(The ability to focus is a skill and like many skills, it's much easier to learn it correctly the first time and early on than to re-learn or establish it later. Over the years in working with youth sports, I have noticed a growing population of kids that are unable to absorb simple information being presented because they are incapable of staying focused for even a brief period of time. In some cases, parents and doctors resort to medications to "calm" their brains just to allow them to function throughout the day without being disruptive in school or other activities. Sure, there are some cases where medications are needed but I have found more often than not they are a band-aid to other underlying issues. The environment we as parents and coaches provide will do more to help kids develop and nurture focus than anything else. Here are some tips you can use to make a positive impact on their development of this skill:
1. SET AN EXAMPLE
If you as parents are unable to demonstrate the ability to focus, concentrate, or listen, then it will be much more difficult for your child to copy that positive behavior.
2. ASK YOUR CHILD TO LOOK AT YOU (or anyone else) WHEN YOU SPEAK TO THEM
Eye contact is important for your child to stay engaged and listening. If you allow them to constantly get distracted, it will become and accepted habit. It's your job to remind them to look at you.
3. REQUIRE A RESPONSE
A simple "yes mom," "yes dad," or "I understand" is not only an acknowledgement that they have heard, understand what you have said, but creates a stronger commitment on their part to follow through with what you may have requested of them.
4. MINIMIZE OVER-STIMULATION
By that I don't mean not to challenge them or expose them to new things. I'm talking about video games, smart phones, certain television programs, and even multi-tasking activities. When you continually raise the level of visual and mental stimulation in a kids brain, simple, slow, and relatively mundane activities (like talking with a parent) becomes unbearable. It's not unlike jacking them up on sugar and then ask them to sit still. It's not necessarily a hyperactive child. It may be that their brain is simply adapting to the stimulus and environment provided. By the way, YOU CONTROL THE ENVIRONMENT!
5. DON'T OVERLOAD THEIR SCHEDULES (Rest & Recovery)
Parents these days are so concerned with providing every opportunity for their child to "succeed" that too often their schedules become unmanageable and leave little time for rest and recovery for them and the kids. These days many sport seasons overlap and with unfortunate and growing trend of year-round specialization, it's not uncommon for an athlete to be involved with 3 sports at some point during the year. Truth is, it really does not help the kids and leads to early overuse injuries and burnout but that's a topic for another article. Likewise, inadequate rest and recovery has a dramatic negative affect on brain function and behavior.
6. CREATE "MANDATORY BOREDOM" TIME
When kids are young, we parents get used to "keeping them busy" throughout the day. Whether it's organizing activities or sticking them in front of the TV with a movie, we get in the habit of keeping them occupied to avoid the inevitable chaos that occurs with a bored child. As they get older, however, it's important that they have a chance to think, ponder, dream, create, etc. without parents micro-managing every moment of their day.
Here are some things to watch out for:
- too much hi-tech television shows/movies (compare old westerns to transformers)
- constant need for music
- smart phone and social media obsession
- no hobbies (other than sports)
HOW DO YOU RETRAIN KIDS THAT ALREADY LACK FOCUS?
Incorporate the 6 points above into your lifestyle and household.
STRUCTURE & ROUTINES - Some people "feel" that telling kids what to do and when to do it doesn't allow them to be spontaneous or creative. However, kids flourish in a structured environment and it actually gives them more time to be creative if done right. Stop telling kids what to do throughout the day. Give them chores to do and then the rest of the time is theirs with respect and limitations given for the items listed above. If you have tasks that you want them to do outside of their assigned chores, write them on a white board with a big check box next to it. Completing and checking tasks off a list actually raises the endorphin levels in the brain and can become addictive. Imagine that! Your kids addicted to doing tasks.
TEACH IN BLOCKS or "CHUNKING"
Whether you are a coach, teacher, or parent, it's important to remember that teaching kids is not just about passing on the information. You should do it in a manner and pace so they not only understand it but they FEEL confident and competent with the material. Be creative, teach in pieces and then put them together. You will find that they learn much quicker and can better retain the information or skills.
SET CLEAR BOUNDARIES, EXPECTATIONS, AND CONSEQUENCES
Kids aren't "born to be bad." Sometimes what we see as poor or disrespectful behavior is simply a matter of the child not understanding how their actions affect others. Take the time to explain that first and then consider providing consequences for future infractions.
DON'T ASSUME IT'S THE CHILD!
It's not an easy thing to swallow when you realize that you are the source of your child's behavior and lack of focus. But, if you try to find solutions with that possibility in mind, you will probably come up with better solutions. Consider how you communicate. Is it with thoughtful purpose or are you mimicking how a parent communicated with you when you were a child?
DON'T SAY DON'T!
We know our job is to guide our kids and direct and encourage them to make decisions that ultimately allow them to experience some form of happiness. In that light, if someone asked you for directions from Seattle to Los Angeles, would you say: "don't go east, you'll end up in Denver." Or, "don't go west unless you plan to swim there." Of course not. You'd tell them take I-5 south until you reach the land of the crazies. You'd tell them what TO DO instead of what NOT TO DO. Eliminates the guessing and the need for trial and error. In the case of sports, visualization is a powerful tool to create the results you want. If say something like, "don't swing at a high pitch," what do you think they are going to do. Yep, swing at the high pitch every time. What they see in their mind they will do. Start making mental notes on how often you say don't and see if you can come up with a better way to express your point.
FOCUS is a skill but also a symptom of an environment that allows encourages that skill to develop and minimizes the obstacles. Hope this gives you some food for thought. Feel free to leave comments or ideas from your own experiences.
Horizon Executive Coach
Performance and Corrective Exercise Specialist
Holistic Lifestyle Coach