” and “no.”

T: Track the speaker with your eyes.

Explain to your child that SLANT is what she should do when asked to “pay attention.” When she sits up straight, leans in, asks questions, nods, and tracks with her eyes, it does two things.

First, it helps her be more mindful of how to actually pay attention, and that improves focus. Second, in conversation and in school, adults and other kids expect these behaviors as social signs of listening. Doing them will improve how people view your child and relate to her.

Sure, some kids can focus and listen while looking away and slouching. However, listening with SLANT behaviors is more effective. SLANT helps your child communicate interest and respect to others.

Although this might seem straightforward, many kids don’t connect these behaviors to how they’re perceived. That’s why we sometimes say to kids “look at me” when we mean “listen to me.”

Learning how to pay attention in this way takes time. Be patient. Practice with your child. Write SLANT down together and review it before a situation where she needs to focus.

And if the acronym SLANT doesn’t exactly fit with your child’s needs, modify it. For example, my son and I recently brainstormed what it looks like to pay attention to his swimming coach — and it included not going underwater when the coach is giving directions!

— Nancy Hammill is the 2016 National Learning Disabilities Educator of the Year, awarded by Understood founding partner the Learning Disabilities Association of America. She has 20 years of experience as a classroom teacher, literacy specialist and learning therapist.

Read more about how and why kids struggle to pay attention. Get tips to improve your child’s focus. And learn a simple but powerful technique for getting a child to listen without yelling.


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