How to Improve
Concentration & Brain Pwer
Lack of concentration is a huge problem for most people these days, especially students. Read on to learn the best ways to tackle poor concentration and boost brain function, through simple changes in diet, routine and study methods!
Distraction, lack of concentration and inability to focus are common complaints among people of all ages, but they’re particularly an issue for young students. We often hear kids say things like “I’m trying to study, but my mind just drifts off”, or “I start off just fine, but can’t concentrate after a while or finish what I started”.
Table of Contents
A short attention span can have a huge impact on academic performance, but it affects other areas of your child's life as well. It’s important for children to learn how to increase concentration, not only so they can do better in school, but also to develop the mental skills they will need for success in relationships, work and more.
According to statistics, poor concentration and attention disorders such as HKD (Hyperkinetic Disorder) and ADHD (Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) are a real problem across the world. Consider these figures to understand why doctors, parents and teachers are so concerned about concentration problems:
- The average attention span for people dropped from 12 seconds to 8 seconds between the years 2000 and 2015.
- It has been estimated that more than 5% of children/adolescents and 3% of adults worldwide have ADHD or HKD.
- 1 out of every 4 teens forgets major details about close friends and relatives, and 7% of people forget their own birthday.
- ADHD is one of the most common mental disorders between 5-15 years of age, affecting 8-12% of children worldwide.
- Estimates suggest that 4-5% of adults in the U.S. have ADHD, but most are not diagnosed or treated for the condition.
- According to some studies, France has the highest rates of adult ADHD at over 7%, while Australia is the lowest at just over 1%.
- Approximately 60% of people who had ADHD as children are diagnosed with adult ADHD at some point in their lives.
- In the U.S., there was a 50% increase in ADHD diagnosis for children 2-5 years of age, between 2007 and 2012 alone.
- Among children aged 4-17, ADHD diagnosis rates in the U.S. rose from under 8% in 2003 to a disturbing 11% in 2012.
- ADHD and other attention disorders can be successfully treated with medication, behavior therapy, or both. However, many children don’t receive either form of treatment. Even in the U.S., where ADHD has been recognized as a medical condition for many years, the data is not very encouraging:
- Over 6% of American children aged between the ages of 4 and 17 received ADHD medication in 2011, up from just under 5% in 2007.
- According to parent reports, 44% of kids aged 2-5 years received ADHD medication in 2011, and 53% received behavioral treatment for ADHD.
- However, over 17% of kids between the ages 4 to 17 with current ADHD did not receive either medication or counseling in 2011.
- In many countries across the world, societal attitudes and lack of awareness lead to attention disorders not being diagnosed or treated as mental health problems. Since ADHD often accompanies other issues such as depression, anxiety and personality disorders, actual prevalence rates may be even higher than estimated!
Other than ADHD and other learning or behavioral disorders, a number of studies have claimed that smartphones, social networks and instant access to information through the Internet are to blame. While the jury’s still out on this claim, it does make a certain kind of sense.
If you can look up any data online within seconds, why would you need to even try remembering it?
Regardless of age, gender, income and other factors, we’re all becoming more reliant on machines than ever before. Most people don’t invest much time on any activity throughout the day, claiming we’re “multi-tasking”. If you really think about it, we would all be diagnosed with attention disorders if we go get a mental health checkup today!
However, the impact of instant access to information is most concerning when it comes to children. Poor concentration has a negative effect on everything from their academic performance to vocational and social activities, which in turn affects their self-esteem, confidence, independence and personal development.
Here are some of the most common reasons for lack of concentration in students:
Low Motivation or Interest
Children can’t concentrate if they don’t like the subject they’re studying, are uncomfortable with their environment or just don’t feel challenged by their work. Some are also discouraged by failure to achieve goals, feeling like their efforts are not enough, or the reward structure and allocation for achievements.
Unsuitable Teaching Style
Children have unique needs and preferences when it comes to learning, which may not always match a teacher/instructor’s teaching style. For instance, kids who have trouble remembering facts and figures may not be able to focus on repetition or note-taking, but they could benefit from visual aids or mnemonics.
Too Many Distractions
Smartphones beeping every few seconds with new emails, messages or phone calls, television or traffic noise in the background, family stress or arguments in the home, squeaking sounds from their chair… Kids can be distracted by almost anything, struggling with time management both at school and at home.
Lack of Resources
Some children struggle to concentrate on their studies because they don’t receive the help and support they need. Kids who have difficulties with listening, reading or sitting still, for instance, may require special assistance and guidance but not get it. Others may face financial constraints that keep them from getting help.
Other Health Concerns
In some cases, children may suffer from poor concentration as a result of medical conditions or other health issues. Lack of sleep or poor sleep quality, improper eating habits or lack of proper nutrition, issues with eyesight, chronic pain and even hormonal changes during puberty can affect their focus and concentration!
In some cases, concentration problems and learning difficulties require medical intervention and treatment. For most people, though, the ability to concentrate is all a matter of training the mind, feeding it right and making a few changes to their approach to studying.
Like any other muscle in the body, your brain needs the right fuel, inputs and exercise to function at its best. If you want to teach your children how to focus better, we’ve put together some of the top study concentration tips, right from a change in diet to setting a fixed routine for them to follow.
Here are the most effective ways to help your child overcome concentration problems, concentrate on studies during exam time, as well as boost mental skills in day-to-day life:
Nutrition and Brain Foods
A balanced diet is essential for the proper development of body and mind, especially during a child’s younger years.
Most kids are more inclined towards junk food than healthy options, which can impact their concentration power and mental skills. Highly processed and sugar-rich foods have been linked to attention and behavioral disorders in children, so it’s important for you as a parent to make sure they eat right!
Certain nutrients improve your concentration, mental function, memory and cognitive skills, so make sure you include the following “concentration foods” in your kid’s diet:
Whole grains are loaded with dietary fiber and complex carbohydrates that provide slow-release energy to the brain and body. They’re also a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E and other nutrients that boost blood flow to the brain, improving mental function and mood, as well as helping kids stay alert.
Egg yolks used to be considered unhealthy, but new research shows that they’re important for brain development and performance. The yolk is high in DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid, as well as choline, a compound that helps brain development in fetuses during pregnancy. Eggs can also enhance good cholesterol levels in the body.
Carrots, squash, sweet potatoes and other yellow or orange vegetables contain essential vitamins and minerals as well as high levels of beta-carotene, a powerful antioxidant that helps the body process Vitamin A. They can help enhance memory, attention, cognitive function and verbal skills in children.
Dark green leafy vegetables such as kale, chard, spinach, broccoli and romaine lettuce are packed with brain-friendly nutrients. These memory foods are rich in lutein, folate, beta-carotene, B-vitamins and vitamin K, which boost memory, concentration and cognitive function, fight inflammation, and boost bone health.
You get a powerful dose of vitamins, minerals, fiber and energy from practically every fruit, but some are particularly brain-friendly. Avocados, for instance, are rich in healthy fats that improve blood flow to the brain, while blueberries are loaded with antioxidants that help with improving your memory and concentration.
Nuts and Seeds
Walnuts, peanuts, almonds and other nuts are packed with omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins and minerals that boost memory and cognitive function. Seeds such as chia and flax are also rich in brain-friendly nutrients. If your child loves peanut butter (and most of them do), you won’t face much of a challenge with this brain food!
Salmon, mackerel, sardines, trout and other oily fish are rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids, amino acids and dietary protein. These power foods can help with maintaining brain health, improving memory, focus and cognitive function, as well as rebuilding brain cells and enhancing communication between them.
Your child is unlikely to be excited about eating beets, but this root vegetable is a nutritional powerhouse. It contains loads of antioxidants and natural nitrates that dilate blood vessels, boosting blood and oxygen flow to the brain. This aids in mental development, memory, focused concentration and cognitive performance.
Dark chocolate is rich in antioxidant and anti-inflammatory flavonoids that boost blood flow to the brain. It also contains caffeine, which is a natural stimulant that improves focus and alertness. Get your kids to eat dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa content instead of processed chocolate bars or white chocolate.
While this isn’t technically a “food”, water is one of the most important aspects of a healthy brain diet. After all, every function of the body and mind depends on it. Staying well-hydrated can help boost your child’s physical performance as well as mental agility, boosting focus, clarity, concentration and memory processes.
Other healthy foods that boost brain performance, memory and concentration include coconut oil, bone broth, turmeric, rosemary, celery, olive oil and green tea. If your child is a picky eater, try different combinations of brain-friendly foods, or slip them into smoothies, desserts, pastas, pizzas and other “fun foods”.
You could also consider supplements to help your child get the right nutrients, but speak to a doctor first. Remember, natural sources are always best!
Games and Exercises
It’s no secret that we’re becoming more dependent on electronic “brains” in computers and mobile devices than our own memory these days.
Think about how many phone numbers and birthdays your parents and grandparents committed to memory. Now consider how many you and your kids remember offhand. Chances are, there’s a huge difference. We rarely bother with attempting to memorize anything anymore, knowing that we can simply save it and forget it.
The trouble is, our brains need to be exercised just like any other muscle in the body. The less we use them, the less powerful they become!
Try some of these exercises for boosting concentration power, memory and focus:
Regular exercise boosts brain function, but specific activities such as yoga, martial arts, deep breathing and meditation can help with concentration and focus. Of course, your child may not enjoy the idea of doing any of these on their own, so make it fun for them by joining in and making it a group activity for the family.
This is a great way to help children practice sitting still, as well as improve concentration. The exercise is really simple, and involves sitting in a comfortable chair for as long as possible without moving. Use a timer and make it a competition for young children, or schedule breaks after a fixed time for older kids.
If you can get your little one interested in books at a young age, you’re setting the stage for them to concentrate better all their lives. Stories grab attention and draw you in when you read them, which is why it’s often so hard to put a good book down. Essentially, reading helps kids train themselves to focus on the task at hand!
Picture puzzles such as “Find the difference” or “Where’s Wally?” can help boost visual concentration and focus in young children. Jigsaws are great for kids of any age, especially since they can be performed as a family activity. Crosswords, Scrabble and other word puzzles also improve focus and brain function.
Games such as Concentration, also known as Memory, Match, and Pairs, provide mental exercise for kids and adults alike. There are many versions of memory games for kids in different age groups. You can use playing cards, draw/print matching pictures on plain pieces of paper, or even play these games online.
Even if your child is not very interested in math or numbers in general, puzzles such as Sudoku and “Find the missing number” offer an interesting challenge for them to tackle. Trying to figure out clues and get to the answer boosts their mental and cognitive skills as well as their ability to focus and concentrate.
Most of us have played some version of these brain games (e.g. Memory Train) in school or at parties, where players take turns adding statements to create a story. Each player needs to repeat the statements made by previous players before adding their own, getting eliminated from the game if they get it wrong.
Chess and Checkers
These classic board games are a great way to increase your concentration and build decision making skills, since you need to pay attention to the other player’s moves and plan your own accordingly. They may not be ideal for very young children, but you could use simpler board games for the same purpose.
Creative pursuits such as art and music provide a perfect outlet for a child’s energy, but they can also play a role in helping them concentrate better. Learning to draw or paint, play a musical instrument, speak a new language, build models, or knit, crochet and sew – all these activities require deep concentration and practice!
Video games and computer games are often blamed for declining attention spans in children and teens, but some could actually help improve their focus and concentration. Strategy and world-building games (without guns or violence) are perfect, since they improve mental function in a challenging and fun manner.
Concentration exercises, games and puzzles provide stimulation for your child’s mental growth, forcing them to think and plan before acting. At the same time, they also foster curiosity, reasoning abilities and social skills, all of which play an important role in helping children become good learners later in life.
Children are naturally competitive, and memory or concentration games help them channel this tendency into developing stronger mental skills.
Study Tools and Material
Help your child explore different types of learning aids, right from additional study material to online tutoring, concentration tools and brain training apps.
There’s no shortage of learning tools available these days, for every kind of student, teacher or parent out there. For children who have trouble concentrating, the right combination of these study tools and techniques can be extremely helpful. Try out a few of them to see how your kid responds, and which ones deliver the best results for them.
Here are some basic tools that can help boost focus, concentration and memory for students:
Online apps such as Concentrate, a paid tool for Mac users, help students break down their workload into smaller activities and concentrate on each one individually. Others, such as FocusWriter and Isolator, provide distraction-free work environments that allow kids to focus on a single task while studying.
Apps such as RescueTime and TrackTime can help students monitor their Internet usage habits as well as the amount of time they spend on projects. While a stopwatch or alarm clock can also help with tracking productive time, these tools automate the process and provide detailed information about each session.
Website blocking tools help parents control a child’s Internet usage. They also help students focus by restricting access to social media, email, etc. Try StayFocusd, a Google Chrome extension, Anti-Social or SelfControl for Mac, Cold Turkey for Windows, or Freedom, a paid tool that blocks Internet access for up to 8 hours.
Short breaks help to refresh your brain, reduce stress and focus better. If your child finds it a challenge to step away from their books or study material, apps such as Time Out for Mac users and SmartBreak for Windows users can provide reminders that help them take regular breaks while working.
Planners and Timetables
Since time management is a challenge for many students, a planner can be an invaluable tool for boosting productivity and focus. Create a daily, monthly and weekly planner to help your child stay on track, as well as an exam schedule or timetable for classes, important meetings and other activities.
Sometimes, the amount of material in your kid’s syllabus can leave them feeling confused, overwhelmed and prone to distraction. Study guides can help them sort through each subject and focus on key chapters, ideas or concepts, instead of wading through course material without understanding how to concentrate on studies.
One of the most effective ways to concentrate on important concepts and ideas for each subject is to practice answering questions about them. Quizzes, past exam papers and mock tests can help your child review what they learn about each subject as well as focus on answering questions within a fixed time limit.
Most students need extra help at some time or the other, especially for difficult subjects such as physics, math and certain languages. Online tutors can help kids with subjects they find challenging, and your child can study anytime and anywhere instead of being limited to school hours or available time slots for extra classes.
Flash cards, posters, mind maps and graphs are extremely effective learning tools, since they allow students to break down large chunks of information into smaller, more manageable groups. They can also help kids focus on critical concepts, formulae and ideas in a visual form that’s easier to remember and recall later.
This is another time-tested trick for boosting memory and concentration, where your child “teaches” you, other family members or friends the subject they are studying. Not only does this help them retain what they’ve learnt, but also allows them to filter out and focus on the most essential ideas!
Since every student learns in different ways, not every study technique or concentration increasing app will work the same way with each one. Trying out a variety of tools and learning methods can help you find the best solution, especially if your child is actively involved in the study planning process.
The Internet is often considered the largest distraction for students today, but the right apps and tools can actually help them stay on track.
Minimizing external distractions can go a long way toward building concentration and focus, especially while studying or during revision for exams.
Everyone learns at a different pace, but a huge range of preferences also comes into play when a child is learning. For instance, some students prefer to work in the solitude of their own room while others like to be around people while studying. Some kids focus better with music or “white noise” in the background while others prefer complete silence.
To help your child create the ideal study environment where they can concentrate more easily, take these factors into account:
Dedicated Study Space
Setting aside a specific area of the house for study and homework helps to “train the brain” into using it for those activities alone. When your child sits down at the same desk regularly, their mind will automatically start associating it with a study session, especially if it’s equipped with all the material they need.
Poor or insufficient lighting can lead to eye strain and headaches, and these physical disturbances can take a major toll on concentration. Make sure that study areas are fitted with adequate lights for comfortable reading and writing, especially if your child uses a computer. Natural light is best, but make sure it isn’t too bright.
A television blaring in the background, siblings playing a video game, or even a family member talking on the phone can distract a child who’s studying. We’re not saying that you should soundproof their study area, but cut out as much external noise as possible when they’re sitting down to work, so they can focus better!
Believe it or not, your home’s thermostat can actually make a difference to how well your child concentrates while studying. According to some studies, setting the temperature just a couple of degrees lower than what you find comfortable can help you fight off drowsiness and remain alert for longer.
Email, social media and text messages can ruin your concentration, especially when there’s a new alert every few minutes. If your child uses a smartphone or computer like most kids today, encourage them to sign out of social media and email, as well as switch off their phone or put it on silent while studying.
Visualization can be a powerful motivational tool. Ask your child what they hope to achieve in life, and how studying will help them get there. Build a vision board where they can pin images relating to their dream job, inspirational pictures and quotes. When they’re losing focus, it will remind them of their goals.
Opinions differ about whether listening to music helps concentration or not, but most students seem to focus better with soft instrumental or electronic music. Avoid playing songs with lyrics while your child is studying, and try ambient nature sounds or apps that play white noise and harmonic sounds.
While a fixed study space helps kids work in peace, new locations can stimulate creativity, learning and focus. Heading to the library, park or coffee shop for a study session can boost concentration levels in some cases, especially when a child has been studying at home for days. Everyone needs a change from time to time!
Small changes can have a huge impact when it comes to concentration and focus, so work on eliminating distractions and creating a positive study setting at home. Understand what your child needs, how they learn and what helps them focus better, so you can provide the tools and support that will help them do their best.
You may not be able to change the environment where your child attends classes, but you can create a comfortable space for them to work after school.
Changes to Routine
A fixed routine is a great way to build discipline and train yourself to focus on completing one task before moving on to the next.
Your child may not be thrilled about the idea of following a set schedule, but this can make a huge difference to the way they approach study, and other aspects of life too. It can also help you make sure they’re eating proper meals, getting enough rest and exercising regularly, all of which help with better academic performance and concentration.
Here are some changes that you should consider making to your child’s daily routine:
Lack of sleep is one of the biggest factors affecting concentration and attention spans in children. Not only are kids going to bed later, but most of them also spend an hour or two on their phone before they fall asleep. This cuts into the amount of time they spend asleep, and affects their quality of sleep as well.
Yes, this one is bound to cause some trouble, especially with older children and teens. However, many studies have found a link between going to bed early and doing better in school. It’s especially important if your child has to attend classes in the morning, since a good night’s rest can help them pay attention in class.
We’ve already looked at the importance of good nutrition and healthy diets for improving concentration and memory, but eating meals on time is also crucial. At the very least, make sure that your child eats a good breakfast before leaving for school. This gives their body and brain the fuel they need to work efficiently!
Fixed Study Time
Set aside a specific time of the day for your child to study or do their homework. Scheduling study time before they watch TV or play on the computer will help you ensure they complete work while they’re still fresh and alert. It also reinforces the idea of treating leisure time as a reward, which helps with building motivation.
Younger children may be happy to run around outdoors with their friends, but older kids and teens are more likely to be stuck to their phones or computers. Physical activity and exercise are essential for brain development and health, so encourage your children to be more active and join them at it!
Most kids today follow an erratic schedule, without fixed times for sleeping, waking up and eating. This could be one of the major reasons why lack of concentration and focus has become such a common complaint, among school-going kids as well as college students. You can help your child make an early start towards self-discipline and control.
Setting rules for bedtime and meals might make your child unhappy in the short term, but it helps them develop essential habits for long term success!