“One reason so few of us achieve what we truly want is that we never direct our focus; we never concentrate our power.” –Tony Robbins
Even if our children don’t plan to become high divers, neurosurgeons, or walk on hot coals like Tony Robbins (why, Tony?), a focused mind is essential for reaching their potential. The ability to focus makes studying and learning easier. How can we ensure our children develop this skill?
The answer isn’t about getting children to focus, it’s about letting them. And this is especially important during the first few years, a crucial period for brain development, and the time when children are most sensitive to distraction.
Infant brain researchers like Alison Gopnik, Ph.D., have discovered that babies are big-picture thinkers, unable to focus their minds on just one thing to the exclusion of all else the way older children can. Unlike most adults, babies wouldn’t miss the gorilla dancing through the room (in the famous selective awareness test by Simons and Chabris).
This “lantern-type attention” makes babies and toddlers phenomenal learners, but not the greatest focusers, so when they are focused on an activity or a thought – no matter how insignificant it might seem to us — we must make a special effort to recognize and value it and not needlessly interrupt.
The common tendency we have with young children (especially when they’re preverbal) is to connect with them on our terms, rather than theirs. So, whenever we want to say hi, pick children up, or give them a hug, we do.
Imagine you’re focused on something that feels important to you at that moment and someone you love interrupts. It’s not a big deal, just a bit annoying. But if that happens periodically, you’re going to have a difficult time focusing. You’re also going to feel a little disregarded.
When children of any age are focusing, they are not only potentially learning something extremely valuable in that moment, they’re also flexing their focus muscle.
Children practice focus most productively when they get to choose what to focus on. There will be plenty of times in the years ahead when children need to make a conscious effort to concentrate on the task at hand. The more opportunities they have to practice self-chosen focus, the sharper their focus abilities will be.
So, whenever your child appears deep in thought or spaced out, before shouting an exasperated, “Earth to Janet!” (I get that a lot), decide whether your need for your child’s attention is really worth interrupting her need to focus it somewhere else.
Chances are, whatever it is can wait a minute or two.