Building Better Focus: Helping Kids Hone Their Attention Skills All Summer Long
School may be out for the summer, but now is the perfect time to develop some critical skills that will give your kids a more successful start to the fall. Yes, summer is all about vacations, adventures, long days, baseball games, and bike rides. But summer break also provides an excellent opportunity for parents to assist their children in developing essential attention skills.
Dr. Rebecca Jackson from Brain Balance Centers sat down with Dr. Courtney Gallen, a researcher at Neuroscape—a neuroscience research center based out of the University of California San Francisco. Their mission is to “engage in technology creation and scientific research to better assess and optimize brain function of both healthy and impaired individuals.”
For many parents whose children struggle with varying degrees of attention and focus issues, summer is a much-needed reprieve from the frustrations of schoolwork, homework, and the busy schedules of fall afternoons and weekends. But by the time the routine of being on break settles in, fall appears in the horizon. The break is nearly over and the frustrations are soon to return. But what if instead, summer served as preparation, refinement, and perhaps even hope?
Now is the time to hone in on the skill of attention.
The Impact of Attention Skills
When we talk about attention, it’s easy to use the word as an umbrella term for nearly everything from schoolwork to conversations to reading and even playing games. But it’s crucial to understand there are actually two core components to attention: focus and inhibition. Focus, or what is also called sustained attention, refers to maintaining concentration over extended periods. Inhibition, on the other hand, involves ignoring distractions and controlling impulsive responses. So, improving attention requires honing the skills of both focus and inhibition, working together for success.
Developing these skills play a significant role throughout all of our lives, starting from childhood. As adults, our mental health, emotional well-being, interpersonal relationships, and financial health are all influenced by our ability to focus. Similarly, for children, attention skills enable active participation in activities, effective collaboration in group projects, and appropriate classroom behavior. Paying attention to how our children’s attention skills develop starts by recognizing the distinction between focus and inhibition, and results in a better understanding of our children's behaviors and provides them with the necessary skills for present and future success.
As issues arise—manifesting themselves as hyperactivity, procrastination, or behaviors resembling ADHD—parents may not initially recognize that their children are struggling with an attention-related issue. Eager to find a solution, it’s easy to search for a simple, out-of-the-box solution, yet attention challenges can vary widely among individuals. While some children may have difficulty sustaining attention, others struggle to inhibit distractions. By recognizing these differences, parents can identify the specific areas that require attention training and support their children accordingly.
If we are willing to utilize academic tutoring, why not attention tutors?
When children face challenges in school, it's common for parents to assume they need academic tutoring in specific subjects. This is something that at Brain Balance, we see frequently. The first stop in discovering the right solution for a child struggling with subjects in school is to hire an academic tutor. But academics is often only a symptom of a deeper problem—a problem with attention. At Brain Balance, we understand that addressing attention difficulties requires more than just subject-specific help; it necessitates attention training. Because, according to Dr. Gallen of Neuroscape, attention is a core ability that has drastic and lasting effects on many other parts of life from childhood through adulthood. It’s vital that as parents, we invest the time and energy necessary to help our kids hone these skills through proven cognitive training interventions.
We do this by tapping into the neuroplasticity of our brains. Our brains are capable of change, and cognitive training interventions can help our brains get there. Research centers like Neuroscape are working diligently to create new groundbreaking methods that could change the landscape of how we help our kids, without the use of drugs, improve cognitive function. But what about this summer at home as the fall school years looms over us? What can parents do today?
Integrating Everyday Mindfulness At Home
Mindful attention practices offer a holistic approach to enhancing attention skills. By creating interventions that specifically target attention, children can develop a stronger foundation for various cognitive abilities. Mindfulness involves being aware and accepting of the present moment with intentional attention, fostering internal and external awareness. By engaging in mindfulness exercises, such as focusing on breathing or paying attention to the surrounding environment, children can improve their ability to sustain attention and inhibit distractions.
Mindfulness practice, which is gaining popularity, provides an effective means of building attention. Parents can guide their children in developing these skills by leading and modeling mindful conversations. Additionally, creating positive experiences and making mindfulness a daily habit throughout the summer break allows for the consistent exercise of attention pathways.
By incorporating mindfulness into daily routines, children can develop greater internal and external awareness, leading to enhanced focus and the ability to ignore distractions, and in the long term, are more likely to generalize their improved attention skills to various aspects of cognition and real-world behavior. Mindfulness exercises such as focused breathing and paying attention to the present moment can be practiced individually or as a family, creating positive and meaningful experiences.
So then, how does this work on a Tuesday afternoon, or Sunday dinner, or Friday night summer movie night?
Practical Activities for Building Attention Skills
To help children practice attention skills without feeling burdened or another element to an already busy schedule, it's essential to incorporate purposeful and enjoyable activities. Think of it as part of your routine and habits rather than something new to add to your todo list.
The first, and perhaps the most critical, is to manage the use of technology.
In today's fast-paced world, technology often presents distractions that hinder attention development. It’s also going to stand in your way of creating a mindfulness culture in your home. In other words, it’s hard to train your kids to notice the world around them if their face is buried in a device all day long. Finding a balance between technology use and strengthening inhibitory control is a daily battle. The goal is to create an environment conducive to their children's attentional success by intentionally reducing distractions and encouraging mindful awareness. Setting aside time to disconnect from devices and engage in activities that foster awareness and attention is crucial.
Second, begin to make conversations centered on mindful attention a regular routine. Talk with your kids about noticing the world around them, the noises outside, the smells, and what they see. No need for groundbreaking revelations here—freshly cut lawns, children playing, cars driving by, even the feel and sound of the wind. Simply noticing the world around them help to sharpen how our minds focus and block out the distractions around us. You can also start with activities such as puzzles, board games, art projects, or outdoor exploration can promote sustained attention, cognitive flexibility, and inhibitory control.
Finally, when you feel your kids are ready, go deeper by helping them take their focus from external to internal. It starts by simply helping them notice their breathing. An easy practice like box breathing will not only help with reduced anxiety and fear but will also help them learn how to dial in their focus on-command.
Attention skills are fundamental to a successful and fulfilling life. Parents can identify and address specific attention challenges their children may face by understanding the distinction between focus and inhibition.
So, this summer, let us embrace the opportunity to guide our children in building better focus. By understanding the components of attention, incorporating mindful practices, and creating purposeful activities, we can help our children develop the attention skills they need for a successful future. With dedication and patience, we can witness their growth and celebrate their remarkable progress in honing their attention skills. As parents, we must lead by example and make a conscious effort to prioritize mindfulness and attention in our own lives. We can create an environment that supports our children's attentional development by putting down our devices, turning off the TV, and actively engaging in mindful practices.
As parents, we must be their biggest cheerleaders and provide a supportive and nurturing environment for their growth. By celebrating small victories and acknowledging their efforts, we can boost their confidence and motivation to continue working on their attention skills.
By understanding the components of attention, incorporating mindfulness practices, and providing purposeful activities, we can help them cultivate attention skills that will serve them well throughout their lives. Let us embrace this opportunity during the summer break to guide our children in honing their attention abilities, paving the way for a brighter, more focused future.
Need more ideas? Brain Balance can help!
None of this results in overnight changes. Just like any other aspect of child development, it requires patience, practice, and consistency. But parents who commit to nurturing their children's attention skills will gradually observe incremental improvements. Just like watching a child grow taller, these changes may seem small at first but will accumulate over time. By dedicating time and effort to attention training, parents will witness significant transformations in their children's ability to focus, inhibit distractions, and navigate various aspects of life more effectively.
Research Shows Brain Balance is Effective
Research has shown that trouble focusing or blocking out distractions is tied to weak connections or information pathways across different regions of the brain. The good news is that these information pathways in the brain can change and develop in a way that may improve these symptoms.
A Harvard study found that Brain Balance's non-drug cognitive training program significantly reduces ADHD index scores, discernible changes in hyperactivity, enhanced cognitive attention, and reduced oppositional behavior. The study revealed comparable results similar to those of a low-dose drug often used to treat the symptoms of ADHD.
Brain Balance exercises and activities are uniquely designed to help strengthen and build new pathways by combining physical, sensory, and cognitive activities. More efficient information pathways in the brain can improve cognitive tasks (focus, memory, learning, comprehension, reasoning) and executive functioning (behaviors, emotions, organization, self-motivation, and problem-solving).
Our program and experts can help your family dial in the right tools to unleash your child’s potential. Let’s talk more about how Brain Balance can help your child. Fill out the form and share your story with us. One of our knowledgeable team members will reach out to discuss your child's personalized plan.