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Supporting Children’s Ability to Focus

“I CAN TELL THAT MY TWO-YEAR-OLD has the ability to focus because of the expression he gets on his face when he listens to music.” This is one mother’s way of introducing her child on a preschool application. How important it is in our modern age for parents to observe their child’s ability to concentrate and to note what activities absorb them, like losing themselves in music.

It is noticing moments when children focus in one-pointed ways that allows us to increase their ability to attend. “I see how you’re concentrating (even for a minute). That is so awesome!” “I don’t want to interrupt you when you’re paying such close attention.” Like anything else, children learn what concentration feels like by our naming it while it’s happening.

In a world of multitasking, it can be hard to remember what real concentration looks or feels like. Much TV programming and the deluge of social media train us to have extremely short attention spans, to see something fleeting, get bored, flip the channel, and move on. Children vary in their natural abilities to focus at any age, but adults play an important role in demonstrating what full attention to an activity is like.

The first step can be valuing concentration and talking about what promotes it. “I always need to be careful not to have any interruptions when I’m trying to focus.” “We can’t concentrate when there’s noise, so how can we make things really quiet?”

Another factor in the ability to focus is motivation. Lack of interest undermines the ability to pay attention at any age. That’s why it’s so important for adults to pay attention to the activities that interest children and offer positive comments on their abilities to stay engrossed. “Wow, you really can concentrate on that!” We learn first by building the “muscles” of concentration through things that naturally pull our interest. Then we can harness that ability in other situations.

In a broader sense, we know that much of the delight in life comes from our abilities to stop and absorb ourselves in something that captures our attention in any given moment – so the best daily practice of developing good concentration can be mindfulness.


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