Over the years, many parents have asked me how to get their children to be more focused. The parent’s main concern may be the child’s lack of focus on studies, but often there is a wider fear that the child is easily distracted in all things. Some parents think their child may have attention deficiency disorder (ADD).
I discourage parents from diagnosing and labelling their children with the ADD tag. To some extent, all children are easily distracted – it is the nature of a child to be restless. At the same time, one cannot deny that attention spans are shrinking.
So what can parents do to help their children be more focused and less prone to distractions? To begin with, delay access to electronic gadgets. There is nothing that discourages a focused approach to life more than the constant distractions of SMS and whatsapp messages, email, and facebook posts. Actual calls may in fact be the least of the distractions, even on our phones. As kids grow older, peer pressure on social media will be added to this already quite heady mix.
After a short talk on mindfulness, a young man asked me how he could “wean” his 4-year-old son off the iPad. Rather taken aback to hear that a 4-year-old was “addicted” to a tablet, I asked when he had started using one. The answer left me speechless: when the boy was 18 months old.
There is no magic age at which every child is ready to start using smart phones, tablets and social media sites. You will have to decide what is best for your child.
But let your children enjoy the real world before they plunge into a world of gadgets and, eventually, of virtual reality. Let them learn to develop relationships based on seeing and speaking before they move on to “chatting” via instantly delivered messages. Let them play in the physical world before they start playing online games.
Meanwhile, model focused behaviour for your children. Children learn more from what they observe than from what they are told to do. The more focused you are around them, the more mindful they will learn to be. If you pay full attention to them when they are sharing something with you that is important to them, when you are not distracted while talking to others in their presence, then your children will understand the importance of paying attention.
But if you yourself are not fully present when you are conversing with your kids, or if they see you forever multi-tasking, unable to pay your undivided attention to any one task, they may conclude that paying only partial attention to the task at hand is quite acceptable. Sometimes multi-tasking is unavoidable; but it should not be the norm at home (or in school).
Besides all this, you can more actively teach your children to focus better through mindfulness practices. In addition to focus, these practices can also help children to lose stress and gain calmness, to effectively manage their emotions and to become more self-confident.
Young children are usually open to trying anything that is new to them, but may be too restless to sit calmly in mindfulness practice for any length of time. We need to modify the practices to bring in some movement and give the idea of mindfulness an interesting spin.
Teenagers may see mindfulness as “uncool,” but generally respond quite well if we can find ways to engage them and give them the space to explore the idea at their own pace.
It is worth the patience and effort to help children, at any age, master the art of mindfulness practice. It will enrich their childhood and stand them in good stead throughout their lives.