Parents are often worried that their child does not stay focused on one thing for very long. They see other children and think that their child just can’t concentrate on one thing at a time.
The good news is there are some practical things we can do to help our children to concentrate. Let’s take a look.
1. Learning when to step in to help
As a parent, sometimes we step in and actually end up interrupting our child’s concentration. Other times we would do well to step in to help our child a little so that they can get further with their activity and increase their concentration.
When to avoid stepping in:
We think we are being helpful and involved by commenting on the activity our child is working with. For example, as they take out a piece from an animal puzzle we might say, “That’s an elephant. Can you see its trunk?” However, rather than being more engaged in the activity, often the child will simply get distracted and walk away. Our words take them away from what they were concentrating on.
The adult also often thinks that if we praise a child and say, “Good job” or “It’s beautiful” that this will encourage the child. However, as Alfie Kohn says, this can actually make them rely on praise rather than being self-motivated (http://www.alfiekohn.org/article/five-reasons-stop-saying-good-job/). The words themselves are an interruption to the child’s state of concentration. Keep comments to a minimum unless they are asking for your feedback.
We also often step in to correct our children. We see them pouring water from the watering can into a bucket rather than giving water to the plants and we go over to tell them what the watering can is for. To me this is also breaking their concentration. Instead, I would make a note to show my child at another (neutral) time how to use the watering can to give water to the plants. I try to only step in to stop behaviour when it could bring harm – to themselves, others or the materials.
When to step in:
A useful time to step in to help would be when the child is struggling and is just about to give up. Sometimes when we give just a little bit of help (for example, to show them how to open a jar), then step back, the child is able to make further progress with the activity.
It is about finding a balance. Dr Montessori often counted rosary beads to stop her from stepping in too soon to help a child or interrupt them. It is a nice example to follow even at home.
2. Encourage them to work on one activity at a time
The child’s concentration can increase when they focus on one activity at a time. They learn to see that each activity has a beginning, a middle and an end.
Here are some ideas:
• You can set up baskets or trays with one activity in each.
• You can help guide them to pack away the last activity before starting the next. For example, you could say, “I see you want to do this puzzle and the lock box. Which one would you like to do first?” If they are having trouble choosing you could say, “I’ll hold onto the puzzle for you while you finish the lock box.”
• If you see they are not sure how an activity works you can make a mental note to show them how – not interrupting them now, but showing them at another time.
• You could also offer your child to sit at a table or mat to do an activity. A table or mat helps define the child’s work area and helps them concentrate on one activity at a time. However, a word of warning—if the child has already started to work at the shelf, you may find they become distracted by you asking them to sit at a table and then they move on to another activity. If you can, try to step in just before they start.
3. Offer repetition
Children develop deep concentration by repetition. Some parents say they never see their child repeat anything. This is something we can definitely help them develop.
When they finish the activity, we can show them how to start over by saying, “Let’s do it again!” or “Which colour/puzzle piece/bead (etc) should we start with this time?” You are not forcing the child but giving the child permission to repeat. If they are indeed finished, they will simply walk away.
Often I see a toddler post all the coins into a coin box and begin to walk away. I simply say, “Look” and show them how to use the key to open the box and put the coins back in the bowl ready to start again. And they repeat it again and again with me helping to open the box until they master this part too.
4. Let them finish an activity before interrupting
Often we break their concentration without thinking about it, interrupting them to change their diaper, to leave the house, or to eat lunch. Instead, where possible, wait until they have finished their activity first. They will also likely be more co-operative than being asked to do something when they are not finished their activity.
Sometimes another child will interfere in their work. We can protect the child’s concentration by telling the other child, “It will be available soon. You may watch or would you like to find another activity while you are waiting.” In this way the child shares by taking turns, enabling them to stay concentrated on the activity they are practising until they are finished.
5. Have available activities that they are working to master
By observing your child, you will begin to see which activities are engaging to them, i.e., those activities that are not too easy, but not so difficult that they give up. Children will concentrate most on those activities which are just challenging enough.
So follow your child’s interests. If all they are interested in is movement or water, provide more of these opportunities. If they are busy climbing, set up an obstacle course in your living room or even consider building a ramp or climbing wall. Get out to the park often. Get them to move heavy objects and furniture.
Create hands on opportunities to make discoveries and make available simple and developmentally appropriate materials. Some commercially available toys are so complicated. Get back to natural materials and simplify the activities so the child is mastering one skill at a time, for example, a posting toy to practise posting shapes; a threading activity to practise threading beads.
6. Have a place where the child can go to focus
Especially with siblings, it can be nice to have a space where a child can choose to go to so they can work uninterrupted. Some ideas:
• An older child may choose to sit at the dining table if their younger sibling is intent on destroying what they are building.
• You can create a cosy corner with blankets hung over the back of some chairs where a child can go when they want to be alone.
• I also love the teepees that are popping up on Pinterest to create a space where they don’t want to be disturbed.
• They could hang a sign outside saying “Private”. You can help protect that space by pointing to the sign and telling the other child, “it says private”.
7. Have moments of quiet
Be conscious of having time during the day where there is no background noise in the house. Sometimes we have the TV or radio on all day. This is extra noise that needs to be filtered and can affect a child’s concentration. Some people like to have classical music on at home. Instead you can have moments in the day when you turn on the music to listen, and leave it off at other times to create a quiet space to concentrate.
8. Introduce activities with multiple steps
Activities with multiple steps are great for increasing a child’s concentration. In Montessori we have many multi-step “practical life” activities, for example, preparing a snack, setting the table, washing the dishes or arranging flowers.
These are activities involve sequencing and, as they master the steps, the activity can be extended with extra steps. You could introduce putting on an apron for working in the kitchen. You could show them how to cut the flowers once they have mastered filling a vase and adding a flower.
9. Create attractive & engaging spaces
The way we set up our homes can also provide a calm space for our child to concentrate. When the space is ordered and attractive with things in their place, the child will be able to concentrate better. They will be able to choose engaging activities, they will learn where things go, and they will not be distracted by clutter and toys everywhere.
You can sit on the floor in your home and see how the space feels at your child’s height. It can make such a difference. I once helped a family set up their home. When I first visited they had a lot of things they didn’t use any more stacked on top of high shelves. This seemed innocent enough as it was not anywhere near the child’s reach. However, it created a lot of visual clutter in the space. Once they were removed and stored out of sight, the space at the child’s level felt more spacious, calm and attractive and helped improve the child’s concentration.
10. Let a child explore for themselves
Of course you want to spend time with your child. To connect, to laugh and to enjoy each other’s company.
That said, it is also a good idea to have moments throughout the day where the child can play and explore by themselves. This self-directed activity will help them build concentration by being able to work by themself.
Starting from birth, we can already lay the foundations of concentration for our child. I still love to observe a baby watching a mobile. There is no need for the adult to interfere when the child is tracking the elements of the mobile. They are already able to concentrate from such a young age.
And, from this start, the child will continue to find concentration as they explore the world around them.
“The first essential for the child’s development is concentration.
The child who concentrates is immensely happy.” — Dr Montessori
About the Author
Recommended for you: