Focus is right behind confidence in terms of help requests we get from parents. Kids have a hard time focusing much on anything, after all, especially the thing that they need to be doing when they’re told to do it. We have a lot of program-specific tactics we use in our martial arts classes, but we find that there is one universal idea that seems to helps parents both inside and outside of our school. That idea is the understanding of children’s stages of development.
As children grow and develop, their ability to focus and concentrate also evolves. Having an understanding of these stages of development for kids and the level of focus you can expect from them is crucial in helping them achieve their full potential. That way, parents are not expecting their children to do something they aren’t actually capable of, which leads to frustration on both the parent’s behalf as well as the child.
So today, let’s go through some baseline focus expectations and how to work with your child on them.
First Stage: 3-4 Years Old
In this preschool stage, children are still exploring the world around them and are easily distracted by their surroundings. Most things are still entirely new to their worlds, after all! Imagine if every time you turned a corner, you saw something that you had never once seen before in your life. You would be so overstimulated that even you would have a hard time sitting still!
As such, an attention span of around 5-10 minutes is normal and they may struggle to focus on any task for an extended period. They can concentrate on activities that they find interesting or enjoyable for a little longer, but those activities must be engaging. If the thing that they are being given to do isn’t the most interesting thing in their view, then the focus won’t last long. Fortunately, with a little creativity, it’s not too hard to make even the most mundane things interesting to younger kids. Everything is still brand new to them, after all!
Second Stage: 5-7 Years Old
Children in this age range have begun to develop a longer attention span of around 15-20 minutes. They can focus on tasks that are more challenging and require more effort, but they may still need breaks in-between to recharge their mental batteries. It can also be very helpful to provide a quiet and distraction-free environment to help them stay focused.
The biggest pushback we hear from parents on this estimate is that “they can stay focused on their video games WAY longer than 15 minutes!” Yes, that’s true, but we also have to dissect how video games are designed. A kid that sits and plays video games for 4 hours isn’t actually doing the same activity for that long. The game purposely breaks itself up into “missions” or “quests” that change and provide different stimulation from the previous. And how long are these “missions” and “quests”? It can vary, but 15-20 minutes isn’t a crazy estimate.
The best part, though, is that we can use this same tactic to help our kids focus at home! Video games break their stories into these chunks, and we can do the same with the things we need them to do at-home or in-school. It may require a bit of creativity and planning, but the results often far surpass the expectations that parents set.
Third Stage: 8-10 Years Old
At this age, children can concentrate for around 30-40 minutes on tasks that require their full attention. They are more self-aware and can manage their distractions to some extent. They can also focus on tasks that are not particularly interesting or enjoyable, but are necessary. However, they still require breaks in between to maintain their focus.
The biggest obstacle parents run into there is discipline. This is the stage where we sometimes start to here the “I can’t”, “I don’t want to”, “it’s too hard“, and so forth. The reality is that it’s not an issue of focus, but an issue of doing something challenging or non-enjoyable. And while we want our kids to enjoy their days, it’s also a well-known fact of life that we can’t always be having fun.
Working them out of this mindset will not be easy, as it is something they will be ingrained in them. This is where external help can definitely play a factor, as a change of environment or a new activity can engage them in a way they didn’t know about before. In any case, the process will take some structure and dedication, but will still be rewarding at the end of the day.
Fourth Stage: 11-14 Years Old
During this period, children’s attention spans have significantly improved, and they can concentrate for around 60 minutes or more. They can handle complex tasks and are better at managing distractions. They can also prioritize tasks based on their importance and can switch between tasks efficiently. However, they may still need help in organizing their tasks and setting priorities.
This is the last stage we’re going to talk about, as this is the stage where their core identity becomes incredibly solid (if it hasn’t already). After this point, kids will often no longer simply “take our word for it”, but will instead run our thoughts through their own life experiences to decide what they want to do with the information. While this is something they’ll need to be able to do to survive as adults, it can also be detrimental since they are often filled to the brim with hormones.
At this stage, the biggest thing we find success in is finding an external party who is able to make them feel understood and listened to. This can be a program such as ours, a therapist, and particular teacher in school, or any trustworthy adult. Once that connection is established, it can often be used to try and imprint important focus habits before they develop up to teenagerhood and begin to focus on other things.
Understanding the stages of development for kids and the level of focus you can expect from them is crucial in helping them reach their potential. In our programs, transferring this information to parents often does wonders for helping them set expectations for their kiddos. This, on top of the different activities and games we teach everyone, finds us great success in our martial arts classes as well as at-home.
When all else fails, remind yourself that you are not much different than they are. You also do not like being told you have to focus on something you don’t want to. You also begin to feel demotivated and miserable when forced to continue on for longer than you would like. Yes, children have to learn to accept that life is that way at times, but they do not know that yet because as parents, we often protect them from that truth until they’re a bit older.
Stay resilient, stay caring, and with the right mindset your child will eventually grow towards the level of focus and attentiveness that you hope to see.