6 Tips to Improve Your Child’s Attention and Focus

Simple ways to help students grow this summer

Child doing schoolwork with markers.

Between technology, school, and activities, the world can often feel like it’s moving too fast, and our kids are bouncing from one thing to the next without ever slowing down and focusing.  Luckily, parents can use the slower pace of summer to help children slow down, too, by offering easy, technology-free opportunities for kids to improve their ability to pay attention and focus. While the following list offers general tips that can work for most learners, these suggestions are by no means comprehensive. Use these as jumping off points to find what works best for your family.

  1. Integrate Regular Physical Activity: Scientific evidence shows that regular physical activity and time in nature promotes better focus, less impulsivity, and better behavior in children. Exercise is known to help prime the brain for tasks that require focus. At home, before and after school, find simple yet creative (or small but significant) ways to allow for and integrate physical activity into your child’s daily routine. Consider fun, simple, and unstructured time such as morning stretches or jumping jacks; a quick hop, skip, or jump through the hallways; running to the other room to grab a needed item—or an impromptu dance party! Try to get outside and experience nature as often as possible. Playgrounds and running free in an open field are always a hit with young children, while older kids might like taking a walk to a nearby coffee shop. Almost always, when children return from doing a physical activity, they are more ready to focus on the task at hand.
  2. Use Visual Timers: Many children don’t have a true sense of time and when asked to complete a task, they feel as though it will take “forever” causing them to spend precious minutes arguing. To combat this, before asking your child to complete a task, whether it be a chore or a homework assignment, think about the task itself and about how long you think it might take your child to complete. If it’s a reasonable amount of time and a realistic task, set a visual timer, like the ones our executive functioning team recommends here (or these for younger children), and let your child know that the expectation is to have the whole task completed before the timer runs out. If you know that the task will take a long time, see if there is a way you can break it into smaller, more manageable parts. 

Between these tasks, have your child take a quick movement brain-break, and come back to finish the next part of the task with the timer as a guide. For example, with homework, try asking your child to complete the first two questions before the timer runs out, take a quick movement brain-break, and then go back to try the next two, and so on, until the whole assignment is complete. Older students might manage this process themselves using the Pomodoro Method.

Although this process may seem daunting, this strategy works well for some children, allowing them to complete the required task faster than if they just tried to power through everything at once. The overall idea here is to provide some structure, help your child feel organized, and prevent your child from getting too overwhelmed. 

  1. Have Some Screen-free Fun: Old-fashioned fun never goes out of style! Unplug from screens and electronics with crafts, board games, and time with other kids. Crafts, from DIY to commercially available kits, help children develop coping strategies for managing frustration, attention span, hand/eye coordination, and problem solving skills. Opportunities for creativity abound: create a vision board from magazine cutouts, paint rocks, build something, draw, sketch, etc. Other screen-free activities include board games, card games, jigsaw puzzles, building blocks, and Legos. Add in a social element by involving your child’s peers for movement-based activities such as soccer, kickball, manhunt, Twister, catch or a bike ride. While technological activities usually require students to sit still, many of these screen-free suggestions involve both fine and gross motor skills and require some coordination and imagination—excellent opportunities to help kids develop concentration skills. Check out even more STEM-based ideas from our team here
  2. Practice Mindfulness: Whenever possible, take a moment to observe the world around you with your child. Intentionally slowing down can help children and teens develop their ability to focus their attention and stay present. Try playing “I Spy”; going on a nature walk; taking turns making observations of various objects in the room; listening closely to the lyrics of a song together; or doing some deep breathing or yoga poses while paying attention to how the movement feels in the body. In daily life, try to set an example of focus for your child by showing them that you can give one task your full attention: during conversations, put down your phone and turn off all screens. During homework or mealtimes, try to limit distractions and encourage a focused environment.
  3. Encourage Family Chores:  While they may resist at first, most young children actually do enjoy feeling like they are helping out around the house, and older kids should be encouraged to develop skills for independent living before heading off to college. True, your child’s chores may take twice as long than if you did them yourself, (and they may lead to a bigger mess at first) but with practice, kids will naturally start doing these chores on their own. They will begin to feel a positive sense of responsibility and accomplishment leading them to want to do more independently and in a focused way. For more strategies on how to motivate your child to do chores and school assignments, check out these tips from our executive functioning team.
  4. Help Kids Build Independence:  Time to deboard the helicopter! Resist the urge to jump in immediately every time your child experiences frustration. Easier said than done! However, allowing your child the chance to make a mistake builds the resilience necessary for them to sit and struggle with something, see that they can learn from it, and improve next time. Being able to try again while keeping faith in their own abilities is an important life skill. Allow time for your child to problem solve. If they know you trust them to figure out a problem on their own, they’ll likely rise to the challenge and spend time focusing on what they want to accomplish and how to get there. They’ll figure out new and creative ways to independently calm down, focus, and get the job done.

While this list contains ideas appropriate for many children, no two learners are the same. If you have more serious concerns about your child’s attention span, Private Prep’s academic tutors and executive functioning coaches are here to help. Contact us here for personalized approaches to focus-building strategies and other educational skills.

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