The Importance of Attention For Child Development
As a parent, you may have concerns about your child’s attention span and how it’s impacting their
Firstly, it’s important to understand that it’s natural for children to struggle with attention from time to time; sitting still, listening and controlling what they say and do. Children tend to have shorter attention spans and be more distractible than adults.
Attention is a skill that needs to be honed and mastered and each child learns and develops differently.
But if your child experiences persistent attention difficulties that are more serious, it could be impacting other areas of his or her life, such as learning, friendships and family.
Attention difficulties are a growing concern in Australia with 450,000 children currently affected. Diagnoses of ADHD among 4-17 year olds has increased from 8% in 2003 to 11% in 2011.
Dr Hannah Kirk, Chief Research Officer at TALI Health and a doctor in Developmental Neuroscience in the School of Psychological Sciences, at Monash University says, “Attention may be the most important skill you have. It doesn’t just allow you to concentrate on a task; it allows you to switch your attention, prevent impulsive responding and has been highlighted as a significant predictor of educational and vocational outcomes.”
Fine tuning attention means a child is able to screen out irrelevant details to focus on what the important issues are. And attention enables a child to keep focused on a task, which is how he or she learns, refines and masters new skills. If a child lacks the ability to focus, it can feed into other problems.
Dr Kirk explains “Childhood attention difficulties can have a lifelong impact. With every year that passes, these children experience increasing education, social and health repercussions that can lead to problems in adulthood.”
How Attention Problems Can Impact Your Child
Many children experience attention problems, which they grow out of in time with little impact to their lives.
In more severe cases, repercussions can spread into other areas of a child’s life, such as:
- Learning and developing new skills
- Interacting with other children
- Understanding language and auditory processing
If attention difficulties aren’t treated, they can lead to increased vulnerability to anxiety and other mental health problems which can present as problems in the classroom, trouble making friends or during social situations.
What To Look For…Does your child struggle with attention?
Attention problems vary dramatically from child to child. Some children experience clinical disorders such as ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), others struggle with developmental issues which affect their ability to build attention.
Dr Kirk notes that, “Problems with attention are often first identified when a child begins school and a teacher notices that a student seems more easily distracted than most other children their age. Maybe the child takes an unusually long time to finish schoolwork in class, doesn’t seem to follow the lesson, tunes out when instructions are given, or forgets what they’re supposed to be doing.”
Some other indicators include:
- Missing important details (such as details within an instruction)
- Being unable to listen for long periods and absorb all the information provided
- Not attending to tasks when asked
- Problems with finishing tasks
- Failing to learn from repeated mistakes on a task
- Impulsive behaviour and emotional outbursts
What can you do to help your child?
The good news is, there are plenty of things you can do on a day-to-day basis, which encourage your child to practice the skills of attention. Some of these include:
- Reading to your child. Follow the story together.
- Completing jigsaw puzzles and crosswords with your child (relevant to his or her age and development).
- Engaging in conversation to hold your child’s focus on the topic. Use eye contact and reaffirm and repeat what he or she says to you.
- Taking turns to repeat instructions back to each other.
- Providing activities with a clear beginning and end (such as jigsaw puzzles or dot to dots).
- Using of timers for activities, so your child can see how long he or she needs to maintain focus for.
- Providing plenty of active play time (being able to run around and burn off energy can help your child settle to focus on a task or activity).
- Increasing outdoor time, particularly in green/natural spaces.
If you’re serious about helping your child, TALI Health recently released a training program that’s been designed by leading neuroscientists to help children improve attention. The results have been clinically proven and we’re incredibly excited about the impact this product will have for improving attention across Australia.