3 things you need to know about concentration in little ones…

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As parents, we can understand and appreciate the value of concentration when it comes to our own day-to-day lives. Hence why many of us can’t stomach the idea of sending an email or attending a meeting before our precious morning coffee. However, you might be wondering how – and when – do our little ones develop the ability to concentrate? 

We chatted with Child Psychologist and founder of MindMovers Psychology, Jaimie Bloch to help us break down the science behind concentration, how it develops over time and how we can encourage our child’s development.

What exactly is concentration?

Concentration is defined by the mental effort you place and direct towards what you are learning or doing. It is most often confused with attention span. Attention span is the length of time you can concentrate on something.

It’s important to remember that many things can affect a child’s ability to concentrate. For example, sleep, the ability to tune out distractions, mental health disorders, age and where their brain is at developmentally.

An inability to concentrate can lead to stress, frustration and anxiety which then makes concentrating even harder.

How long should my child be able to concentrate?

Research has shown that a reasonable expectation for your child’s attention span is 2 to 3 minutes per year of their age. That’s the period of time for which a typical child can maintain focus on a given task.

Don’t judge your child’s ability to concentrate based on their ability to play games on an iPad or play by themselves. Why? This is because online games have inherent rewards that motivate sustained attention. 

Your child drawing for 15 minutes is very different to your child playing in their room with many different toys, leaving a trail of discarded toys behind them. Attention is measured on the quality of concentration. For example, your child can concentrate and then sustain their attention on that one task for the developmentally appropriate attention span in minutes. 

How do I help my child develop their concentration?

The ability to control attention is called ‘attention control’. Attentional control is theorised to involve two separate brain systems; the systems responsible for increasing and maintaining focus on relevant information and a second set responsible for suppressing urges to attend to irrelevant information (i.e., looking elsewhere, doing something else, changing the topic and thinking about something else). 

These two systems improve gradually from childhood to young adulthood. We’re not born with these systems working cohesively together and must practice and grow these brain connections in order to use them well. 

It’s important to remember that all children struggle with attention and concentration and distractibility at times. If you notice your child has lost focus, help them to think of ways they were able to re-focus during the task after they lost their focus.

Other tips for helping your little one’s concentration:

  • At ages 1-2, brain connections are being formed as they begin to look at pictures or recognise book covers during storytime. During storytime at this age, make sure to narrate their actions: “You’re picking up the book”, “Yes – you are pointing to the dog”. Being responsive during reading time will help them form these really important brain connections.
  • You will notice that little ones will want to play during storytime or fiddle with something while you read. This is a good thing because movement gets the brain working! So get involved and make storytime a fun, multisensory experience – play some music, find a book with some 3D or textured elements and don’t be afraid to get the toys involved.
  • Ensure they are consuming a diet rich in healthy, wholesome foods for brain development that are rich in protein, vitamins and minerals, including Omega-3. Our bodies can’t produce fish oil so it’s important that we are getting it from our diet as these are vital for healthy brain function. A high DHA Omega-3 Fish Oil supplement is an easy way to make sure they are getting enough Omega 3 in their diet.  
  • Incorporate exercise into your daily routine. It has been proven that daily physical exercise can improve concentration within 4 weeks. 

The best thing we can be doing as parents is to meet our children where they are at. We need to make reading and other learning activities fun, without turning them into a stressful chore, especially as they grow and start school. Because when our little ones feel bonded and stress-free, that is when they are feeling ready to learn and grow. 

Related Articles
The meaning behind the milestones: What’s going on with your little one’s brain
5 ways to help your child have a healthy relationship with their mental health
Why focusing on joy in your toddler’s early years will wire their brain for resilience

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