I know I’m not the only one who has a child that struggles with attention. As we approach the first week of school in two weeks, I know what’s coming. The first month, the new teacher will talk to me about how Aidan gets easily distracted by everything else in the room. He is definitely not hyperactive, but will “Space out” and start thinking of who knows what rather than the boring lecture in front of him. I will talk with the teacher about this, again. Thankfully, he will have the same gifted teacher for the third year in a row who will tell me that he is struggling to stay on task, but it’s just the first month. For the last several years, this is the pattern. He struggles through out the first semester and somehow starts to gain self-control by the end of the year and then summer starts. I am definitely one of those parents who would love year round school, just to end this cycle.
Matt and I re-evaluated our game plan this past week. We are cutting way back on any video games to almost none at all. I know this is a debate that is wide spread for parenting right now and so this post is not about that. For Aidan, that “world” easily gets stuck in his head and we have a hard time pulling him out. We are outside more than ever and engaging in every bit of peer social interaction as possible and looking into martial arts for the fall. So, in thinking about play therapy techniques that are more teaching oriented rather than interpretive- I took to researching building attention span.
One that I found, I was a little hesitant to try. Honestly, it sounded somewhat torturous. Yet, the more I thought about it, the more I realizes anytime you want to build a skill (and self-control is definitely one) you have to practice and put forth the effort- hopefully with a reward! So the game I found involves the child building something while avoiding distractions. Here’s how we did it:
LEGOs– honestly, the materials aren’t as important. Anything the child enjoys doing will work. LEGOs worked great for us because you can mindlessly stack them into a tower if needed.
Stopwatch: In a full 50 minute session, they recommended 10 minute increments. This felt like a lot to me for the first time. I chose to do 5 minutes to see how they felt with the intention of working up to 10 minutes.
Reward: I used tickets. You can get carnival tickets at Walmart that will last you into eternity. I use these as reward for various types of behavior modification. Don’t forget to think of something to use as an ultimate reward!
Here’s how you play: Aidan and Jack were asked to build something with their LEGOs (it doesn’t matter what they were building). In fact the first level (and what I encouraged Jack to do) was to simply stack pieces together. It was too hard for him to think about what he was building under pressure. The most advanced level would be reading and following directions (HELLO HOMEWORK?). While they were concentrating on building, I get to try to distract and break their concentration. IF they can get to the end of the time limit without me breaking their concentration, they get a ticket. Then, based on their ability (and I would say stress level with the pressure) decide how many tickets they need to accumulate to get the ultimate prize.
I thought today was the perfect day to try this. I had the amazing opportunity to go out with a friend today while her husband graciously offered to watch the boys (Matt was out of town). They of course got to play video games during the day while at their house, so I knew we would have some attitudes tonight. In fact, my discernment was giving me that we were ALL a little off. Patience was running really thin for everyone. I decided to be honest with them and point it out. I told them that I really wasn’t sure what we all needed- space or quality time. This was not the time to test them under 10 minutes of timed pressure and over frustrate them. So… we did a one time 5 minute test run on this game and then talked about it after.
Aidan loved it. I tried lots of things to distract them. I asked questions, I tried to show them things, I even tried to help them! But I pulled out the “Ace Card” at the end. I pulled out Angry Birds. Aidan about shoved his whole head into the LEGO pile attempting to avoid looking, and Jack… well he just ran into the closet with his hands over his ears!!! All in all it was pretty funny.
We went downstairs for our bedtime snack (our reward) and I could tell we all needed a little bit of “centering” from the day. I pulled out the boys’ devotional book and found one titled “Difficult Days”. We all laughed as if to say, “We better read this one TODAY!” During prayer, the Lord reminded me of something pretty powerful.
The most important thing we could ever focus on is Him. Nothing in this world will provide the peace and guidance that He can. Nothing compares to the assurance He provides when we still our hearts and focus on Him.
There are so many things that try to distract us from that truth.
There is a distraction every second it seems. The guilt I am tempted to feel as a mom for wanting ANYTHING for myself, a bad attitude after something doesn’t go my way, loneliness when you are missing community, frustration at the lack of quiet around the house, or emptiness in your heart when it feels you aren’t moving towards purpose. I do a great job of distracting myself from the truth that God is present and should be the center of my attention. The enemy sometimes doesn’t have to work that hard to get me to look away from that. When I stay focused on Him, or what He has given me to hold on to, everything else falls in line… EVERYTHING.
So the boys and I walked away with more than a LEGO tower. They walked away seeing Mommy as human- even she gets distracted. They heard God’s words that reminded them that God can help us when we are struggling and we can go to Him when we have a bad day. And I walked away humbled. Realizing that Aidan and I aren’t so different, and that I am also needing some help on my own attention span.
Here are a couple of resources on building attention spans. I will likely do more of this soon, so I won’t give too many right now. Aidan has not been diagnosed with anything because his attention is not interfering with his ability to function at home or school. All children need to learn self-control, especially of their mind- so regardless of how severe your child struggles with attention- I think it’s a great thing to work on!
There are so many of you out there that are doing these things on a daily basis! Share some of your successes and resources with us!!