Chasing The Dragon  

Factors Affecting Behaviour and Concentration

A child’s attention span depends upon his age and increases over time.  Hence, you cannot be sure of your child’s attention span until he/she is about three to four years old.  For example, your two year old could most likely remain focused for about three to five minutes, whilst your pre-schooler should be able to focus on what he is doing for about fifteen minutes.  A child’s ability to concentrate will naturally increase with age; however there are certain exceptions to the rule.  The most common being ADHD, however there are some environmental factors that could be affecting your child’s ability to concentrate and his/her behaviour.

Firstly, children get bored quickly.  The more stimulating and interesting the activities that are planned, the less chance there is of behavioural problems.  Fatigue is another factor that may affect your child’s attention span.  Children have plenty of energy and are prone to be active all through the day, and have no idea of how much they should sleep in a day.  It is for you to decide and schedule their sleep time based on an understanding of the amount of time that a child needs to sleep based on his/her age.

Very importantly, the familial environment also affects children’s ability to remain focused.  Setting a general schedule for waking, meal, snack, fun and bedtimes will provide an environment that allows children to think and remain focused.  Disruptions in routine, or unpredictable routine often leads to unpredictable behavioural difficulties and outbursts.

Also, be observant of various foods and snacks that could be triggering negative behaviours.  Children develop various sensitivities that can be unexpected and influence their ability to concentrate.

As you can see, many things can affect your child’s behaviour and ability to concentrate.  By taking note of the above mentioned influences you will be able to help your child feel happier.  His/her self-esteem will increase because he won’t be shouted at so often and he will be able to concentrate better at school, thus improving his performance.  He/she should also get into a better sleep pattern which will benefit everyone in the family.

Unfortunately, ADHD is a genetic disorder that can wreak havoc within a family, and some extra care may be required.  The children with hyperactivity themselves, (especially those who are anxious) have a particular need for a peaceful environment and calm handling.  As they are bundles of kinetic-energy-about-to-explode, they will set the whole family alight unless their turbulence is contained.  The trouble is, because hyperactivity seems to be a genetic disorder, at least one of the parent’s probably have as flammable a temperament as the child.  A hyperactive individual, whether a child or adult, is naturally high-strung, irritable, impatient, short-tempered and intolerant – often anxious and prone to panic.  Hopefully, as they grow up, they learn to control and inhibit these traits, but it takes lots of effort and self-discipline.  If we adults struggle to keep our cool, how can we expect our offspring to manage?  We have to show them how!  We have to teach them by example.

Here are a few tips which have been found to be helpful:

  • Deliberately keep the pitch of your voice low.  Listen to the way other people speak.  A high pitched voice expresses and generates tension.  Low pitched tones are more soothing to anybody’s ear.
  • Speak slowly.  Rapid speech seems to raise the pulse and rate of breathing in the listener, resulting in a generally increased tempo in the atmosphere.
  • Remember that your child is very sensitive to the tone of your voice.  A simple statement like “Don’t do that” can be said in a dozen different ways, depending on the tone.  Keep it as bland and unemotional as possible.
  • Think BEFORE you answer a child.  So often one speaks and then immediately thinks, “I should not have said that” or maybe one should just have phrased it differently.  Try and develop the habit of pausing for a second or two, to give yourself a chance to think.  This IS usually very difficult but you WILL improve with effort.
  • Try and see the humour of the situation!  If it were someone else’s child, you’d probably find his escapade funny.  Maybe in the future you’ll look back and laugh.  Lighten up a bit and laugh NOW!  If you can’t laugh yet, try a smile.
  • Wherever possible, avoid explosive or conflict situations.  Learn to recognize the signs of escalating excitement or conflict and COOL IT!  Use techniques of distraction or “time-out”.  Fights, tantrums, unbridled excitement etc are far easier to curb in the earlier stages.  Do not waive your authority as a parent, but try not to get trapped in conflicts.  No-one REALLY wins in such situations, just try and maintain dignity.
  • Playing restful, slow-beat music often calms the frazzled nerves (not just yours!).  Play a soothing tape/CD in the late afternoon when everyone’s tired and stressed, you’re trying to get supper done and see to the children’s homework and you JUST DON’T NEED any tantrums now!
  • Install and try to stick to (within reason) a routine.  ADD children need the structure and security of a daily routine.  Temperamental behaviour often happens when normal routine is disrupted.
  • We need regular exercise.  Regular, rigorous exercise is essential for hyperactive children.  It regulates bodily functions and releases natural calming chemicals, which help them to feel good.
  • Try to keep a little detached.  Don’t allow yourself to be dragged down to kiddie-level.  After all, someone has to be cool-headed and in charge – it might as well be you!
  • The appropriate eating pattern which ADHASA advises does wonders to keep the family on an even keel.  Members have often said that the eating programme changed their family dynamics for the better.
  • Last but not least don’t get discouraged.  If you’ve had a bad day and really “blown your stack”, put it firmly behind you.  Try to analyse why things got out of control and how you can avoid it happening again.  Then start afresh!

By:  Raquel Ferreira              011-6823561
Educational Psychologist      083 637 0442


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