It’s an ideal situation: A teacher is giving a lesson on marine mammals, and one of the kids in class is fascinated by dolphins. The student pays attention to the entire lesson, asks smart questions at the end, and does well on the weekly quiz.
Kids need to pay attention in order to learn—both in school and out. They have to be able to focus on what teachers, parents, coaches, and other people are saying. But what does that involve? How does attention work?
Learn about how kids pay attention and what can help them build those skills.
The Process of Paying Attention
There are four steps to paying attention:
1. Being alert
Kids need to be aware, alert, and ready to take in information. That’s hard to do if they haven’t had enough sleep, are hungry, or feel anxious. Kids who aren’t alert may have their heads down on their desk. Or they may seem to be tuned out.
2. Choosing what to pay attention to
Information is coming at us all the time, and we can’t focus on all of it at once. So we have to decide what to let in. In other words, kids have to choose to give their attention to their teacher or parent over other things.
3. Ignoring distractions
Paying attention in class or during basketball practice means not paying attention to the dog that’s barking somewhere or the plane that’s flying overhead. Kids have to be able to keep out distractions to focus.
4. Shifting focus
Some distractions are impossible to ignore. For example, a loud noise in the hallway will catch the attention of everyone in class. But kids have to be able to shift their focus back to the teacher and keep it there.
These steps may seem simple. But they’re not always easy. Young kids may need more time to develop the necessary skills. And some kids have trouble with focus even when they get older. They may need extra help with paying attention.