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  • Writer's pictureRaelene Ostberg, M.Ed.

Strategies to Get Young Children to PAY ATTENTION! (with Fun Games and Activities too!)

Updated: Jan 30

In this blog:

*Special FREEBIE: Top eight reasons young children lose focus and over 40 strategies to improve attention!

*Two videos on promoting self-control

*Links to other valuable resources

Many adults grumble that young children today are lacking focus and self-control. Some blame media, others parents. Others label the lack of time outdoors is the culprit. However, after over 20 years spent observing early childhood educators and parents as they manage learning time and story times, it has become evident that

*Young children often experience difficulties with sustained focus and attention.

Hey, let's face it, this can be difficult for us all. Ever find yourself distracted at a educational workshop, fidgeting, sneaking a cell phone check, or falling asleep in your chair? The adults in my live webinar on this topic pointed out, we ALL have difficulty focusing if we are tired, hungry, not interested in the content, or expected to focus too long. Well, throw in young childrens' lack of fully developed "Executive Functioning" skills or a naturally distractible or highly active temperament and you just might find an early childhood educator throwing up his or her hands yelping with frustration!

*Some adults are more adept than others at helping children focus, attend, and learn the skills needed to maintain attention.

Research documented in Psychology Today online shows, "Attention has been found to be a highly malleable quality and most directly influenced by the environment in which it is used.”

Some adults engage children in learning the needed lessons and able to keep children attending to the learning task. Others struggle with children interrupting, refusing to compete activities, fidgeting and disrupting others during learning time. What caregivers do and how the environment is structured will matter.

Check out this picture. Notice how some children are doing better at focusing than others, naturally. But, do you also see how this environment might be one of the culprits undermining attention at this activity table? Do you see why this wonderfully colorful and busy area might be a bit distracting for some? For a person with a distractible or sensitive temperament, this might lead to a refusal to complete the task and lack of focus.

Are you able to lead a 20 minute circle time with toddlers? Do preschoolers want your learning time to last "just a bit longer... pleeeeease?!"

If not, you might also want to also consider how learning experiences are set up and what might enhance engagement and meet the needs of the young learners you care about and educate. What can you do to make it interesting and fun for individual children? Infants and toddlers FIGHT to learn, they are so excited about it! Why is it some preschoolers then, must be coerced into learning? It might be something about what we do.

The good news? Even with a ton of reasons why paying attention can be difficult for young learners, adults can remain keenly observant, increase awareness of triggers, meet the child where they are at, and foster the skills needed. Consider what is the underlying need that is fueling the lack of focus and work to build the brain pathways that will help build focus and attention skills that will ensure children succeed.

What you do will make a difference!

*Check out this blog for the first of a two-part VLOG series to learn more.

*Watch the video, access the resources, and get your FREEBIE with EIGHT culprits that might be getting in the way and over 40 tips that will help kids attend to the very important lessons you are teaching!

For more information on upcoming webinars and on-demand courses, check out

Part 1) Strategies to Get Young Children to Pay Attention!

Being able to focus is dependent on development. Most eight-year-olds can sit for long periods of time; most toddlers cannot. What adults do will help build the skills needed.

The trick? Meet the need that is driving the lack of focus.

*Watch the NN Video for tips on meeting the need behind the challenge.

Download your FREEBIE - Eight reasons and over 40 strategies to help!

Read on for an important consideration and for Part 2! - Activities and games to promote focus and attention skills as well as wonderful resources on this topic.


How would you respond?

What if you were hungry, and someone told you to take a nap?

What if you were bored and tired of listening to someone, and they told you "Eyes on me".

What if you whole body said, "I NEED TO MOOOOOVE!", and someone told you to "SIT STILL!" and "Quit Fidgeting!"

What if you are attending my seminar, and I told you "Sit up straight with your feet flat on the floor?"

UUUMMMM.... Grumpy? How long would it be before you started to think of ways to get out of the situation and never return?! I have observed a 45 minute circle time for preschoolers, teacher directed, that resulted in fidgeting - and correction - and more fidgeting - and more correction. The cycle is frustrating and detrimental for both adult and child. "Now, sit criss cross, apple sauce." "Eyes on the teacher." "Hold a big marshmallow in your mouth." Would we say this to a colleague, friend, or loved one?

What if, instead, you took a moment to consider what the world was like for that child? What if your learning activity was so engaging that children wanted to behave, sit up, listen, and learn with you?

When we increase our compassion and work with our fellow humans (big and small) to build focus and attention, we all do better.

THE REALLY GOOD NEWS? There are fun games and activities you can do to promote focus and attention skills in young children!


Part 2) Activities and Games that Increase Attention, Focus, and Self-Control Skills!

The great book "Mind in the Making" by Ellen Galinsky, has collected much of the research on promoting self-control and attention. I discussed many of them in this video, Naptime Nuggets #61 on June 10th. To register to join future live recordings, register here:

Truth - The more we work the "muscle" the stronger it becomes (whether we are talking our brains or body). Children will need a lot of practice in engaging and fun ways to build those critical brain structures.

*This video clip gives you a great overview of self-control along with a game to help build it., Stop at 13:04

*The engaging transition strategies resource I pulled from in the video -

Other Resources and Great Activities and Games:

My "Promoting Self-Control" playlist on Youtube (Links to videos with games, songs, and more!)

Mind in the Makings "Skill Building Opportunities". You can search by age AND challenging behavior!

Harvard Center on the Developing Child: Executive Function Activities

TODDLERS! Harvard Center on the Developing Child: Executive Function Activities for 6- to 18-month-olds

For more information on upcoming webinars and on-demand courses, check out


Take care and keep doing the important work of caring for and educating our next generation.

Sending bits of love and kindness your way,

Raelene Ostberg, M.Ed.

Thriving Together, LLC

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