2015 is the year Americans are throwing out the adage of “resolutions” and replacing it with the beneficial term “habits.”  Why?  Resolutions focus only on the end result; when that doesn’t occur fast enough to be rewarding, we tend to give up.  Making a small change to our daily habits and routines is much more likely to have a lasting and beneficial impact.

Were you one of the many parents who ended 2014 feeling a little concerned about their child’s attention span?  You’re not alone.  I received nearly 30 emails last month from parents who said they were frustrated by how easily their child seemed to “give up” or “just complain” during homework time. These parents were looking to make a change in 2015, but didn’t know where to begin.

“Concentrated focus” is really the best place to start.  It is one of the core chapters in the new bookThe Learning Habit.  When kids have difficulty focusing on written or auditory material, sitting still for more than a few minutes, and waiting for their turn to speak—school and homework are incredibly frustrating.

The ability to sit and focus, for a specific period of time, is a skill that can be developed.  This skill requires some careful finesse in the way it is explained to children. 

Question: Which explanation do think is going to get a better reaction from a six year old? 

1.)    Today we are going to work on your concentration and focus

Or

2.)    Isn’t it funny how much stronger you are this year?!  Remember how hard it was for you to carry your backpack last year?  Your brain is the way – you can work your brain like a muscle and it will actually get stronger.  They are workouts for your brain!   Wanna to try one?    

Children respond well to games. The idea that they are learning how to “work their brain” like a muscle and develop their “brain power” is pretty cool.  It's not easy.  It takes consistent, rewarding effort – for both the child and the parent. 

The problem many parents have previously encountered is twofold:

  1. They may not be “helping” their kids in a way that develops both skill and a sense of accomplishment in their child.

  2. In spite of all the effort, they are unable to see improvement!

The progress may well be there – even at the beginning – but it’s hard to recognize.  Now, however, we have a way to measure it. Developed by renowned pediatric psychologist Dr. Robert M. Pressman, The Pressman Focus Checklist gives parents a reporting tool they can use to measure their child’s progress with attention and focus at both home and school.  

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The following tool has been excerpted from The Learning Habit by Stephanie Donaldson-Pressman, Rebecca Jackson and Dr. Robert Pressman by arrangement with Perigee, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, a Penguin Random House Company, Copyright © 2014 by Good Parent, Inc. 

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THE PRESSMAN FOCUS CHECKLIST

On a scale of 1 to 5 (1 is rarely or never; 5 is frequently or always), how frequently does your child do the following:

  1. Sit for a reasonable period of time without fidgeting, getting up and wandering, or checking their phone (High school)?                                   

  2. Perform a task requiring three or more steps without forgetting a step? 

  3. Self-soothe and return to the task when they become frustrated?      

  4. Complete a school assignment or a chore without giving excuses? 

  5. Work through a task without creating distractions?                         

  6. Finish a game, when losing, without quitting or crying?                    

  7. Complete a reading assignment and be able to verbalize what it was about?                                                                                                

  8. Enjoy a quiet activity?                                                                           

  9. Go to bed at a regular time and stay in their own room all night?

  10. Listen to instructions and accurately repeat them back?                       

  11. Read for pleasure—apart from assigned school reading—every day? 

Date_________         Total score________

Directions: 

First, honestly rate your child on all the questions and keep a copy for your records. This will establish a baseline.  As you and your child work together using the systems found in The Learning Habit you will see the total score gradually increase.

I’ve implemented several of the tactics found in chapter nine of The Learning Habit – and found the breathing exercises worked especially well on question 3 for my youngest child.  

If you are working patiently and consistently, and you don’t see any improvement at all, it may be time to consult your pediatrician.   

About the Authors

Robert M. Pressman, PhD.

Robert M. Pressman, Ph.D., is the Director of Research for the New England Center of Pediatric Psychology and a co-author of The Learning Habit.

Stephanie Donaldson-Pressman LICSW

Stephanie Donaldson-Pressman, LICSW, is the Clinical Director of the New England Center for Pediatric Psychology, and the co-author of The Learning Habit.

Rebecca Jackson

Rebecca Jackson is a neuropsychological educator and the co-author of The Learning Habit

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