In today’s digital age it is hard to stay focused and really pay attention to the task at hand. This applies to children and adults alike, but it is no surprise that it is becoming harder and harder for children to stay focused with the digital world right at their little fingertips from such an early age. If you have a hard time getting your child to focus on homework, crafts, conversation, school, etc. my hope is that this blog will help you get your child to tune in, be present, and focus.
An interesting article about the Maya children in Guatemala discusses the differences in attention span between Maya children and American children. Through a simple experiment, researchers had children ages 5 to 11 sit in a room while they were asked to wait as a research assistant taught one of the kids how to assemble a toy. The American kids tended to slouch in their chairs, look around the room or stare at the floor. In contrast, the Maya children were more likely to sit still in their chairs and intently watch the assistant. The Maya children showed sustained attention about two-thirds of the time while the American kids did so exactly half as often.
What would contribute to the striking difference in attention between these two distinct populations of kids? The answer is two-fold. First, Maya kids are encouraged from a very young age to observe what their family is doing so that they can learn how to do household chores and contribute to the family’s shared tasks. The second part of the answer is a rather new idea: motivation. Researchers of the Maya children believe that these children don’t necessarily have a higher capacity to pay attention, but they are more properly motivated by their parents to do so.
When observing firsthand how these children lived, researchers were able to identify that the reason children had a higher ability to pay attention and complete a task was their general freedom. In this culture, children were able to create their own schedule. As a result, they were more motivated to finish the tasks at hand to go on with their day. If the child wanted to go to the store or to town, she was able to do so – once her tasks were completed.
It is to be acknowledged that the Mayan way would not be fully sustainable, or even in most cases safe, for American children. Do we want our four year olds heading into town to go to the grocery store? Absolutely not. Yet, is it possible to give them the freedom to schedule their days to find out what motivates them? Absolutely.
Parents can start by simply asking children “If you didn’t have to do your homework, what would you want to do?”. This is where parents can start to find out what motivates their children and use that information to promote enhanced attention and focus. The idea is that once the child has accomplished the task at hand, he/she is able to move onto his/her ideal activity. This helps parents foster both an improved attention span and passion in their children.
If you have any questions about the Maya method or how to more effectively promote your child’s attention span, I encourage you to make an appointment. Dr. Kelly Mothner’s office is located in Hermosa Beach. Call today!