by Dr Shen Li Lee

According to Ellen Galinsky in Mind in the Making, children need focus and self-control to help them achieve their goals. Unfortunately, focus and self-control isn’t something they naturally develop as they grow up, it is something they need to practice in order to get good at it.  The following are some activities recommended by Galinsky in Mind in the Making that you can do with your children to help them improve their focus and self-control.

For babies and toddlers:

  • Observe your baby to see what helps him to calm down and follow his cues.
  • Use the method that works best for your baby. A commonly recommended technique is to hold your baby until he cools down – so when your baby or toddler loses it, the best thing to do is be present, not walk away.
  • Acknowledge your baby’s successes.

Pre-schoolers and older children:

  • Encourage your child’s interests – it might be a lemonade stand (these are easy to do in this day and age of technology) or a desire to learn martial arts. Helping your child cultivate an interest in something he cares strongly about will help him develop focus.
  • Play focus games like “I Spy”, guessing games, jigsaw puzzles, musical chairs, etc. These games require your child to pay attention.
  • Read stories to your child because listening requires focus. You can also play listening games, e.g. guess which song this is.
  • Play computer games that promote focus.
  • Watch TV programs that encourage children to pay attention. Select age-appropriate, meaningful and educational programs (children over two can learn a lot from such programs). Use the subjects covered as a launching platform for further discussion with your child.
  • Play sorting games with changing rules. E.g. Sort random objects by colour, shape, and/or size.
  • Play pretend and make up stories.
  • Play game with rules, e.g. “Simon says”.
  • Do Stroop-like exercises (see below)

Stroop Test:

When presented with a chart like the one shown below, we have a tendency to read the words. The aim of the task is to say the colour of the ink that the word is printed in rather than reading the word. In the example below, the first line would be: green, purple, yellow, red.

The stroop test is a good one for adults as well. It is one of the exercises included in Ryuta Kawashima’s “Train Your Brain: 60 Days to a Better Brain“. There is a Stroop test app for iPhone/iPad. You can also do the stroop test online at cognitive tests.