The pandemic has had a major impact on parents and families. For some parents, lockdowns meant quickly adapting to working from home. Many schools were also closed, leaving many children and youth in at-home virtual learning environments for weeks or even months.
Having your children at home may have meant spending more time as a family, which might have given you fresh insight into your child's behavior.
Like adults, children also experience a range of emotions. They can experience fears and worries, have trouble focusing, feel bored or upset, or display disruptive behaviors. While those feelings and behaviors can be perfectly normal, it can be challenging to differentiate between bad behavior and a larger issue.
Signs of Focus Issues in Children
The ability to sustain attention is vital for children and adolescents because it helps them learn, develop new skills, and stay motivated. If your children are struggling to concentrate on a given task, it can be helpful to monitor their behavior to identify possible areas to address.
Here are some signs that may indicate your child may be having problems in school:
- Receiving low grades
- Missing classes
- Failing to do their homework
- Not following the lessons
- Forgetting the teacher’s instructions
- Inability to sit still
- Constantly losing things or lacking organization
Some kids may have difficulties in their relationships with family or friends. Common signs of these issues include:
- Difficulty making or keeping friends
- Irritability, bad mood, or bad behavior
- Ignoring others when spoken to directly
- Forgetting daily activities, chores, and appointments
- Having a hard time keeping up in conversations
- Acting impatiently or not taking turns
- Appearing distracted or spending a lot of time daydreaming
Here are some other factors that may also temporarily disrupt attention, or influence focus long-term in children and adolescents:
Daily stressors like fighting with a friend, or excitement over an important event
- Stressful changes like a death in the family, moving homes, parents' separation, or the sudden shift to distance learning
Lifestyle factors such as lack of sleep – when kids are sleep-deprived, they can have trouble with memory, learning, and concentrating. Maternal drug, alcohol, or tobacco use during pregnancy and premature birth are other risk factors.
- Brain or head injury like concussions that can occur from sports, falling, fighting, or other accidents
- Genetic factors such as a family history of attention disorders and other genetic factors that can contribute to behaviors relating to focus, working memory, and/or long-term memory
How Can I Improve My Child's Concentration and Focus?
There are several simple things that you can do to improve your kid’s focus and attention, including:
Developing Healthy Habits
Limiting Screen Time
Screen exposure can reduce children's attention span and psychological well-being. Preschoolers and adolescents spending more time per day in front of a screen have more behavioral problems and reports of aggressive behavior.
If you want your child to focus on a specific task, eliminate distractions that might get in the way of achieving this goal. Help your child concentrate by creating a quiet space in the house where they can study and do their homework. Turn off all devices, and keep their toys away from this area. If possible, avoid interruptions by siblings or pets.
Taking a Break
When kids spend too much time doing the same thing, they can feel mentally exhausted. It's important to take regular breaks to clear the mind and return to the task with fresh energy.
Dividing Large Tasks into Smaller Units
It may be easier for your child to overcome a challenge or complete a school assignment if you break it into smaller milestones. Instead of asking them to clean their entire room, you could ask them to make their beds. Then later, ask them to put away their clothes or toys. Accomplishing these smaller tasks can boost their confidence and give you an opportunity to congratulate them on a job well done several times throughout the process.
Mindfulness or meditation involves maintaining consciousness of the present moment. This can relieve stress and anxiety and improve focus. One easy way to practice mindfulness with your children is to ask them to sit with you and focus on their breathing. Whenever the mind begins to wander, just gently bring focus back to the breath. One study showed that adolescents who meditated daily over 1-2 years experienced improvements in attention and focus.
When parents show emotional support, kids are more likely to explore their environment and show interest in tasks. They also tend to feel more confident and motivated and may improve their overall concentration.
Talking about Emotions
As a parent, it's important to offer your children support and care. This may involve talking about the feelings and struggles that your child is experiencing and doing your best to understand why they are behaving in a certain way. You can also let your kids know that it is normal to experience frustration, inattention, and even sadness from time to time.
Understanding their Unique Genetic Profile
Your child's genes can influence how they think, feel, and behave in certain situations. Some genetic predispositions in focus and memory, such as inattentiveness, distractibility, or impulsivity, can make it harder to concentrate in certain situations. Knowing your child's possible genetic predispositions can help you identify strategies to target the underlying genetic and biological mechanisms involved, to take steps towards improving their focus and attention.
Genetic Testing For Mental Health
The Genomind Mental Health Map™ is a DNA-based assessment tool for mental health and wellness that provides an in-depth analysis of genetic variants relating to 7 Core Genetic Mental Health Capabilities™, including Focus & Memory, Sleep, and more. Identifying your child's genetic predispositions gives you an important foundational understanding for addressing their mental health and wellness concerns. The Mental Health Map pairs actionable insights with personalized recommendations to sustain and improve mental wellness. No prescription is required.
For example, some individuals have a variant of their BDNF gene, which is associated with altered BDNF secretion. That genotype has been linked to lower scores on tests of working memory and impeded long-term memory when fatigued, meaning more difficulty keeping track of important information while performing tasks.
However, there are ways to compensate for that deficiency, such as exercise. For example, endurance exercise has been shown to increase BDNF by 200-300%, leading to improvements in working memory that can potentially even exceed those without the variant. That knowledge of how sensitive they are to the effects of exercise provides those individuals with a personalized incentive to prioritize their exercise routine. As healthcare providers and other outlets recommend exercise to everyone, the suggestion pertinent to the individual’s specific circumstance may carry more weight. In that way, they take more informed action for their mental health.
What Can Parents Do For Their Children's Mental Health
If your child is experiencing persistent focusing issues that interfere with their school, home life, or play activities, it may be time to seek medical help. Your healthcare provider can help you explore appropriate treatment options for your child.