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Herding Cats

Do you ever feel that trying to get through a day of online school, or getting your child to focus on anything, is like herding cats?

The struggle is real, my friends. Whether your kid is 4 or 14, the focus challenges are real. And if it wasn't clear to you before, remote schooling has made that fact crystal clear. You see firsthand how hard is for your child to focus on their work, focus on that screen for any length of time. You reason. You cajole. You threaten. Nothing seems to work. Why can't they just focus on the task at hand?

I have tons of personal experience with this -- in my classroom, with my own kids, and especially with myself. I could and can hyperfocus on something for hours, but the nano-second my concentration breaks, I'm all over the place - darting about like a bee from flower to flower.

Here's the thing...lack of focus doesn’t mean that kids aren’t working hard. It doesn't have anything to do with intelligence. It also doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re not interested in the task at hand, even if it seems that way. Kids may want to focus on something, but just cannot manage to do so. Sometimes, it’s hard to focus because there are so many distractions. Sometimes, they’re hungry, or tired, or the skillset is just not there or not where you expect it to be.

According to a recent study from the Microsoft Corporation,

the average human attention span has fallen from 12 seconds to 8. This drop began in 2000, coinciding with the beginning of the mobile revolution.

As a means of comparison, goldfish are believed to have an attention span of 9 seconds.

Eight seconds! And that's the average! Not a lot of time to give to learning, conversing, meditating, whatever. It's no wonder that we have to redirect out kids' attention a gazillion times as the classroom moved to the home.

What to do?

Here are 5 strategies of my best strategies to help with focus...(appropriately titled with the F.O.C.U.S. acronym):

  • F IS FOR FEED THEM. START WITH THE BASICS. Being hungry makes it hard for anyone to focus. And add adequate sleep to that. When kids are sleep deprived, they tend to be more easily distractable

  • THE O IS FOR in meditation or mindfulness. Meditating or any mindfulness practice (like yoga) for just 10 minutes every morning is shown to improve focus and concentration. Deep breathing before starting can be centering and prepare them to tackle what lies in front of them.

  • CHUNK IT: Break the work into single tasks - one thing at a time. Too big of a "to-do" list can be overwhelming. Set a timer – knowing how long they have to stay focused can make it easier to complete a task. Start small (10-15 minutes) and plan short, 2-3 minute breaks for a snack, bathroom, or movement. You can increase the time as the focus improves. Then get back to the task at hand or the next task.

  • UNPLUG: Ditch the screens. Try, instead, going old school - concentration games, board games, card games - these require thinking, planning, and using their memory. And can improve attention to detail and increase concentration. (And you thought it was all fun and games!)

  • SIGNAL: Come up with a signal for when your child’s mind starts to wander to gently guide your child back on track. It could be a specific word like "breath" or "focus" said once and said calmly or it can be an action, like touching their arm or putting your hand on the shoulder. Something short and sweet to bring them back to the task at hand.

And a last thought:

We get to set the stage for our children, especially in our own homes.

They look to us and can see what it is like to work hard and the rewards we can have for doing so.

And they can also see us letting our attention and lives be controlled and coerced by distractions - family, phones, laundry - leaving it to someone or something else to determine our behavior.

Becoming "indistractable" is getting more and more difficult with all the different roles we have to play lately but it’s one that is so important to teach our kids...

And since kids will do what you do…

You, as parents, are the ones to frame their future.

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