There has been much furor these days over treatments for children diagnosed with ADHD. These children demonstrate the inability to focus on one task, and often have trouble keeping physically still enough to participate in any fine motor task at all. In this article, we won’t pretend to have the answers for ADHD, but you will get lots of ideas for tactics and games that will teach your child to focus.
Babies can only see clearly to a distance of about 15 to 18 inches. Coincidentally, this is the distance from the crook of your arm to your face. As you cradle a baby in your arm, and lean over to talk to him, your face is exactly in focus. What does the child see? Usually, your eyes and mouth. You can use this attention to communicate with your baby, and he will develop face recognition throughout infancy. He’ll also learn to recognize voices and respond. By encouraging this interaction, you are already building a baby’s attention span.
As the baby begins to sit up on his own, and then to crawl and walk, there are many activities you can do that will keep him focused and attentive. Keep in mind that if a child this age focuses on one object for over 45 seconds, it is remarkable. The key, here, is to avoid entertaining the child. Watch the toddler play with a toy, and remember that every single thing he does, from reaching to a toy to accidentally pushing it away, is a learning experience. Some parents rush in to hand a favorite toy back to the baby before he gets frustrated. However, stand back and see how things develop. The baby may fuss a little bit, but work out how to reach the toy. He may lose interest in the toy, and look for another one. You, as the parent, should not step in unless you can see that the baby is becoming furious. Frustration is a normal part of life, and the baby can learn to cope. Fury is debilitating to anyone.
Most of us want to read to our toddlers and preschoolers. However, it can be pure torture for children who don’t like to sit still. You can make this easier with books that have movement to them, such as pop-up books. There are also books with slide-out tabs that make characters move on the page. You can also look for books that have mazes, roads, and streets throughout the pages, such as Adam Raccoon books. Children will trace these trails with their fingers as you read them the story. In addition, don’t be discouraged if your child wants to skip around in a familiar book. This is exploration, rather than lack of focus. In fact, he may want to hit just the highlights in several books before bedtime. This is a good chance to teach focus by making a deal that he can “read” a whole book to you, then you’ll skip around.
Puzzles are good at this age, too. If your child gets frustrated with puzzles, lay each piece on the puzzle board and trace around it. Then, number or put an alphabet letter on the back and the spot where it goes. This will help the child do it himself, and learn multitasking, as well.
Once a child is in school, they will be required to focus for periods of time, hopefully based on an age-appropriate attention span. If a child has difficulty sitting still and focusing for 10 to 15 minutes by age 5, he may benefit from different seating. The use of balance balls for student seating is becoming widespread in the U.S., with some success. This involves sitting on an exercise ball, rather than in a chair. The child focuses excess physical energy on maintaining his balance as he does seat work. There are also inflatable cushions that help. The student can place them in their chairs, which helps him focus on his balance.
Finally, remember that many students who seem to not focus may be multi-taskers. In these situations, make it clear that each task does have to be finished, but you may allow more time for several tasks to be finished at once.
Jack Dunsworth does a lot of work with school-age and kindergarten children, when he isn’t helping teach he works part time for a company who supply a wide range of baby shoes.