Helping Kids Focus in the Age of Distraction

Parenting Ideas by Sarah Wayland.


Finding ways to turn your kids from flitters to focusers – how teaching your children to ‘stick with it’ can have lifelong benefits.


As a society we often debate about the ’right’ amount of screen time, and with the introduction of personal screens over the last decade, to add to TV, laptops and desktops, the focus on a single task has slowly ebbed away. The British Psychological Society found that too much screen time (more than their recommendations of no more than 2 hours per day) could unintentionally cause permanent damage to a child’s still-developing brains. Impacting the capacity to focus, to concentrate and to give attention to tasks.  


Neuroscientists tell us that the more a young person can practice keeping focus and resist distraction, the stronger and more richly connected this child becomes. By the same token, the more distracted, the less so. Rebecca finds that the evidence is clear in our own homes and in classrooms ‘we now have young people who are experts at ‘flitting’ from one device to another’ and she refuses to take a defeatist approach because without refocusing those ‘flitters’ to ‘focusers’ who risk the next generations creative or scientific masterminds we risk losing children who are able to ‘sit still and agonise over a task long enough to see it through to its marvellous end’


Tips for helping kids maintain focus and attention


1. Build your child’s focus

As with all tasks the aim is to start small and build your child’s capacity to master the concept of ‘sticking with it’. Cath, a school counsellor, finds that she can use the same strategies with the teens she works with and her primary school aged children when she gets home: ‘it’s all about breaks and rewards. Set a timer between breaks and then on a break they need to do something active like a push-up. Then there is a little reward for staying on task for a particular amount of time. 





2. Remember it’s all about the journey

Parents and researchers agree that understanding what can be gained from being focused is the key to engaging your ‘flittering’ child. Our solution driven society is often focused on what we receive at the end rather than the process to get there. Teaching your children to tolerate the unexpected can have wonderful benefits, as can sitting with something that may have previously been viewed as unachievable. 


3. Keep calm and focus

Use calm methods to engage children who become distracted: ‘breathe, relax and high five each other’ when working alongside your child or when with a group of children. Talk about what might be achieved at the end and make it a fun process. 

Screens, for all their negatives and benefits, are here to stay. Many argue that they provide complexity and new experiences to our children’s world by identifying exciting technologies but they also provide avenues to ‘opt out’ of the hard yards. 

Reaching what you thought was unattainable by engaging in a single focus and ‘sticking with it’, can provide lifelong lessons.