Discover simple habits to help your child be more attentive and have a stronger sense of self-regulation.
I was privileged to take several of our early childhood teachers up to an Early Childhood conference earlier this year, and it was a valuable time learning from Dr. Barbara Sorrels, founder of the Institute for Childhood Education. Her work with children who’ve experienced trauma gives her a unique perspective to share with all educators and parents alike.
Dr. Sorrels believes that “focused attention is the number one predictor of success in school.” She noted how difficult it is for many children to be attentive in today’s classrooms, adding that many of the parents she works with are very distracted as well—either preoccupied with their devices, or life stresses. Many children grow up with a need for attention that is unfulfilled, and some grow to display the same behaviors of inattention and lack of focus that they see at home.
Here are four ways you can help your child focus:
Model proper behavior for your child.
Dr. Bruce Perry, psychiatrist and Senior Fellow of the Child Trauma Academy, said, “the immature, disorganized brain needs the full presence of the mature, organized brain.” In order for your child to develop self-regulation, he must see it modeled by a consistent adult presence.
Offer consistent “do-overs” when they get it wrong.
By offering multiple opportunities for your child to achieve success, you provide greater motivation for them to develop healthy behaviors. Young children are learning how to learn. What about instead of a “time out” for certain inappropriate behaviors, you try “do overs” with proper modeling, so your child can try again and again, and experience success? This inside-out approach instead of the external approach takes more time but brings great rewards. Just like God’s mercies are new every morning, we can pass that mercy on to our children.
Many children grow up with a need for attention that is unfulfilled.
Repeat, repeat, repeat.
Learning, the growth of neural connections in the brain, is strengthened through repetition. A one-time experience is not enough for a neural connection to form and stabilize. That’s why your child wants you to read that book over and over and over again until you are ready to shove it down the garbage disposal! Their growing brains need repetition because it’s one of the building blocks of development. “It is through constant repetition that possibility becomes ability” (Kindermusik).
Give children firm and consistent limits.
Self-regulation is profoundly offline in this culture, due to the many distractions we have at our fingertips. Children thrive in predictable environments, and crave the “fence posts” we put in place that won’t move depending on our mood swings. The consistent, predictable guidelines give them security. They may fight our rules occasionally, but they need (and want) firm limits and predictable responses from the adults in their life.
When I reflect on this for me personally, I feel convicted. How focused am I on the passages I read each morning-from God’s heart to mine, or the weekly messages at church? How often do actually I put what I read and hear into practice? There is so much in our society that demands our attention, and if we’re not careful, we can lose focus on the things that are most important: God, our family, and the beautiful community of people around that need to see Jesus in us. Matthew 5:6 says, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied." God has the ability to satisfy all of our needs as we focus on His righteousness. He reminds us in Matthew 6:33, "seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you." I want to be able to hear and act on His voice, each and every time He speaks.
Jan Lashbrook is the Early Childhood Director at Calvary Christian Academy. She and her husband are “ empty-nesters,” having raised three children who are all grown and married. Their youngest attended CCA for 12 years, graduating in 2016.