...wait what? Interrupting..
Oh wow! What are you painting there? Let me help you with that. This is the color green, can you say green?”
How many times are you interrupted during the day?
The phone dings, you notice the dust on the floor over there and start cleaning, your coworker stops by to share their lunch plans... the list goes on and on. Maybe you don't even register these as distractions anymore, it happens so often.
How do you feel when you try to return to what you were doing? Can you return to what you were doing?
There's a finite amount of mental bandwidth we have at any given moment, and as we split and fracture this attention from this to this to this, the bandwidth reserves dwindles. We are less able to remain focused and keep our concentration on anything, AND the more times we do this, the weaker our ability to concentration and focus becomes. The notion that our collective attention has dropped to 8 seconds seems to be related to the sheer number of distractions readily available today.
Now perhaps more than ever, It is our job to watch for concentration and protect this important state of learning for our children. Here's 5 ways to preserve attention reserves, maximize states of flow, and support concentration.
...Wait for it.
Spend some time watching your child, and you'll begin to notice when she is focusing on something. Babies will look at objects for a very long time (as they process MUCH slower than our adult brains do). I've watched three year olds focus on a well-matched activity for 20 minutes! Just when you think you need to repeat a direction, solve a problem, or move on to the next step, wait, and then wait some more.
We interrupt by asking questions, commenting, offering praise or encouragement, even smiling! If you notice that your baby is intently looking at something, DON'T DO ANYTHING! If your toddler is diligently opening and closing a box, wait to congratulate her later when she's done. If your 5 year old is tying his shoe and making mistakes, stand nearby, but don't jump in and fix it! It's very easy to interrupt a child, and you may find it takes some practice to do nothing instead.
Remove Unnecessary Distractions
When you need to get work done, where do you go? For me, it's the library. I can't distract myself with snacks, housework, or snuggling the dog. All these distractions are unavailable, making it much easier for me to keep focus on my task. You can design such a space for your child in your home. How many toys are available? Is the TV or radio on? Is the tone of the room peaceful, familiar, and inviting?
Avoid toys and media that fracture attention/ take advantage of children's developing minds
Screens and electronics are particularly damaging for attention (even those “educational learning” apps), as there is a LOT of new information to process at a fast pace. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends zero screen time for children under age 2, and no more than an hour of quality, parent-chaperoned use until age 5.
But it's not just TV or smartphones. Children's toys are now presenting the same fast-paced, attention robbing qualities and require the same scrutiny as modern media. The trance-like state that occurs in children transfixed by media or active “learning” toys may look like concentration, but no real learning is happening. Young children need concrete objects, real experiences, and social interaction to grow and learn. As Magda Gerber said: “The best toys for babies don't do anything”.
Offer help only when needed
I've said this before and I'll say it again. Good parenting is not about keeping your child happy or solving all the problems. Your child NEEDS to practice on her own, make mistakes, and go through difficulty. Knowing when and how to offer help is a subtle art, you can read more about how to do that for 0-3 years, 3-6 years, 6-9 years.
Ready to take your Parenting Skills to the next level? Learn how to offer help, ask the right questions, and inspire creativity in our course How to Raise a Human.
About the Author:
Leanne Gray, M.Ed has over fifteen years experience working with children in both public, private, and Montessori schools, and is AMI primary trained.
She's on a mission to raise a generation of kind, confident, responsible children, and does this through her work with families and schools. Read more here.