10 Ways to Help Children Having Trouble Paying Attention

Written by James Hargrave and David Morrow

In this day of video games, fast-food and music videos, it’s a little wonder children have trouble paying attention in any learning environment. At times, it seems if any activity lasts more than three minutes, you are destined to lose the attention of a few of your kids.

But there are some things you can do to help increase the attention spans of the children whose thoughts tend to wander. Here are 10 tips you can use to keep their minds on learning:

1. Evaluate the environment.
Look at the seating arrangement. Sit where the children can see you and you can see them: a circle or a semi-circle works well. Think about who sits where. Seating fidgety boys or girls close to you is one of the easiest techniques you can use to help children who have trouble staying focused. Make sure the temperature is comfortable for everyone. Check the furniture to make certain it is comfortable for everyone. Reduce the number of distractions in the room. Is there too much on the walls? Is there too much noise from outside?

2. Establish routines and structure.
Clear rules, routines and expectations are the door to managing behavior, and consistency is the key that opens the door. Keep rules simple and easy to understand. You may want to post them in a place where they can be seen easily. Plan to prevent problem behaviors before they occur. Look for triggers that invoke certain behaviors and eliminate them. Transitions to new activities are often a problem area. Warn children before you change the activity. Let them know what to expect.

3. Give clear directions or instructions.
Many times, problem behavior happens when a child isn’t clear about what they’re supposed to do. If necessary, break instructions down into smaller segments. Some children who can follow one direction at a time get lost when they receive a string of directions. Make sure they understand what you want — and always affirm their sincere efforts.

4. Involve the children.
Activities and projects involving children, hands-on demonstrations, and interactive presentations/methods/techniques/equipment of all kinds can be real attention-getters. Use drama, music, displays, manipulatives, field trips, creative art materials, tape recorders, video cameras, and anything else available that the children find interesting.

5. Provide immediate positive feedback.
Watch for students following the rules and doing good work. Affirm their behavior — let them know what they are doing right — and do it repeatedly. More frequent affirmation will help everyone stay on task.

6. Liven up your personal presentation style.
Work on making storytelling and other presentations more interesting by varying your voice, tone, volume and speed of your delivery. Vary your approach. Use visuals. Use facial expressions and body language to add emphasis.

7. Get organized.
Make sure you are prepared and ready to go. If a teacher comes in late and is searching around the room for what she needs — instead of paying attention to the kids and their needs — she has already lost them for the class.

8. Help students with their organizational skills.
Decide on a place they can put Bibles, papers or other materials when they are not being used. Think through your schedule. As much as possible, do everything you want to do with a particular resource when you have it out, instead of getting it out and putting it back several times. In small group times, help the children plan the activity and assign the different tasks that need to be done.

9. Don’t give up!
And let them know you care enough to keep trying! Take the long view — there is no quick fix. Work to build a positive relationship with each child. Let them know you love them. Mix patience, love, and acceptance with consistency, fairness, and appropriate expectations.

10. Pray.
Never underestimate or neglect the power of prayer. Some children arrive 10 minutes early for Sunday School because their parents teach a class themselves on the other side of the church campus. Ask God to guide you as you help the children and support their parents.

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