“MAY I HAVE YOUR ATTENTION PLEASE”

By T. Zwiegers (Ed Psych) and W. Essop (OT)

ECI Centre’s therapists take a closer look at a concept often talked about, Attention and Concentration. They discuss types of ‘attention’, how to identify difficulties in your child and discuss activities that may improve concentration skills. 

“He needs to focus better”

“She is easily distracted”

“Come on now! Concentrate!”

“He seems to struggle to keep his attention”

Have you perhaps heard these words from parents or teachers? Attention or concentration is a common challenge faced by many. As it is a complex skill, it is difficult to wrap one’s ‘head’ around the problem (pun intended). It can be defined as the focus and processing of information from our surroundings. While it involves our tending to facets of our environment, the nature of our attention needs to vary in each situation. 

With school going children, and the constant feeding of new information, the demand for 

Sustained focus

Minimal distractibility

And quality concentration 

Is an important skill, they cannot do without!

TYPES OF ATTENTION[1]

SELECTIVE ATTENTION

If you think of a child in class, most kids need to block out sounds from the hallway or whispers of other kids to actively listen to what the teacher is saying. This is selective attention and occurs when we block out certain features of our environment and focus on one particular feature.

DIVIDED ATTENTION

If you think of your child watching television and you pass by giving them an instruction. They need to listen to the instruction and would like to continue watching TV. They use their divided attention to attend to 2 things at once.

SUSTAINED ATTENTION

When studying or trying to figure out a new concept a child generally works on one task for a long time. This requires sustained attention. This happens when we can concentrate on a task, event, or feature in our environment for a prolonged period of time.

Sustained attention is also commonly referred to as one’s attention span. It takes place when we can continually focus on one thing happening, rather than losing focus and having to keep bringing it back. 

EXECUTIVE ATTENTION

If a child is able to focus intently enough to create goals and monitor their progress, they are displaying Executive attention. This is particularly important for blocking out unimportant features of the environment and attending to what really matters. Like when a child has a long-term project or monthly goals. 

In essence children, for children to be functional and performing at their prime, they need all 4 types of attention. A lag in any of these areas can limit them from actualizing their potential.

SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF INATTENTION[2]:

  • Fails to give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork, at work, or with other activities.
  • Has trouble holding attention on tasks or play activities.
  • Does not seem to listen when spoken to directly.
  • May not follow through on instructions and fails to finish schoolwork, chores, or duties in the workplace (e.g., loses focus, side-tracked).
  • Has trouble organizing tasks and activities.
  • Avoids, dislikes, or is reluctant to do tasks that require mental effort over a long period of time (such as schoolwork or homework).
  • Loses things necessary for tasks and activities (e.g. school materials, pencils, books, tools, wallets, keys, paperwork, eyeglasses, mobile telephones).
  • Easily distracted
  • Forgetful in daily activities

So before you go running off to diagnose your little ones with a SERIOUS INATTENTION problem, keep the following in mind:

  • Consider your child’s basic needs, like hunger fatigue and thirst
  • Lack of physical activity. Needed by all of us but especially kids. Physical activity boosts the brain’s dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin levels, all of which affect focus and attention.[3]
  • How much screen time has your little one had? Excess screen activity can over stimulate the nervous system, making it harder to focus. 
  • Consider any situational condition like loss of a loved one, divorce of parents or moving to a new school
  • Consider the time of day and the environment. Is it late in the evening and not their usual time for homework/learning? Are you on vacation and the environment is generally ‘chilled’ 
  • And most IMPORTANTLY, are any of these inattentive symptoms impacting on the following:
    • School performance
    • Growth or development
    • Social relationships
    • Family relationships
    • Play time

If you have eliminated the above factors and you are still concerned about your child’s attention skills, then contact a child specialist and they can guide you. This may be a medical practitioner, occupational therapist or educational psychologist. 

DEVELOPING AND IMPROVING ATTENTION

Our ECI Team have put together a list of activities that can generally help improve attention.

BRAIN GAMES are often a challenging way to help your child’s concentration.  Games with an end-goal where strategy and planning is required, are usually best. Examples of these are games like RUSH HOUR, crossword puzzles or AMAZE. 

CARD GAMES like PIPOLO, Uno and Snap are excellent for younger kids in transforming their ‘fleeting’ attention into something longer! 

Games that require SEQUENCING are also good for concentration.  Like following recipes, setting the table, counting backwards and putting things in alphabetical order are great activities for children with concentration difficulties.

TONGUE TWISTERS GAMES will let your child focus on getting it right!  You can find tongue twisters on the Internet with varying levels of difficulty.

SPOT THE DIFFERENCE games will help improve attention, as your child will need to look at the details.  Check out Djeco’s Mini Travel game FIND THE DIFFERENCES.

WHAT IS MISSING?  Read a sequence of numbers, alphabets or words from their favourite rhyme, but then leave out information and have your child focus closely to spot the missing item.  Kids could also count backwards or tell a story in reverse. 

MEMORY GAMES are awesome in getting little ones to attend to visual stimuli and can be graded according to a child’s age and ability. MEMOMATCH and MEMORY GAME are perfect for this!

Getting homework done with kids is often a challenge. How can one IMPROVE CONCENTRATION DURING HOMEWORK TIME? 

Read More  


[1] Mazarin, J. n.d.  Attention as Part of Cognitive Development. www.study.com. https://study.com/academy/lesson/attention-as-part-of-cognitive-development-definition-process.html

[2] American Psychiatric Association: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition. Arlington, VA., American Psychiatric Association, 2013.

[3] Robinson,L. Segal,J. Smith,M. 2021 August. The Mental Health Benefits of Exercise. www.helpguide.org.https://www.helpguide.org/articles/healthy-living/the-mental-health-benefits-of-exercise.htm#

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