Attention skills are central to learning, engaging with others, accomplishing tasks, and succeeding in school and the workplace. They develop gradually and steadily, and as a parent or caregiver you play a big role. Before we explore what you can do to help your child develop attention skills, let’s take a look why they’re important.
Why are Attention Skills Important?
Although attention begins developing at birth, it takes center stage when children start school. Below are examples of how attention skills will help your one-day kindergartener.
- Sustain concentration in order to complete tasks, from finishing a project to listening intently to instructions.
- Filter incoming sensory information, like sounds and movements, in order to remain focused on her work.
- Pay attention to details, like parts of a story, or nonverbal cues from a classmate.
- Switch attention back and forth between tasks, for example: If an unexpected visitor enters the classroom, she can look up at the visitor and then easily refocus on her work.
What Are the Building Blocks of Attention?
Attention skills rely on other areas of development, including:
Attention During the First Two Years
Research tells us that during early infancy, attention is automatic and exploratory. Your baby looks at, watches, and interacts with whatever catches her eye. Towards the end of the first year, her attention shifts to a selective and deliberate phase. She chooses what to focus on, and purposefully interacting with her surroundings develops and strengthens her attention skills.
But those attention skills are still new! Little ones are notoriously distractible, so things like playing with a toy for longer than a few minutes, sitting through an entire book or mealtime, or calmly riding in a car or airplane can be infinitely hard for little ones.
The good news is that you can help her improve her attention skills.
How to Nurture Your Child’s Attention Skills
You can help your child develop these skills in a few main ways:
- Play games requiring your child to pay attention, like our BabySparks “Maintaining Focus” activities.
- Be fully present when you play with your child. Research shows that when a caregiver’s attention wanders during play, so does the child’s. But when caregivers focus on what the child is doing, the child is also focused. Set aside time every day to engage in “shared attention” with your child. It’s not just good for upping her attention span, it also helps her bond with you and enhances learning.
- Focus on your child’s interests. Motivate your little one to pay attention by letting her choose the books at story time, following her lead during free-play, and using her favorite toys for structured activities.
- Shelf screens. Your little one’s brain is developing at lightening speed, and being dynamically engaged with her surroundings drives and shapes that development. Even brief periods of screen time add up, reducing the overall time she interacts with the world around her. Although more research is needed, many child development experts agree that screens limit the multi-sensory experiences your child needs to develop attention skills.
- Remember that being tired, hungry, sick, or disinterested can all limit your child’s ability to pay attention.
Lastly, hang in there! Your little one jumping from one thing to the next may make your head spin, but staying the course with these suggestions will slowly stretch and strengthen her attention skills.