6 Easy Things to Teach and Practice Focus
Last week’s blog, Focus, offered some background on focus, mindfulness and executive function. This week’s blog focuses (bad play on words, I know!) on a few quick activities that can be easily used to help build focus in young children. With some minor tweaking and creativity, they can also be adapted with older children.
It’s easy to bring more focus into your day with young children with just a bit of planning and thought. The first step is to ready yourself to be focused. Be clear on your priorities, both long- and short-term. Be mindful of the values, rituals and goals you have for your child. Keeping in mind your beliefs and hopes, as well as what is developmentally appropriate for children at any given age. Of course, you also need to take an honest look at your unique child. Not every child is born to be a soccer player, to read at age five, to play an instrument with grace and skill, nor be destined for an ivy league college. But each child has his own gifts and talents, ready to be acknowledged and celebrated, as well as growing edges and needs that require your nurturing support. Read the literature on what to expect at each age and stage; suggestion can be found on the Book Shelf and below and think about the path you and your child are taking.
Hopefully, you can carve out time everyday to be focused and present with your child, or others. As Jon Kabat-Zinn said,
“The little things? The little moments? They aren’t little.”
Children watch, learn and develop their own habits and outlook by watching those closest to them. Do they have the opportunity to see you focused and calm?
One you’ve got yourself focused, here are six things you can do to help develop focus in young children:
- Give ‘Em Jobs – Putting on coats independently, sorting laundry by color, finishing what’s on their plate before getting more (or desert), walking the dog, putting groceries away. Raise the bar, give them some time and encouragement – see what they can accomplish. Don’t expect perfect, just approximation!
- Stop and Start – With little guys, try Stop/Start – Old fashion games like “Red Light/Green Light” or Freeze Dance or “What time is it Mr. Fox?” let children practice moving and stopping. Sometimes inhibiting action is a tough, but making it fun helps secretly develop the mental wiring that leads to self-control. With older children, give them the space and expectation to mono-task – a puzzle, a walk, a game, setting the table. No screens, no music, no distractions.
- Speaking and Listening – Practice taking turns listening and speaking. Tough task with kids, for sure! One of the most easily accessible activities in Tools of the Mind is modeling what a reader and a listener both do. By providing a photo of an ear and a mouth, children have a concrete visual reminder of what their task is – and have a greater likelihood of inhibiting the impulse to talk when they are the listener and to “reading” the pictures or words when it is their turn.
- Play – Yes, play. Old-fashion play with puzzles, sorting games, imaginary play that lets kids develop their own story line (not the latest Disney movie story line). Nothing fancy, but if you are looking for flash, test drive computer games ahead of time to see what it really asks of a child. Ditto for TV. It’s not always all bad, so look for content that is age-appropriate and meaningful. Preview or watch with your child to discuss elements of the show – can s/he recall characters’ names? Sequence events? Both require activation of working memory.
- Breathe – Sounds simple enough, but taking a few minutes throughout the day to get grounded and breath deeply goes a long way. I see this every day with children – whether they are physically worn out, emotionally drained or exuding energy at a time they need focus, working with them to breathe deeply and fully enables them to focus on what is immediately ahead. This works wonders for adults, too!
- Look in the Mirror (or smart phone) – Gallinsky cites a “time famine” wherein we are all strapped for time, energy and resources. Take a critical look at your own time and how you use it. Can you model for your children being more fully present? To stop when you say you’re stopping (years ago my kids figured out that “five minutes” in Mom Speak is “more like a half hour!”) Consider disconnecting for a period of time every night so you can give your full attention and focus to your family. Your kids will appreciate it, and you might even find some of what comes in can sit untouched in your in box!
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What works for you? What works for your child(ren)? Share your experiences by leaving a comment below.