Think of “Concentration” as if it were a muscle: it needs to be trained progressively, get rest and be nurtured. Also, same as the whole human body, our brain performs a lot better when it is relaxed, oxygenated, and clean from the stress toxins. To help your child focus and concentrate, you need to take care not only of the “brain training” per se but also of the environment and the emotions your child is dealing with. These are the four key factors you need to work on:
FACTOR #1: Anxiety is the greatest obstacle for concentration
From the Biological standpoint: to focus, our brains take oxygen from our blood. It needs to receive oxygen at the proper pace. When children are anxious, their hearts beat at an accelerated hasty pace and end up bringing too little oxygen way too fast. So, these children’s brains are not properly oxygenated for concentration.
Furthermore, children struggling with anxiety receive constant “internal stimuli”. These are disrupting and spontaneous thoughts or memories that interrupt their concentration by making them feel alarmed or frightened. This may explain why many children can’t perform a task requiring three or more steps without forgetting a step.
Anxiety leads to avoidance, the opposite of concentration. Children with anxiety need their parents to work on their “connection”. This is the healthiest and most effective way to find the real source of children’s fears, and helping them deal with it will strengthen their self-confidence. Also, you and your child would benefit if you practice belly-breathing together before trying to concentrate. Steady, diaphragmatic breathing slows your heart rate and clears your mind so you can concentrate. This is an important skill for all of us to learn as early as possible: calming the body through breathing.
FACTOR #2: Overscheduling and Fatigue
We tend to try to keep our children distracted and busy all the time. Children that are whisked from activity to activity can feel mind-tiredness, they need a downtime to allow their young minds to recover from an activity. Their brains need some boredom time to recover from School.
While some children will prefer to lay on their beds and watch the ceiling to get lost in their own thoughts for some minutes, other children will find it more beneficial to ride their bikes or play outside. You need to make sure your child has had the chance and time to get bored, to run, walk, or jump around before sitting down to homework.
FACTOR #3: Feeling overwhelmed
When children are struggling to concentrate, they can be overwhelmed when projects look too big or complex, or when they’ve got many things to do.
A great tactic to help increase your child's concentration is to split the task up into smaller pieces. Big projects can overwhelm. Even grownups have that feeling of "I don't even know where to start." Splitting the task up will give a child the feeling of progress as the pieces are completed.
Another tactic is to make a To-do-list. Help your child focus on getting things done by making a list together of everything he or she needs to do for the day. Then let your child cross off each task as he or she finishes it.
And, of course, you need to show your child how to use “Breathers”. During homework time, make sure your child takes a few breaks. After working for 10 or 20 minutes (depending on his or her age), invite your child to get up and move around, get a glass of water, and then go back to work. It is ok if your child wants to change the subject at homework. Some of us need to switch between courses (like language and sciences) because it allows us to switch the side of the brain we are using and this helps us stay away from tiredness.
FACTOR #4: Distractions
Children get easily distracted because their young brains are still developing their “data-filters”. Your child’s senses fill his or her brain with a huge amount of information and can “saturate” it. While we grow up, our brains learn to put filters on the data gathered by our senses, so that we only process the relevant information.
During childhood, many of us need some help to avoid unnecessary data while we are trying to concentrate. These may include conversations, TVs, cell phones, music, aromas, or fragrances, etc. Even the smell of just-baked-cookies keeps children from focusing on homework. Needless to say, hearing their parents arguing will upset children and will make it almost impossible for them to concentrate on what they are doing.