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It doesn’t take a very observant person to notice the trend of a lack of focus in our society. For various reasons, decreased attention span affects people of all ages. Each generation seems to be more and more plagued by this issue. If you have a child/children that struggle with keeping focus, you know how much this can impact them negatively. From school work to following directions from you at home, a distracted child is not always enjoyable to work with! Thankfully, there are many tips on how to improve your child’s focus that don’t involve medications.
What Causes Lack of Focus?
A healthy body yields a healthy mind and vice versa. We are truly holistic beings and the things we do that affect us physically can also affect us mentally. We will discuss these all in more detail below, but the very basics are essential in being able to concentrate. Diet, exercise, and sleep are all very big deals in how we function. Issues this post won’t address, but need to be considered, are hearing or vision problems, stress, trauma, and learning disorders. You know your child better than anyone and are their greatest advocate. Dig deep and consider all possibilities until you hit on what can help them.
The Effect of Diet on Focus
Thankfully, many parents are becoming aware of things like food coloring that can impact a child’s attention. While this is a move in the right direction, it’s only the tip of the iceberg. There are so many processed products disguised as food that tend to be the favorites of kids. Often, parents don’t do much better.
Many people are so confused today about what even constitutes real food. A very simple definition is what God made and how he made it. If it’s not something that our great-grandparents would identify as food, that’s a sign it’s a new-fangled imitation. There are literally thousands of chemicals and additives that have never even been tested that are allowed in our food supply. Most of these are banned in other countries. If you purchase things in a package, at the very least go for organic, and make sure the ingredient list is short and easy to pronounce.
Common foods that can zap brain power (for adults too!) are refined carbs, MSG, refined sugars, diet drinks, and inflammatory vegetable or seed oils. What do all of these have in common? They are all found in processed foods! Eat as close to nature as you can to help your child develop a strong mind and clear focus.
The Importance of Sleep for Focus
After being a parent for more than two decades, I have to confess I have been appalled over the years at the sleep habits many parents allow. Sleep is absolutely foundational for overall health, not just for focus but for a healthy immune system. Don’t underestimate the amount of sleep your child needs. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine organized a panel of sleep experts to create the following recommendations based on hundreds of high-quality research studies :
|Infant||4-12 months||12-16 hours (including naps)|
|Toddler||1-2 years||11-14 hours (including naps)|
|Preschool||3-5 years||10-13 hours (including naps)|
|School-age||6-12 years||9-12 hours|
|Teen||13-18 years||8-10 hours|
If these numbers surprise you, it’s more than likely you have based sleep habits on the overtaxed American population. Most people don’t understand how to create good habits for their babies, then things go from bad to worse as they hit toddler and preschool years. By the time they’re in school, they are in so many activities, sleep suffers in the attempt to squeeze everything in. This is a dangerous trend and absolutely plays a part in the behavior and attention issues noted in so many kids today. If your child struggles in this department, try an earlier bedtime. Remove extra activities as needed to implement this in your home and see if it makes a difference.
Good Fats to Eat for Focus
Did you know that the human brain is 60% fat? Do not be fooled into thinking that eating fat makes you fat. This is a very critical macronutrient for maintaining cell membranes, speeding nervous system response, nourishing the skin, and even helping our bones to absorb calcium. Armed with this information, don’t think that any old fat will help with these things! Remember, the mistake is never in what God made, but what man has done to alter the original product.
Saturated fats are found in animal products, dairy and coconut. Ponder that for a moment. Are any of those foods that man made? Nope. Now, has man tinkered with them and created forms that are unhealthy? For sure! But eating these foods in their whole and natural states are actually needed by our bodies. Saturated fat is the only truly stable kind of fat, meaning it won’t go rancid and can be heated to high temperatures without being altered. Feel free to slather on the grass-fed butter! These foods are also the main sources of the fat-soluble vitamins A, E, D, and K. God packaged these vitamins in food that naturally contain fat so our bodies can absorb them- our Great Creator!
Omega 3 Fats:
Omega 3 fatty acids are critical for good brain health. I even had a special needs therapist/nutritionist recommend supplementing with Omega 3’s to help my struggling learner when he was young. That says a lot. In all her research and experience, she found that most kids with focus and learning issues are severely depleted of these fats. News flash: most all Americans are! Omega 3 fats are anti-inflammatory and have multiple benefits, many of which are tied to brain health. In fact, this article lists seventeen well-researched benefits of Omega 3s!
The highest foods in available Omega 3s are fish: salmon, mackerel, herring and sardines. Those probably aren’t on your kids’ top favorite foods list! Because of that, an easy way to get the benefit of Omega 3’s in a yummy little package are these lemon-flavored cod liver oil softgels. I prefer the liquid because you can get more DHA from a small serving, but my kids have always preferred to chew the softgels due to a less “oily” feel in their mouths. Vegetarian sources of Omega 3 are healthy but have to be converted by the body into DHA. These are seaweed, walnuts, chia, and flax seeds.
Fats That Negatively Affect Focus
Fats that are inflammatory and absolutely can affect a clear mind are PUFAs- polyunsaturated fatty acids. Have you been guilty of consuming vegetable oil because you thought it sounded healthy? Sadly, this is a fabulous marketing tactic that many have fallen for. All oils coming from a seed or grain (corn) are NOT healthy. The original product for sure is- eat sunflower seeds for example, not sunflower seed oil.
This is another reason to avoid packaged foods, as they always contain these inflammatory oils. In addition to inflammatory issues, a new study shows the impact these industrial seed oils also have on hormones. Watch for soybean, cottonseed, corn, canola, and sunflower oils. For your baking or to saute, use avocado or coconut oil, or ghee which is clarified butter. You can also choose real lard or rendered chicken or duck fat. These are very stable and won’t oxidize and turn into free radicals.
Screen Use and Focus Issues
No matter the age, screen use is at epidemic proportions. People do little else for entertainment it seems. What bothers me more than anything, however, is seeing a screen in the hands of a baby or toddler. How will they ever learn to entertain themselves apart from these devices? The blue light being emitted is harming their tiny eyes, and the EMF exposure is hurting their developing brains.
According to Michael Manos, director of the ADHD Center for Evaluation and Treatment at the Cleveland Clinic, Kids aged 5 or younger who experience two or more hours of daily screen time are nearly eight times more likely to be diagnosed with focus-related conditions including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Flashy video games or quick clips on social media make us depend on quick stimulation and immediate reward. That simply doesn’t translate well into real life. Many tasks, chores, and school work require longer attention to detail. But when developing brains are accustomed to those quick hits, attention in daily life suffers. This engaging article from Discover Magazine also details how screen time can actually change our brains.
The best fix for the screen fix is to get your kids out in nature. Let them run wild in the great outdoors and explore God’s creation. Have them paint rocks, or draw in a journal the things they find. We even had stick collections in our house at one point! Nature is the greatest classroom. And nature is also wonderful to draw us in and allow us to actually learn to focus better in our everyday lives.
What tricks have you learned to help your kids focus? I’d love to hear from you.