How To Build Your Child’s Focus and Concentration

Many times as parents, we don’t think twice about interrupting infants and toddlers, especially when we are in a hurry, or already late somewhere. Generally, this is because we don’t value what they are doing. But, we still want our children to focus and be learners and achievers.

We want them to be able to listen, sit patiently, and be able to solve difficult problems. We want ‘paying attention’ to come naturally and learning skills to come easily. The first years of life are so important in developing focus and concentration.

Here are some ways to foster supreme focus and concentration:

No TV or videos for the first two years (or longer)

TV and videos (including cell phones) are the most drastic way to undermine your child’s developing attention span because they engage and overwhelm a child’s attention rather than encouraging the child to actively flex his focus muscle. This may be hard for some parents, but for you, SmartKidParents, I know you can do this.

Minimal entertainment and stimulation

Babies are creatures of habit and can become accustomed to expect entertainment rather than doing what comes naturally — occupying themselves with their surroundings. I wrote an article about this here, if you would like to know more.

Constant stimulation leads to an exhausted parent and an easily bored, over-stimulated child. Babies do not naturally become bored, parents do. Babies are entranced by the way their bodies can move, and the sights, sounds, smells, nooks and crannies of life that we adults take for granted. They need uninterrupted time to experience these things.

A safe place

In order to remain occupied for extended periods of time, a baby must have a safe place. This can begin with a bassinet or crib, and grow with the baby to be a playpen, and finally a gated play area or their room.

Too large an area where there are unsafe objects is not a relaxed environment the baby needs for extensive concentration. Babies cannot play for long periods of time when they are distracted by the tension of parents worried about safety and the interruption of “NOs” or “Stops”.

Simple, open-ended toys and objects

Unless distracted, babies are inclined to examine every inch of a simple object, like the pattern on a cloth napkin, and then experiment, i.e. wave it, place it in their mouth, tear it, place it over their faces, and scrunch it into a ball.

They can easily grow tired of or become over-stimulated by objects that they either cannot comprehend (like rattles and other mysterious noisemakers) or toys that they passively watch, listen to, and have a single function: like musical mobiles or wind-up toys.

Those toys grab the child’s attention rather than strengthening his ability to actively focus and investigate, similar to the way TV and videos do.

Observe, don’t interrupt

Observing the way our babies choose to spend their time makes us realize that they are not just lying there, but actually doing something. When they gaze towards a window, at the ceiling fan, or grasping at dust particles in the sunlight.

Every time we interrupt our baby’s musings, we discourage his concentration. When we observe we can see when there is a break in the action, i.e. the baby averts his gaze from the activity and turns to look at us. We can then ask him to come to where we are without diverting his attention and interfering with his train of thought.

Baby chooses

Simple fact: children are more interested in the things they choose than the things we choose for them. Therefore, allowing a baby to choose what to do in his play environment rather than directing him to our choice of activity (a learning game, puzzle or flash card) will better engage his interest, focus, and heightened concentration.

Children who are given plenty of opportunities to focus for extended periods of time on activities they choose are better able to pay attention in situations later (like school) where activities are mostly adult-prescribed.

Don’t encourage distraction, but focus

It is common practice to distract a baby with a toy on the changing table to “get the job done.” But this trains babies to NOT pay attention. Diaper changes, baths, and feedings are not dull, unpleasant chores for babies.

Babies are interested in all aspects of their lives. They want to be included in every task that involves them and be invited to participate as much as they are able. When we teach a baby that he should not pay attention to activities he’s an integral part of, how do we then expect him to develop a healthy attention span?

The ability to spend extended periods of time delving deeply, seeking greater understanding of an object or situation, can be developed and strengthened like a muscle. A home environment conducive to focus and attention can have a positive impact on – and maybe even prevent — some attention deficit disorders.

Focus is power. A long attention span is essential for creative, athletic, and academic achievement. Attentive listeners make the best friends, spouses, and parents. So next time you check on your baby, tiptoe in, and peek before saying, “Hello.” Babies live for their “flow” time, too.