Children learn focus and self-control through daily interactions

Focus and self-control are two important skills needed in school and for life.

In her book, “Mind in the Making,” Ellen Galinsky discusses the seven essential life skills all children need to be well-rounded and ready for school and life. The first essential skill discussed in the book is focus and self-control.

Our daily lives are filled with multi-tasking, impossible schedules, too many commitments and a multitude of distractions. Adults aren’t the only ones who are being torn in many directions. Children often spend their days in several locations ranging between home, day care, school, relative care, running errands and riding in the car. The essential skill of focus includes paying attention, remembering rules, being flexible and showing self-control.

It can be difficult to pay attention to one thing when there are so many others competing for our attention. The ability to pay attention and focus in the middle of many distractions is a skill that can be taught to young children. Here are some tips that can assist you as you encourage and model these skills for young children.

  • Limit distractions
    Pay attention to the background noise that children are hearing. Is the television on 24/7? Do you turn the radio off in the car when you’re having a conversation? Children and adults focus better when distractions are few.
  • Play games
    Use your time with children to strengthen focus and self-control skills through play. “I spy” is an-old favorite that can help children stop what they are doing, think, remember and guess. Guessing games are easy to play and cost nothing. For instance, a caregiver could say, “I’m thinking of a word that is a kind of vegetable that rhymes with the word ‘green.’”
  • Plan events
    Have children assist in planning trips or events that will teach them to focus on many different details. “How long will the trip take? What should we have in the car? What kind of clothes will we need?” When children give input into the makings of a plan, their interest and focus will increase. The planning can assist with the waiting and self-control that often needs to take place before the event actually occurs.
  • Read, read, read
    Even very young children will learn to listen and repeat a storyline, remember what happened first and last, and predict what will happen next. Good memory skills will assist with focus. Explore children’s books that deal with memory skills. Your local library can assist you in finding choices for children of all ages. One book you might want to explore is “Tell Me the Day Backwards.”
  • Monitor screen time, video games and television
    There are many learning opportunities for learning through technology. Parents and caregivers should monitor what children are playing and watching so that activities are not merely a way to beat boredom and to zone out. Explore choices and choose shows and games that can help children problem solve by using flexible solutions.
  • Follow your child’s cues
    Learn what methods calm your child when they are upset or overwhelmed. If a child needs to be away from the center of activity for a short time, let him know that he can give himself a time out.
  • Use positive language and “I” messages to encourage and sustain focus
    “I see you are nearly done”; “I’m proud that you’ve made a great start on cleaning your room”; “I see that all your practice is paying off - you’re making progress.”

Focus and self-control begin their development in early childhood and continue through the teen and early adult years. They are only one of several life skills that can work together to assist children in being successful in our fast-paced world.

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