Three techniques to improve a child’s focus

Three techniques to improve a child's focus
On a recent park outing, my two-year-old was playing by a puddle near the playground, tossing acorns, rocks and leaves into the water. He was so engrossed in his project—watching which items sink or float, wondering why certain items plopped while others didn’t—that we stayed crouched by the puddle for an hour and a half.

This isn’t the first time, either. When we visit children’s museums, he’s perfectly content staying just a little bit longer at a particular exhibit instead of hopping around every few seconds. Sometimes he’ll play with his door puzzle for 45 minutes straight. And just yesterday, he sat by the bookcase, pulling out books and flipping through them for an hour.

One of the ways we encourage focus is by letting him decide how to play. We often lay out toys and books and allow our toddler to decide what to play with, when, and for how long. We sometimes have a general agenda and even make suggestions (“Let’s finger paint today,”) but still enable him to determine the course of play. He gets to decide that for now he’ll play with his stuffed bunny, and maybe later stack some blocks. We’re also careful not to cram too many commitments in a day so that he has an opportunity to decide what to play. I notice that when he has a choice, he’s more likely to stay interested and hopefully develop a longer attention span.

We also sit in the sidelines and don’t interrupt too often. Imagine you’re at work, concentrating on your assignment when a coworker pops up asking if you could send them the file you worked on yesterday. “Sure,” you reply, stopping your work to look for the file to send. Then five minutes later, another coworker swings by and starts talking about her day. More interruptions. You get the idea.

We let him stay focused. We still ask questions and motivate him along, but there’s no need to hover over every minute of the activity or decide what to do all the time. When my toddler was reading for an hour yesterday, I sat nearby and answered a few of his questions, but generally I gave him time to be alone, even getting up to chop vegetables in the kitchen. Otherwise, he’s pretty good about letting me know when he wants company (and of course he always wants it when I’m busiest!).

And we promote activities and toys challenging enough to ignite effort but not so difficult as to cause frustration. Some toys are too difficult for my toddler that he can’t help but get upset and give up. Conversely, easy activities or toys he has already figured out won’t keep him interested for long.

I’m not sure what my toddler learned during that hour and a half at the puddle. Maybe he realized that leaves float while rocks sink. Perhaps he found new ways to play with water that he can try during bath time. Or maybe he just liked looking at the reflection of the trees above him. Whatever he got out of it, he loved every moment, so much so that beeping trucks and yelling kids and even a Mama trying to coerce him to let’s-go-home-already-it’s-getting-cold didn’t deter his focus.

How do you encourage your kids to focus?

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14 thoughts on “Three techniques to improve a child’s focus

  1. Oh yes, I can so relate. My cousin works with special needs toddlers and we were talking about this the other day! My daughter tends to lose interest in things pretty quickly. So right now I am working with her encouraging to play with the toy, continue eating dinner, focusing, for atleast 30 sec longer then working that up to a minute. It should extend her focus and patience…we’ll see!

    • Terrific post, Christina. I honestly don’t know if my toddler has ever grown genuinely bored. If anything, he may not play with a toy anymore because he has already learned whatever he needed to learn from it, not so much from not knowing what to do with it. I think “boredom” is actually a blessing; it forces us to entertain ourselves and use our imagination!

  2. My daughter gets engrossed in playing and reading more and more these days and I do my best not to interrupt her when that happens. Usually, I’ll try to sneak in some housework or even some reading of my own.

  3. Great post (as usual)…I think kids being focused (especially toddlers) is getting kinda rare. I’ve received comments on how focused my toddler can be, but he’s always been that way and I didn’t realize he was especially focused until I started seeing other kids his age and how unfocused they are. I think part of his focus is thanks to having zero tv until he was about 2, and it’s still very limited. I really don’t like most of the shows now as they’re too fast paced and busy. I have also given him plenty of space, like you do, to play and decide his own play. He gets cranky and wild when his day is too full and regimented…he thrives and focuses better on one or two structured activities (like library storytime) a day and the rest of the day relatively free.

    • We didn’t do TV either (still pretty much don’t I guess, because we don’t have cable hooked up lol!) and I do think that has helped. I think we also have the same schedule haha. We do two “main” activities, one in the morning (usually the bigger activity) and one in the afternoon after his nap (usually more low-key).

      • I wish my toddler still napped 😦 sometimes I get lucky in the car but I really really miss that nap time!

  4. Ha! So true what you said about them wanting “company” mostly when we’re at our busiest! Greta also seems to get really insanely focused on things when we are running late for something. I can’t tell you how many crazy toys and books we’ve had to bring with us just to get her out the door at those times…yikes! 🙂

  5. My son (19 months) has a definite problem with focusing and engaging. I’m enjoying this post and anything else to give me more ideas. He will start therapy soon (we just found out this was a problem last night after Early Intervention came). It was a shock and I’m upset, but I just want him to be on track eventually, and if he needs therapy to do that, then so be it. I look forward to reading your blog to get more ideas on how I can help him!

    • Sorry to hear about the diagnosis Lisa, but that’s great that you’re doing early intervention. I can imagine that it’s very emotional. But I always heard that they catch right up with early intervention than if they hadn’t done anything, so I’m hoping all will work out. I’ll read your blog for further news on his progress. Best of luck!

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