Kids need to be able to focus to learn and get things done. Some kids have no trouble tuning out distractions and focusing on what they’re doing. But others have a harder time and need help with it.
If staying focused is hard for your child, try these six simple strategies.
1. Jump right into projects.
Sometimes, the longer you wait to start a task, the harder it is to focus on it. That goes for projects for school and around the house.
That doesn’t mean your child has to do everything at once, though. To make it easier to get started, try breaking it into chunks. The important thing is to not put off getting started.
2. Practice mindfulness.
Mindfulness exercises are all about paying attention and focusing. Studies have shown that mindfulness can help kids improve their behavior and their ability to focus in school.
One way to practice is to sit quietly and focus on breathing in and out. Taking even a few deep breaths before class or a test could make a difference.
3. Limit directions to one or two at a time.
When kids struggle with focus, it can be hard for them to listen to, remember, and follow through on directions. So try not to overload your child with too many directions at once.
For instance, at homework time, tell your child to check the assignment notebook and get out the right materials to do that day’s work. If that’s too much for your child to focus on at once, try giving just one direction at a time.
4. Set a timer.
When kids know there’s a limit to how long they have to stay focused on a task, it can be easier to hang in there a little longer.
When your child sits down to do homework or another not-so-fun task, set a timer for how long your child needs to work before taking a quick snack or a play break. You can increase the amount of time little by little as your child gets better at focusing.
5. Be open to what works.
Some people need total quiet to focus. Others do better with noise. That’s why it’s important to ask kids what works best for them.
Maybe your child wants to listen to music while doing homework. Give it a try and see how it goes.
6. Direct focus back to the task.
Even when using these focus techniques, kids might still get distracted. That’s why they also need strategies to get back on task once they’ve drifted.
Come up with a signal for when your child’s mind starts to wander. It might be putting a hand on your child’s shoulder or saying a specific word. Tell your child’s teacher that you’re doing this at home and ask if the teacher can use the same strategy in class.
Other Ways to Help Your Child Focus
There are lots of other strategies, techniques, and low-cost tools you can use to help your child with focus at home. Teachers may also use some of them in the classroom.
Schools and teachers can help kids with focus in lots of ways, too. For example, a teacher might have a child sit up front and away from windows and doors so there are fewer distractions. The teacher might also use signals to get the child’s attention. (It could be the same signals you use at home.)
Working closely with your child’s teacher is one of the best ways to help your child. Download and fill out a 3×3 card to help the teacher get to know your child better. And ask about strategies the teacher uses in class that might work at home, too.
Struggling with focus or any other skill can take a toll on a child’s self-esteem. Praise your child’s hard work to improve focus. Point out even small improvements. And let your child know that focus skills can get better. That can help your child develop a “growth mindset.” (Download growth mindset worksheets for kids.)
And remember to talk about your child’s strengths, not just challenges. A fun way to do that is by making a strengths chain. When kids understand what they’re good at, it builds confidence and helps them stay motivated when things get tough.