Have you been told your child lacks focus? Stressed out, worried, and almost heart-broken, you admit you’ve also noticed that paying attention, holding still, waiting patiently and remembering what’s important in any given moment, are not always your child’s strong suits.
Before you feel the pressure to get on the acronym bandwagon, start looking for a label that accurately describes your child, or look for causes and ways to “fix the problem”, I have a question for you …
How is your own focus? More specifically, how is your own awareness of your focus? Do you …
- Check your text/email first thing when you wake up?
- Drive and think about dinner (or work, or your to do list) noticing you can’t actually remember the last three exits?
- Sit down to do work, get pulled in a number of directions (email, social media, reading news) and forget why you sat down and what you were going to do?
- Text while your kids are talking to you, all the while saying, “Uh-hum” and “Hold on baby, this is important”?
- Eat so quickly your stomach is tensed up in a knot?
- Have so many things on your to do list, you can fill pages and pages?
- Multitask consistently and frequently?
I’ll be totally honest. I’ve done all these, and more. I’ll admit that where focus is concerned I have not always been the strongest and most consistent role model for my kids.
Grownups have years of schooling, working in teams, problem solving, and access to resources and self-help tools. We recognize that we need help staying on task, getting our work done, and keeping organized. When our focus slips, we take note and make corrections.
When it comes to our kids, however, I believe we need to scrutinize and fine-tune our expectations. Our experience teaching hundreds of kids at Hiruko Wellness, has showed us that:
- Kids are almost always expected to focus but not frequently taught how. There are few practices and methods in schools that encourage and enhance focus development. Sadly, more often than not, the opposite is true. Take, for example, the fidgety, active and energetic boy whose consequence for not following class instructions is that he loses his recess.
- Movement is considered a perk, a bonus, and no longer appears to be an essential component of healthy development. Recess time is decreasing, and PE classes are often cut.
- There are few routines for contemplative practice in children’s lives, especially in schools (because of the misconception that contemplative practice is the same as religious practice, and lack of awareness and knowledge regarding current use of contemplative practice in secular organizations or academic environments).
What are you to do? Here are top ten considerations to help support you on your focus journey with your child.
- Everything is … IT JUST IS.No need to fill in the blank. In other words, there is nothing “wrong” here. Nor is it “right”. It simply is where it is. Shift your mindset from scarcity to abundance.We are culturally accustomed to look for problems. When we leave our kids in school all day, their teachers are their first observers. They frequently notice when things go “wrong”. Before you take in the “wrong”, ask about what went well. Take that in fully at first. You will need to relay it to a small person who may or may not remember what s/he can do we well or is good at. S/he may not always feel confident about what s/he knows or how s/he compares to peers.
When you take the count of what happened, resist the urge to judge it as “wrong” (even if the behavior is offensive, egregious, and clearly outside of your personal boundaries). Take a deep breath, open a mental notebook, and start taking detailed notes. Ask a lot of questions: what was happening at the time, what was said, who was there, what happened before, what were the expectations, what was the consequence, is this issue resolved and closed, or is it still lingering?
- Be specificWhen your child is not focusing, what specifically is s/he not doing? Is s/he not listening, focusing eyes, focusing body, implementing instructions, choosing to fidget, not noticing what others are doing?I am concerned that we tend to put one big label on everything and call it “focus”. There are multiple steps to focus and many nuances …
Focus can be something that clicks, based on growth and development. What we’ve found more frequently, however, is that focus is something that can be learned. Here are ideas to help you deconstruct focus: eye contact (with another person, or activity, or object), listening to and comprehending a story, performing a series of tasks in required order, staying aware of the body’s position in time and space.
When a child is not focused, offer support. Instead of saying, “I need you to focus right now please,” be as specific as you can: “I need you to focus your eyes on my eyes, right now please.”
- Who is in charge here – Who draws the line?Whose expectation is your child trying to fulfill? In a typical day a child has to manage the expectation of: a teacher who manages a full classroom, the swimming instructor who is concerned with water safety, a parent’s expectation for the day. Go through a typical day and see how many distinct and different expectations you can count.What is noteworthy is that we think our kids should be able to cope with these shifting expectations with ease and no interruption. It is my experience that we don’t leave much room for error. Can you help with the transitions, and can you help explain why expectations are different from one environment to another? (This is certainly true when kids have more than one teacher, multiple activities, or multiple home environments.) Are all the grown ups in your child’s life on the same page?
- Be a role model – SINGLE-task!Parents have many balls up in the air. We are pros at multitasking. As we all know by now, doing more than one thing at a time slows us down, and leads to overwhelm and stress. Practice your SINGLE-tasking muscle. Do it and talk about it with your kids. Involve your spouse or partner and turn it into a game. See who can focus on one task the longest without getting distracted. It’s always more fun to do this with a group. When you join our email list (link to squeeze page) you’ll get access to our worksheets to help you work on your own focus.
- Watch your language: your words create your reality.Stop saying, “My kid can’t focus”. Even if you are experiencing excruciatingly difficult days, change your language. Try it. When talking about the day with others or with yourself, explain your difficulty or challenge using specific words. Better yet, don’t use the word focus at all. It’s too big, too broad, and it does not point to anything specifically.
- Move, move, and move some more.People need to move. We need energetic outlets and we need sensory support. This is true for adults, but especially for kids who need as much movement as you can give them. At our very core, we are creatures who need to be out in nature, moving, walking, running, climbing, skipping, hopping, jumping, grabbing.An organized movement program, like the Hiruko Healing Martial Arts™ class is a great way to work up a sweat, to notice how the body moves, to pay attention to the body in space and time. We believe that learning through play is essential. Find a class that your kids will enjoy, or simply go to the park. Do something active every day.
- Avoider or Seeker or Both – get comfortable with Sensory ProcessingWe have met many children over the years who were actively working on their focus, and who were also working on sensory processing.Simply put, sensory processing is an umbrella phrase that recognizes the way in which the nervous system receives, understands, classifies, and organizes sensory input. Examples of sensory inputs include a smell, a movement, a noise, a bump, a taste.
Some children who work very hard on focus also have sensory processing challenges. Many of them are identified as lacking attention or being (too) hyper.
Keep details on your child’s behavior. Remember when I recommended you ask your teacher for as much detail as possible? Start to notice details. Is your child sensitive to touch, frustrated by noise, bumping into things or people on purpose, what are his/her triggers?
An Occupational Therapist can help you identify sensory challenges and suggest ways to cope, manage, and overcome them.
- How do you know if your child is different and what to do about it?Go back to the expectation list. Who makes the expectations?Give it time before you decide this is it. Never say there’s something “wrong”. Instead say, “I need to figure out how to make _[blank]_ work for my child”. For example: “how do I make: listening in circle time, solving problems in math, working collaboratively in a group, negotiating a conflict, etc. manageable for my child”?
I’ve said it before, and it’s worth repeating. Keep detailed notes. Know your child’s strengths, triggers, and the length of his/her fuse. What are his/her preferred coping methods, meltdown most likely to’s, recovery time. Become the expert observer of your child’s behavior.
Talk with your spouse, partner, friends, or parent. Listen to your child’s teachers. Listen to your inner voice, notice what you model, and what others model. Resist the urge to draw conclusions quickly.
There are activities that help with focus development: martial arts, swimming, fencing, puzzles, music, art, and more. There are many skilled, compassionate, kind, and thoughtful caregivers out there: psychiatrists, psychologists, Occupational Therapists (OTs), functional MDs, alternative practitioners, and more. Do your research and figure out what your needs and wishes are. Ask for help!
- Hello Mindfulness!Mindfulness often brings about the image of a yoga mat or a person sitting with eyes closed on a meditation pillow. Mindfulness, however, is simply the art of noticing each and every moment.Contemplative practices are ways to connect to the moment, or to those things that we find most meaningful. There are contemplative practices including martial arts, meditation, Tai Chi and Qigong, which we do with children and adults at Hiruko. There are others as well: deep listening, story telling, dancing, journaling.
Cultivating mindfulness is a slow and gradual process. What type of practice can you include in your daily life? Can you journal with your kids, create a regular story telling time (tell stories from your own life for an added bonus), take a regular walk, volunteer in a local soup kitchen?
- Focus is a life’s long journeyI know from personal experience as a parent and teacher how long and challenging the road to focus can be. At the same time, I recognize that the journey is hardest when I listen to others more than I listen to myself. I vibrate overwhelm and panic the most when my day to day reality does not catch up with expectations that I set based on what other people want to see.I remind myself daily that, as a grown up, I’m still working on my own focus and mindfulness. Focus is a long and steady journey. Our kids are training for a long – very long – race, not a sprint. Take the time to notice each day, with its ups and downs. Celebrate good days, forgive and forget the tough ones. Resist the urge to blame yourself, your spouse, the TV, the friends, the teachers, or (worse) your kid.
Stay present. Everything is … where it is. That’s it.
- It takes a village – find your tribe!It is true: long (and arduous) journeys start with one step. Each small step counts immensely in this long journey. Whether you decide to celebrate your child’s strengths today, take a few extra moments to ask clarifying questions at school, write in your journal, or take a walk after dinner, you are taking a step towards a deeper understanding of your child and your relationship with each other.These journeys are almost impossible to bear by yourself. Some of us have a spouse, or partner, and some of us have friends. Some of us have to work to find the connection and support.
There’s comfort in knowing there is a community where your passion for health and wellbeing for your child is celebrated and supported.
You are here because you are looking for ideas, suggestions, support and solutions. We are here because we are leading a wellness movement for children and their parents. We invite you read our blog and join our community. Stay connected, and start your own wellness revolution. We believe in you and applaud your courage. We are your tribe!