Here are my Top Ten Tips Plus One on how to focus your children’s attention.
Don’t forget to click through to the shopping lists at the end for more ideas and how-to’s!
- Rocking and swinging make for great calming effects and full body-brain coordination.
- Balance boards and balance stools/balls allow for movement while learning in a room with others. If you use a balance board or other tool that makes a clunky sound, you might prefer to do so over a square of carpet liner or foam kitchen mat.
- Calisthenics. All of those dorky looking floor exercises from the 70s and 80s actually do great things to your nervous system. Much of our attention and emotional and sensory regulation happens through our bodily movements. Taking five to ten minutes at the beginning or ending of the day to run through some simple floor stretches can help a lot. If you’d like to learn specific exercises that might impact your child’s ability to focus and coordinate, you might be interested in this online workshop on Retained Primitive Reflexes. (I’m not affiliated at all, nor do I receive recompense for sharing this resource. I’m finding the information helpful in my family, though, and I wanted to make sure others know about it.)
- Walking music. Transition into and out of activities with music. At church, people often do this, either with processional/recessional hymns or the Trisagion. Add transition music into your routine.
- Group movement games. Little Bunny Fu-Fu, The Itsy Bitsy Spider, I’m A Little Teapot, Wiggle Waters/Still Waters, Musical Chairs, The Hokey Pokey, The Macarena, Keyboard demo dance-off, Family music playlist dance songs.
- Take frequent 2-5 minute breaks for movement or play. The play can be a short tablet video game break or silly music video, even. The goal is to make it a low-stakes, entertaining moment that the child will enjoy. Pay attention to your child’s attention span. Watch his or her cues, and begin offering short breaks about a minute before the child begins to lose focus. Gradually, by reliably offering breaks, you will be able to increase your child’s focus during attentive times AND lengthen his or her attention span. This will require baby steps of 15 second adjustments per day as long as progress continues, but that’s a potential gain of 20 to 30 minutes attention span in six months. Attention is the end game and the long game with neurodiversity. Plan for it.
- Deep pressure through jumping or being squeezed. If you don’t have a crash pad, hay bales, trampoline, floor mattress, or snow drift to jump on, don’t worry. Squeezing pressure can come through lying on the belly, big hugs (with permission –sometimes kids can need pressure but be touch sensitive), carrying a heavy backpack, using a weighted blanket, weighted lap pad, or a rice sock/therapeutic neck wrap (either homemade or like the one on the sensory regulating wish list I put together). If you decide to use heavy objects for deep pressure, limit the time to 30 minutes at a time and keep the weight at 10% of the child’s body weight.
- Coziness. I know that many cultures have words for coziness that include candles, warm drinks, and blankets. Those things are lovely but optional. I mean to evoke the year-round feel of a burrow. Our nervous systems are happy when we feel safe, and little mammals like to be tucked into tents, blanket forts, bed caves, and fluffy bean bags. When we feel safe and cozy, our anxiety-producing limbic systems calm down so that we can focus.
- Mood lighting. This might mean bright white light, warm white light, small lamps, color-controled LED bulbs, twinkle lights, or varying portable lights for small spaces. It’s best to have a few levels and colors of lights at your disposal so that you can find which lighting calms or focuses your child and help them have both “on” time and down time.
- Soothe senses with textures rather than moving parts. If your child prefers to use his/her hands while working or listening, provide textural input from toys such as kinetic sand, silicone-based toys, yarn crafts, and fabrics. Some children will be able to knit and listen. Some might enjoy having a silicone pop toy or bracelet. Others might want a sequined or velvet cloth to touch while they pay attention.
- Make social thinking and attention building part of your curriculum. By all means, build in self-sustaining habits! But also remember: Attention is a skill that can be built! Use my Autistic Brain Owner’s Manual for tips on self-management skills relevant to neurodiverse persons. If you want to take things slower and add a few small activities at a time, I highly recommend The OT Toolbox. Join her mailing list for wonderful resources as well. (Also not affiliated, but I find the strategies SO helpful!) I also highly recommend the curricula at the Social Thinking website (no affiliation), and I’ve linked my favorite resource in the lists below.
If you’re looking for equipment ideas that you can purchase online, I’ve put together this helpful shopping list (affiliate link) or this Idea List (not affilate). Read more about the items I selected in the notes on the lists.
What would you add? Let us know in the comments!