Kids can seem to jump from one thing to another with such quickness. If you’re wondering how to teach your toddler to focus, here are my thoughts!
The ability to focus, sit still and pay attention seems to be a lost art among today’s youth. Experts say Mountain Dew and red lollipops have something to do with it, and I am sure it does. But I think it comes down to our society’s face-paced-instant-gratification culture. If we don’t purposely train our children and help teach them to focus, I don’t think they will naturally be able to do it well. Much like other skills, it is learned.
Self-control is the foundation that focusing skills can be built on. It’s the same self-control that keeps your daughter from kicking her brother that helps her sit quietly, obey your instructions, and focus on the task at hand.
How in the world can we teach mile-a-minute toddlers to sit still and focus? How can we increase their attention spans? Well, as the ole tortoise found out… slow and steady wins the race.
Set realistic expectations
Kids can and will rise to your expectations… unless your expectations are unreasonable. Small children are curious, observant, and excitable. It’s why they are like sponges and learn so much! The goal is to help instill some self-control and focusing skills without stifling their curiosity or expecting them to behave like older children who have learned the art of focus.
Routine and order sets the tone
If your toddler is on a routine, even a loose one, then he or she already has a leg up. Because of the nature of routine, one thing comes after the other. Kids get used to doing things at a prescribed time and not necessarily when they have a whim. This means their worldview is not “I get what I want the minute I want it.” Believe it or not, this helps them to focus on something before them.
One byproduct of a good routine is this: when you need them to sit and concentrate for 15 or 20 minutes they are able because this is not a foreign concept. A child who is used to doing what they want when they want will have a hard time understanding that they can’t just read two pages of a book then play a new game. Of course they can do that, but you are giving them a gift when you teach them to persevere with one activity through to its completion. Routine is an easy way to give them the foundation of self-control.
During the day there will be time for structured activities. By structure I don’t mean rigid, I simply mean an activity with a purpose. Be it coloring, flash cards, crafts, or experiments, you have your child play with you. You determine when the activity starts and you determine when it finishes. If they get bored two minutes into a twenty minute activity… well… so what?
Encourage (and perhaps require) them to continue. It is, after all, a game. It isn’t like you are making them eat soap. Doing this consistently helps them learn that sometimes they must go by the timeline of others. They learn to pay attention and concentrate on what they are doing, and this is the goal.
Make it Fun
Particularly when they don’t have the hang of focus yet, make the activities fun! Choose games, crafts, experiments, and books that will give the kids a fighting chance. Starting off with something boring will make it all the more challenging while, if it’s interesting, you may all be surprised how long everyone can focus.
In my post on How to teach children patience I go into a few tips. Suffice it to say, it’s okay to make your children wait sometimes. I’m not talking about making your children wait for the sake of waiting. No way! However, making your children wait for things is not depriving them of something. It’s actually giving them something. And that something is life experience. All humans must wait for things at times.
It’s okay to sit your children at the table and wait 5 minutes while you prepare their food and serve it. That may seem like an eternity to them, but it is not. Times like that help your children develop self-control as they are fighting their impulse to run through the house screaming “snack snack snack” and learning to obey instruction.
Instruct beforehand what you expect and follow through
I find it immensely helpful to explain beforehand what I expect of my children. This prepares them and gives them something to work with. If my daughter knows we are going to sing in church and then be quiet and listen, when she gets the urge to sing or talk during the message I can say quietly “remember, it’s time to listen” and it is far easier for her to obey. She was prepared.
Explanation helps children prepare beforehand and this aids in their developing self-control. If they think they’ll be able to talk and scream all they want then “all of a sudden” you impose a silent rule on them, you are not giving them time to adjust. This will seriously test their levels of self-control, and isn’t entirely fair.
Persevere, persevere, persevere
Toddlers are toddlers and they won’t want to sit still for very long. My daughter is exceptionally well-focused, but I believe this is due in part to her personality. She may tire of an activity early, but I do my best to have her finish what she starts. As I’ve said before, raising starter-finishers is important.
Older babies and toddlers are not born with an ability to focus for long periods. That is okay. It is our job as parents to stick with it, persevere, keep on doing what we’re doing and know that we will inevitably reap what we sow. One of your children may not naturally focus as well as another, but it’s important to give them the tools to succeed.
Part of what it takes to succeed academically is to be able to set one’s mind to a task. If you can’t sit still and focus long enough to study or take a test then school will be a challenge. It is a separate issue if a child has a learning disorders or other developmental delays, and of course you can’t expect the same behavior from them. But the goal is to teach our children the self-control and self-discipline necessary to make themselves complete a task set before them. It will put your children at an immense advantage to spend a small part of your purposefully developing this quality in your child.
Find a Better Routine
If you (and your little ones) struggle with routine and sleep, this book is for you. It has over 25+ routines for children ages newborn to 5 years old. Get more information here.
Want to learn your parenting style?
Each of us have our own personality, temperament, and giftings. And, the truth is, we parent best when we work with these instead of against them. Take this assessment so you can work to your strengths, and be the mom you want to be for yourself and your children.
New to this community? Start here, friend.