A father doing homework with his daughter, the television in the background, the mother participating in a work conference call, the other son listening to music, the washing machine on … This is a normal afternoon in any house.
If we stop to analyze, at the same moment it seems that several tasks overlap. But it is not true. Our brain is not multitasking , that is a neuromyth. The brain is unable to pay sustained and selective attention to various actions. What we are actually doing is changing from one task to another very quickly without realizing the cognitive cost that this entails.
If we intend to study while we are looking at the mobile, we are changing the task. That is, our brain spends a few seconds on one task, and then on the other, and so on. This continuous alternation of attention leads to an increase in the production of cortisol , which is the hormone that generates stress.
Understanding that our brain is not multitasking, in what way can we focus attention? This is one of the great challenges of education and parents.
First, we must teach children to plan. We therefore understand that the child knows how to make a plan of what he has to do. For this we can use homework organizers in which our children organize each week what activities they have to do, what subjects they need, what material they need, what activity needs to be delivered before, etc. In this way, their attention will be focused on the activity that they are going to do each day.
It is also important to remind children to check the status of their homework from time to time. In this way we avoid dispersion and focus our attention on what we have to do and for how long.
We should try to group those activities that are similar. Since we go from one task to another, it is important that they are similar. This way we can avoid the mental block that involves changing tasks quickly.
4. Find a workplace
At home it is vital that children have a place to work. It would be interesting for us to design that place with them. A wide table and, if possible, white; natural light; that there is not much noise; that the room is clean of distractions (mobiles, toys, photos …) and that it has ventilation. The place where we work is essential to enhance attention. The environment teaches itself .
5. Eliminate distractions
Along these lines, it is important that we strive to eliminate distractions. For this we must work with our children executive functions. We must focus on executive attention, that kind of willful attention that requires concentration and time.
Working with them on inhibitory control is important, that is, trying to avoid automated responses, teaching them to think before answering, as well as cognitive flexibility, that is, showing the ability to adapt to changes.
Working with this type of skills also develops the prefrontal cortex of the brain, an area that is responsible for will, self-control, planning, essential to activate children’s attention. There are many games to work on these skills, for example the Dobble, Color Smash, Little Red Riding Hood, etc.
6. Explain your work
It is important to work with children and take time to explain their work. They must learn to reflect on what they have done and to see if they have achieved the goal they were looking for.
7. Play time
In order for them to learn to focus attention, each day we will decide a game and a time by consensus. Either individually or with us, the time we have decided will be dedicated solely and exclusively to the game we have selected. There will be no distractions of any kind. It is necessary not so much to multitask, but to learn to focus attention 5 or 10 minutes a day on an activity.
It is significant that, knowing that attention is born from wonder, we do not stop stimulating children. We must let them be the ones who approach knowledge, who look for stimuli that attract them and select them over others. For this, it is also important to work the unstructured game .
Young children get tired of the doll repeating the same phrase over and over again. Sometimes they prefer constructions, in which a new game emerges every time.
8. Contact with nature
Contact with nature is also important. A family getaway to the countryside, to a forest, stopping to listen to how the river water goes down, the color of the leaves, posing small challenges, looking for three different colors of leaves, finding sticks or clouds with different shapes … These activities teach focus attention, stop and focus attention on specific aspects.
9. Set an example
We cannot turn our backs on the society in which we live, a society in a hurry, of multitasking, of the internet. Parents’ concern for the internet and its use is the majority. The best way to educate online is to first prepare them without being connected. To do this, they must be taught to listen, to have a critical capacity, to select significant stimuli.
We must also be an example. We cannot ask a child to spend less time on the tablet when we do not stop using it.
10. Brain breaks
We must teach them to understand that their attention spans last for a while. For example, for elementary school children it takes approximately 15-20 minutes. So everything that exceeds that time will not be taken care of. For this reason, it is good to learn to take breaks for the brain . These breaks decrease stress and increase concentration.
It is also important to know the level of difficulty required by the task they must do. We have to catch their attention and if the task is very difficult, the child does not connect (he sees it as impossible). On the contrary, if the task is very easy, it is boring and does not capture the child’s attention either.
With these keys we will ensure that the little ones are able to focus attention. It is important that we work on it continuously to make it a habit and for your brain to work in an orderly way.
Author Bio: Maria de Hontanares López Águeda is Professor in the Master of Neuropsychology and Education at UNIR – International University of La Rioja