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The Curious Case of the Decreasing Attention Span & Overcoming it

The Curious Case of the  Decreasing Attention Span & Overcoming it

January 5, 2019


From phones to video-games, the modern child has a vast array of electronic media to help alleviate boredom and pass the time. Parents may often wonder about the impact such activities can have on their children’s brain development, behaviour and learning.

A study by psychologists at Iowa State University found that kids who exceeded the recommended two hours per day of screen time were 1.5 to two times more likely to have attention problems in the classroom.

Experts have coined the term – “Sustained attention” as the ability to maintain focus on a task or assignment a child considers uninteresting or difficult – in other words, schoolwork and homework. A young child can typically complete a five-minute chore with only occasional supervision. The average teenager can do a task, with short breaks, for one to two hours.

However, experts also suggest various easy techniques that parents can utilise at home to help their child refocus on a task. Some of them are:

Reward your child when he/she finishes a task: Some parents don’t allow kids to watch TV or games on school nights. But, they can be an incentive to maintain attention if kids know they will be allowed to play for 30 minutes after they finish their homework.

If you decide to make this offer, say it like this: “As soon as you finish your homework, you get to play video games for 30 minutes.” Saying, “You can’t play video games until you finish your homework” sets the scene for a power struggle. Giving your child something to look forward to will energise him.

Have your child rate how hard a task is for him/her on a scale of 1 to 10: Ask how they could turn an 8-9-10 task into a 2-3-4 task. Can they turn it into a game? Or, make it fun by breaking the task into small pieces and do one piece at a time, with built-in breaks.

Ask your child to estimate how long a task will take: Your child may think it will take an hour to do their math homework. If they found out that it took them only 15 minutes the last time, they will be less likely to procrastinate the next time.

Gradually increase attention time: Measure how long your child can stick with homework or a chore before needing a break. Once you establish that, set a timer for two to three minutes longer than the baseline measurement, and challenge your child to keep working until the timer rings.

Be present during tasks: Children can sustain attention longer when someone is physically with them. Make homework time a family affair – everybody brings work to the dining room table at the same time every night. This can foster fun and enthusiasm for task while dealing with less interesting chores.

Schedule breaks & allow them to move around: Kids work more efficiently when they have regular opportunities to get up and move around. Even on nights when they have a lot of homework, they will get it done faster if they have periodic breaks that include some physical activity.

It can be quite a daunting task when dealing with low attention spans, especially when it comes to exams and homework, but with enough practice and support, attention spans can be brought back to normal within a few months.