Maybe you want to do something in the kitchen and want your child to sit still for just 5 minutes. So you give your child a book. Or a toy to play with. If it is something new, it will capture their attention for just a while. But after a few minutes, they will be distracted again and find something else to do. Does this sound familiar to you?
1. Your child’s attention span is meant to be SHORT
Just like your phone’s RAM, your child’s brain comes with a maximum capacity. This means to say that there is a limit on the maximum duration that your child can pay attention on something. It can be a toy, a book, homework or whatever it is. According to research, the calculation of normal attention span by age is as follows:
Normal Attention Span by age
Attention Span = Chronological age + 1
But this is just a rough estimation. The actual attention span depends on the environment, how engaging is the activity and whether the activity is done alone or in a group.
Put your hand on your forehead. This area in your brain is the prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex is the brain area that controls Executive Function. Executive Function is the CEO of the brain and it helps us to:
- Pay and sustain attention
- Control our impulses and distractions
- Remembering details
- Manage work and time
- Stay mentally flexible
- Monitor ourselves
But there is one thing you need to know: Your child’s prefrontal cortex is not fully developed until they reach their early twenties. The most critical brain development occurs during the first year and the brain continues to develop for two decades. As your child develops, their brain develops in a back to the front pattern. Hence their prefrontal cortex is the slowest to mature as compared to other parts of the brain.
What does this mean? It means that your child’s brain lacks a CEO which can help them to pay attention to what is important first. Or to sustain their attention for long time on something that gets boring after a while, such as learning or studying. It means that no matter how much you nag your child to sit still to learn or to pay attention to what you say, it won’t work. Yelling, scolding, hitting won’t work either. It will just scare them away and hurt their confidence.
3. No one teaches your child how to stay attentive Your child attends a kindergarten and is learning about ABC, 123, colours, shapes, spelling, art. You name it. But does the school teaches your child…
…what does it mean to pay attention on something?
…what happens when you are distracted?
…how to train your brain to pay attention for longer duration?
…how to reprogram your brain to ignore distractions in the surroundings?
If no one teaches your child about these things, how do you expect your child to KNOW what does it mean when Mummy says pay attention? How do you expect your child to KNOW what to do when we are distracted by something else? How do you expect your child to KNOW how to bring their attention back when their mind wanders in their daydreams? Your child is not born with these Executive Function strategies.
Hence it is even more important for parents and teachers to teach children how to use these Executive Function skills. You might think, “My child is only 4. How do I explain to him how the brain works?”
You can use games. Do hands-on activities. Explain in language, actions and drawings that your child understands. Enroll your child in brain training classes or enrichment preschool programs such as BrainTech. The most important gift that you can ever give your child is teaching your child HOW to think, and not WHAT to think.
“It is not what you do for your children, but what you have taught them to do for themselves. That will make them successful human beings” — Ann Landers