The Core of Success: Focus, Concentration, and Attention

Last Updated on June 2, 2022 by Thinkster

Have you ever found your thoughts drifting away from the task at hand? Maybe you drove the whole way home from work and remember little-to-nothing about the trip. Or you sat through an entire lecture on real estate investment, yet have little idea what the speaker said. In these instances, you lost focus. But not to worry, because it happens to all of us at one time or another. Maybe you had too little sleep the night before, or you were bored by the content being presented. It happens. However, if it happens too frequently, there could be a significant cause. Millions of people around the globe struggle with attention deficits, including children. If you suspect your child is one of them, then you may find the following information helpful.

What Are Attention, Focus, and Concentration? 

Attention, focus, and concentration are cognitive skills each of us need in order to gain knowledge and to succeed in life. Without them, it would be difficult or impossible to retain information. Scientists define attention as the ability to choose where you want to direct your focus. In this way, you’re able to ‘tune in’ to a television show, novel, or lecture, while ‘tuning out’ things which may distract you from concentrating on it. 

If you’ve ever tried to take a telephone call in the presence of excited toddlers or tried to concentrate on a topic you find utterly boring, you’ll understand the disconnect. As adults, when we can’t focus our attention on a single task, such as washing dishes or making a bed, we may be left with a messy house. But for young children, the inability to concentrate may lead to learning difficulties that become more pronounced over time. 

Examples of Attention, Focus, and Concentration

In children, examples of good focus and attention include being able to take instruction from a teacher or being able to read an age-appropriate passage and find the main idea. Children with well-developed attention skills, or a good attention span, have features in common, including:

  • Ability to complete a task from beginning to end
  • Ability to work with minor supervision
  • Ability to retain information
  • A firm understanding of the material being covered
  • Ability to follow age-appropriate instructions

In an ideal world, we would all be born with perfect attention spans. However, this simply isn’t realistic. Most of us have had trouble concentrating at one time or another, whether it was listening to the teacher in algebra class or staying awake during a long-winded Sunday sermon. And for some of us, focus and concentration are problems that have followed us through life. If your child struggles with a short attention span and has difficulty focusing on topics other kids his age seem to grasp, they’re not alone. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this encompasses roughly 6.1 million children in the United States alone. And this number only takes into account children who have been diagnosed with an attention-deficit. There are likely many more. 

Why Are Attention, Focus, and Concentration Important?

These are among the most important cognitive skills because, without them, it would be difficult to really learn anything. Mastery of any subject would be much more difficult and would take much more time, if it happened at all. For example, imagine not having the ability to focus on the road in front of you as you drive to work each morning. You might not pay attention to other cars or to traffic signals. You might not realize the car in front of you has stopped or that a child is about to chase a ball into the road in front of you. It could be catastrophic. 

Now, imagine you’re a young child trying to solve a math problem in the classroom. If you can’t focus long enough to listen to what the teacher says, and you can’t understand the written explanation in the textbook or on your digital device, how will you know which steps to take to find the answer? 

Improving Focus, Concentration, and Attention for Kids | Thinkster Math

As adults, poor concentration is frustrating. It may cause you to need more time to cook a meal or read a book. But for a young child, it may be more frightening than frustrating, especially if the adults around you don’t understand that your best effort looks different than the best efforts of the other children in your classroom. 

Ways to Help Your Child Develop Attention, Focus, and Concentration

As a parent, you can help your child of any age improve their skills in attention, focus, and concentration. But the first step should probably be to consult with a specialist if you suspect a cognitive problem. Children who struggle with attention-deficit disorders usually have symptoms in common, including:

  • Poor organizational skills
  • Easily distracted
  • Dislike of school work
  • Often doesn’t hear when someone speaks to them directly
  • Frequently loses things
  • Seems forgetful

A pediatrician or psychiatrist who diagnoses your child’s attention-deficit can give you strategies to use at home to help improve focus and concentration. Usually, these begin with training in behavioral management for you, which you can then use to help your child manage their symptoms. Effective coping strategies may include making small lifestyle changes, such as creating daytime and nighttime routines and then sticking with them consistently, eliminating distractions during schoolwork, and narrowing your child’s choices to prevent them from feeling overwhelmed. For example, instead of asking what they would like for dinner, ask them if they’d prefer baked chicken or pan-fried fish. 

Activities to Improve Attention, Focus, and Concentration

Activities that require children to find the differences between two items, to place items in the proper sequence, or to match items from memory are great ones for improving focus. But the environment plays a role, too. If your home is frequently cluttered or disorganized, both you and your child may feel more anxious, which may make it more difficult to concentrate. By minimizing the amount of distractions in your child’s life, you’ll pave a smoother road in front of them. Try these activities at home to help children improve their cognitive ability in focus and concentration:

  • Organizing items such as coins or playing cards from the smallest value to the largest value
  • Cup games that require children to remember which cup is hiding the ball
  • Threading beads or uncooked pasta on a string
  • Catching and throwing a ball or Frisbee
  • Building with blocks

Focus and Concentration for Children | Thinkster Math

By creating a calm, safe, and predictable environment at home, you can help your child improve their ability to focus on the task at hand. 

Games to Improve Attention, Focus, and Concentration

There are tons of games you can play with children that improve how well they pay attention — Simon Says, Uno, Memory, Connect 4, and Simon, to name just a few. But there are plenty of games you can make up and play as a family that are just as beneficial. These include:

  • Puzzle games or boxes
  • Musical chairs
  • Hopscotch
  • Duck, Duck, Goose
  • Navigating corn or garden mazes

As you play games and engage kids in activities, don’t expect them to sit for long periods of time. Instead, start small and gradually increase the amount of time needed to focus and pay attention. And incorporate plenty of movement, such as walking, running, or jumping into your playtimes. When doing activities indoors, consider dimming the lights or playing soft music in the background as aids in concentration.  

Additional Resources for Attention, Focus, and Concentration

Books

Mindfulness Workbook for Kids: 60+ Activities to Focus, Stay Calm, and Make Good Choices, by Hannah Sherman, LCSW

Thriving with ADHD Workbook for Kids: 60 Fun Activities to Help Children Self-Regulate, Focus, and Succeed, by Kelli Miller, LCSW, MSW

Focused Ninja: A Childrens Book About Increasing Focus and Concentration at Home and School, by Mary Nhin & Grow Grit Press. Illustrated byJelena Stupar

Websites

MentalUp

Crayola.com

GoNoodle

Videos

Concentration Challenge: Can You Count the Bounces? 

Pay Attention: Game 1

Focusing Fun for ADHD – Games to Help Kids Practice Focus

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