Mental focus is crucial to a child’s personal development and long-term success. Children with good concentration generally do better in school, have high self-esteem and are motivated to accomplish their goals. Meanwhile, easily distracted kids experience the opposite, with each negative encounter causing a domino effect on all aspects of their growth.
Inattention is common among young people, but when it starts to hurt their academic performance, self-confidence, and personal relationships, it becomes a cause for concern. Your child is born with unique gifts, and it’s only natural to want to help them unleash their hidden genius. In this article, we discuss the many factors that can distract kids and what various field experts recommend to enhance their focus and mental performance.
What Parts of Kids’ Brains Are Concerned with Mental Focus?
Children are born with billions of brain cells connected by trillions of synapses. Different regions of the brain help your child focus, and they work in synergy.
For example, a toddler’s perception of hunger and sighting of food engage different neural pathways. To respond to hunger pangs, another neural network motivates the child to take action and continue until they are fed.
As in adults, children’s mental focus is the result of the combined actions of different brain parts, particularly the following:
Reticular activating system (RAS)
A collection of brainstem nerves involved in wakefulness and sleep.
The seat of memory and learning. A child will also learn how to think symbolically during the preoperational stage. The ability to focus, short-term memory, long-term memory, logic, and reasoning are all developing during these years.
Sensory processing centers
Cerebral regions that analyze and make sense of what a person perceives from the environment. They include cognitive networks for calculation, language, and logic, as well as emotional processing centers.
Frontal and prefrontal lobes
The seats of attention, decision-making, motivation, cognition, planning, judgment, morality and impulse control. The prefrontal lobe completes its development in adulthood, well after most other brain regions have finished theirs.
During this stage, a child learns how to think abstractly. They hone their problem-solving skills and the type of person they're going to become is made clear.
Adults are taught by experience to ignore various external stimuli and control their urges. Their ability to concentrate mostly depends on the activity of the above parts, which are largely affected by lifestyle choices.
“Children’s brains have not had enough practice to allow for significant pruning, habitualization, and adaptation, so they are more prone to environmental distractions on top of internal ones. In addition to the above regions, their sensory nerve pathways—sight, hearing, touch, smell, taste and position sense—greatly influence their mental focus.”
Nature vs. Nurture: Are All Kids Born with the Same Ability to Focus?
Some children are more proactive in pursuing their goals, whereas others are more laid back. Some “are not the forgiving type,” while others easily forget they were ever angry. Some are more adventurous, while others are overcautious.
These are all explained by differences in temperament, the inclination to behave a certain way in response to a stimulus.
In the 1970s, child psychiatrists Thomas and Chess theorized that kids were born temperamentally diverse, having different moods, thresholds of responsiveness, distractibility, persistence levels, etc. They believed that the combination of these traits determined a child’s goodness of fit into their environment.
“Kids are not born with the same ability to concentrate or filter their thoughts.”
Angry children who keep getting into fights and struggling academically will continue to resort to the same defense mechanisms without intervention.
“However, the brain’s plasticity makes it possible to optimize mental performance by training, therapy and other tools.”
Modern science and patient guidance have helped countless children turn their Ds and Fs into straight-A performances.
If your child seems to have learning and emotional difficulties, you need to find out how to help them focus better. The sooner you do this, the sooner they can overcome developmental barriers.
What Causes Lack of Concentration Among Children?
Children who have focus problems tend to be shy, demotivated, indecisive and full of self-doubt. They can pick up on their parents’ frustration and build negative perceptions of themselves. Additionally, labeling from other children, teachers or parents can make them too discouraged to try again, which often results in withdrawal or aggression. All of these can make it more difficult to unlock their abilities.
Does this sound familiar?
If your child or a friend’s has difficulty concentrating or paying attention, doctors recommend looking into the following possibilities:
These are the more common reasons for poor focus and mental performance in children. A large majority are easy to correct, and thus, have a good prognosis.
Surroundings Full of Distractions
Examine your child’s learning environment. Extra stimulation of their senses can make them lose focus easily. At school, they could be seated next to classmates who would rather talk than listen to their teachers. At home, wall decorations, loud noises, strewn-out toys, TV and others could divert their attention from doing their homework.
Lack of Good Sleep
Not getting enough sleep tires out the RAS and can make kids too drowsy to pay attention. Check for things that make it difficult for them to fall asleep at the right hours or get good sleep quality. Late-night horror shows and electronic gadget use, midnight noises, bed bugs, uncomfortable cots, etc. are common examples.
Finds No Motivation in School
Our educational system recommends the same learning courses for kids. However, as we mentioned previously, children are born with different gifts and temperaments. Lack of interest can mask true intelligence, and it may be because kids find schoolwork too difficult or easy.
Tasks that are too difficult can demotivate young, inexperienced people. Meanwhile, too easy assignments can also bore them. You’ll never know the difference unless you sit with your child and investigate. Either way, lack of interest can result in poor focus and fund of knowledge.
Inactivity-Induced Brain Fog
Take a break and get your child moving. Exercise raises levels of oxygen, nutrients and the neuronal growth factor BDNF in the brain. All of these substances stimulate growth and synaptic formation in regions critical to learning, concentration and emotional balance. Sedentariness deprives your child of the mental benefits of physical activity.
Poor Nutrition and Energy Management
The brain needs food for fuel, tissue maintenance, disease protection and proper function. Poor neuronal nutrition comes in three forms: too little intake, too much intake and intake of the wrong kinds of food.
Children who eat too little are at risk for vitamin deficiencies, dehydration, hypoglycemia (low blood sugar level) and various electrolyte deficits. All of these conditions reduce mental alertness, attention and motivation. Hunger and thirst can also distract kids.
Meanwhile, children who eat too much may suffer from chronic inflammation and early-onset cardiovascular disease, which also impair mental performance.
Eating the “wrong” kinds of food can likewise damage the body and brain.
Without proper guidance, kids may get accustomed to the standard American diet, which is high in simple sugars, refined carbohydrates, unhealthy fats and sodium. Additionally, since children naturally get curious about many things, parents should watch out for signs of underage drinking or experimentation with alcohol.
Toxic Exposure from the Environment
Too Little Social Interaction
Inborn conditions that can affect mental performance (see table below) are rare. They are not always apparent at birth, and their manifestations range from mild to severe. Their course, treatment, and prognosis depend on symptom severity, with most needing advanced medical interventions or having no cure. Specialist consults are always necessary in these cases.
Those that affect the brain include the following:
Disordered Brain Growth Genetics
“The reasons for poor mental concentration in a huge majority of pediatric cases are trivial. However, since kids cannot articulate their symptoms as well as adults can, doctors routinely try to look for a more serious cause—physical, psychological, social, etc.—until it is completely ruled out.”
They could miss a potentially fatal condition if they ignored subtle neurologic changes.
How Can You Help Improve Your Child’s Concentration and Mental Performance?
Now, you’re aware of the elements that can potentially distract your child. Below is a list of expert-recommended actions that you can take to help them focus better:
Give Them a Room Dedicated to Studying
Help Them Practice Sleep Hygiene
Make Learning Fun through Brain Games
Make Delayed Gratification a Tool
Let Your Child Run and Play
Give your child the complete brain supplement with a delightful taste
Best Brain Supplement For Kids
Feed Your Child's Brain
Aside from their unique cardiovascular health benefits, evidence proves that these nutrients raise BDNF levels in the brain. Ask your doctor about including them in your child’s dietary regimen.
“I give this smoothie to my boys (3- and 4-yr-old) every morning. My 4yr old is a very picky eater and doesn’t eat his green veggies. We force veggies in however we can, but I also make sure he gets this smoothie since it gives me peace of mind that he’s definitely getting the nutrients his little body needs. I’ve also noticed it has greatly improved his attention and focus, which definitely needed some sharpening!”
Have Heart-to-Heart Talks with Your Child
Talking to your child gives you more opportunities to teach or find out if something is bothering them.
Encourage Playtime with Other Kids
Chat with Their Teachers and School Counselors
Find the Child’s Comfortable Learning Style
Some kids do well with just one learning style, while others have mixed learning styles. School counselors and developmental specialists may help you figure out which one suits your child best and formulate study habits that work.
Work with Your Pediatrician
Get Specialist Help
Adjust Their Medications
As you can see from this guide, helping kids regain their focus does not have to be a one-man job. In fact, enlisting the help of a few experts may give your child the best chance at recovery.
“if you sense any bothersome changes in your kid, don’t delay in taking action. The longer they stay sick or adopt a maladaptive behavior, the greater the damage and the longer it will take for them to recover.”
Mental focus impacts various aspects of children’s personal growth. It is the product of the coordinated actions of different brain areas.
Best brain supplements for enhancing your child’s mental focus
Get your kid this brain-healthy smoothie with a scrumdiddlyumptious taste