Listen: Dr Annemarie Christie shares tips on improving your child’s concentration.
It’s not uncommon for a young child to struggle with concentration, especially when they first start school.
Dr Annemarie Christie, director of The Children’s Doctor clinic, often has four- and five-year-olds brought to her clinic to be assessed for Attention Deficit Disorders, when in fact their young minds are simply still learning how to focus.
There are ways to tell the difference between ADHD and poor concentration, but before you go looking for a diagnosis, why not try making some adjustments at home first. If your little one is finding it difficult to sit still, listen and concentrate at school, here are some steps you can take to help them do better.
1 – Plenty of Sleep
Chatting to Hope 103.2, Dr Christie said the first and most important ingredient in helping your child concentrate, is to make sure they’re getting enough sleep. A child of four or five who is at school should be getting at least 12 hours a night.
“There have been lots of studies, particularly in the US, that show that kids who are sleep deprived present in exactly the same way as kids with ADHD,” Dr Christie said.
Yes, that means if they’re getting up at 6:30 am, bedtime needs to be 6:30 pm. It’s a tough call when sometimes mum or dad isn’t even getting home until that time. But Dr Christie says it’s worth the effort to change routines if it means your child will have adequate sleep.
“A lot of these kids who have just started school are just exhausted and are just not getting enough sleep overnight.”
2 – Healthy Food
While Dr Christie doesn’t specifically focus on any one food or preservative to avoid, she does recommend a general rule that “fresh and healthy is best”, and whole foods are better than processed.
“The fewer preservatives, the better,” she says.
3 – Minimise Screen Time
Your children might be used to watching lots of Youtube or cartoons, but now they’re in big school, it’s time for that to change, says Dr Christie.
“Screens are hyper-stimulating, so kids will often sit still when they’re watching TV…but when we turn the TV off, then they’re looking for that same level of stimulation from the environment around them, and there’s nowhere they’re going to get that in a classroom,” she said.
The more they get used to being away from screens, the better they will do in class.
4 – Play Games With Them
Engaging your child in games and activities that you do together, will teach them interaction and participation skills that will come in handy at school, says Dr Christie.
“Play board games, make them wait their turn,” she says. “That can be really painful with a five-year-old! But they learn a lot through turn taking and following the game through to the finish.”
5 – Teach Them to Cook
This one might sound daunting, but getting your four-year-old in the kitchen is a great way to help them learn how to follow instructions.
“They’re following lots of directions one after the other, they’re completing a task, coming back and doing the next one, and if they give up half way they have nothing to show for it,” Dr Christie said.
Give it a try, and see if their commitment to a task doesn’t improve. They’ll love the end results, too. Just make sure that whatever they’re cooking is additive-free!