Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Helping Children to Attend

Tamim Ansary has written a very interesting article for MSN Encarta titled, Concentration Is the Key. In this article, he notes that while people pride themselves with the ability to multitask, he instead desires to master the skill of "mono-tasking." He adds that many elements of modern life have actually eroded our ability to concentrate and that big industry has developed surrounding the disability of ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder). He does not doubt that some children do have this disorder. But, it seems that in today's world the skill of concentration is not being successfully taught. While it may be great to teach children how to multitask, it is even more important to teach children how to focus and concentrate for extended periods of time. The ability to attend to a task for a long period of time is the foundation for most successful endeavors.

The good thing about concentration is that it can be taught. Yes, some people may have a natural ability to attend more than others. But, we can all learn how to better concentrate, even our children. Mr Ansary recommends that children be taught how to concentrate beginning at an early age and I agree. What I see many parents and teachers do with today's children is to cram a large amount of activities into a small amount of time. Children are constantly transitioning and moving on to the next task before the previous task was completed. We all seem to be running around like crazy people, including myself. This is not to say that "crazy" is bad, it is just that we seem to be wearing ourselves out unnecessarily. And, our kids are not being taught how to just sit and focus on one task at a time. In fact, when a child is focusing well, I have noted that some may say that he or she is "hyperfocussing" and being abnormal in some way.

I recommend that parents of children with attention difficulties carefully read Mr. Ansary's article and try some of the recommended strategies for attention improvement. It would be very beneficial to take some regular time with your child to work on attending or sticking with a task for an extended period of time. If your child has difficulty sitting and attending, take it slowly. Take a small amount of time at first (e.g., 5 minutes) and focus on the task. If the child has difficulty provide encouragement. Help the child learn to take all other thoughts out of his or her mind. There are no magical interventions to recommend. Learning to attend primarily takes practice just like with any other skill. After a successful period of time, give a high five or some other type of natural reinforcement. With time, I guarantee you will see positive results.