How important do you as parents believe it is to cultivate attention in your child? I believe it is a vital component that has become so “put aside.”

Children are very easily distracted as we all know. They walk to their rooms to get something, but rarely walk straight to their rooms, because something grabs their attention and distracts them. We need not interfere in their playtime.

However, in practical terms, we can work on teaching them the importance of following instruction without getting distracted, which will pay itself forward in so many ways in their life down the line.

One day, I was caring for two children. My eyes laid on one bedroom slipper in the middle of the living room.  I crawled over to the slipper and put my head down next to it and said to the girls “Look you guys, it is a slipper in the middle of the living room! How do you think it got here? Do you think it walked away from the other slipper because it wanted some exercise?” The three-year old came over and said “It’s my slipper!  I’ll go put it away.”

I watched her, as she walked down the hall to her bedroom (where the other slipper was). On the way to her bedroom, her eyes fell upon something in the bathroom and she wandered in there. I called out to her and gently reminded her to follow through with what she intended to do, and then she could go back to the bathroom and check out whatever it was that interested her. I continued to watch her (from a distance) until the slipper was put in its proper place.

That is the kind of sacrifice that we need to make for our children NO MATTER how much our minds tell us we don’t have the time. We need to take the time to ensure that they follow through, especially when instructed to do something.

We as parents must also be a living example of this, as when a child is trying to interrupt our attention when we have it placed on something or someone else in the moment. It is important to let a child know when they must “wait a moment” so as to allow a parent to follow through with what they are in the middle of doing as well. Otherwise, by allowing a child to interrupt “as they wish and demand”, we not only teach them that distracting others is acceptable, but we also teach them that by demanding, they always get their way. A demanding child becomes a pained demanding adult, an unhappy adult.

For many mornings, I walked a four-year-old into her Pre-K classroom. In working with her attention, I created an exercise called “first things first”.  What this exercise entailed was, as soon as we entered the classroom, she was to take care of “first things first” before she did anything else.  Meaning, she was to hang up her backup in the appropriate place, place her lunch box and folder in the appropriate spot and hang up her jacket.  I always stood back and observed to remind her, if and when necessary.

On this one particular day while she was in the middle of putting her things away, her eyes laid on one of the work tables in the room that was set up with something new. She started walking over to that table. I gently called out to her with a reminder of “first things first” and she went back to finish putting her things away.  The teacher, whom was standing behind me, said “Oh, she’s fine. She has the attention of an average four-year old.”

I considered that comment and just how little importance is placed on cultivating attention in this world, not only in our children, but in ourselves.

How many times have you driven home from work or from a friend’s house and upon arriving home, realized that you couldn’t recall the drive home?  That is what happens when we don’t own our own attention. It can be dangerous! It is dangerous. To make a claim that one has “the average attention of a four-year old”, says what? Five years from now, as the attention levels worsen, that then will become “the average”, a descending average.

Only by owning our attention in any given moment, will we be able to receive “proper instruction” from the magical moment, the only place where we can bring something new into this world. Otherwise, without our attention, we will only become distracted in the moment by the voices in our head, (of the past) that will speak to us in convincing words that we need to listen to its instruction instead of what the moment is instructing us to do.  That is how the past becomes the future.

Exercise for the week

At least three times this week, instruct your child to do something and then be there to gently guide him or her, in the event they become distracted. Guide them without force in voice or action and make sure that you follow through, no matter how busy the voices in your head tell you that you are.

Terri Poppins started an on-call nanny business, after a 31-year career as a paralegal and because of her love for children. She has cared for well over 100 families with children of all ages, including doing respite care for special needs children. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, biking, swimming, and attending classes at the Life of Learning Foundation, a center for self-study. You can find more information on her site:



Image courtesy of Jonathan Weiss.