Attention & Ignoring

Why is paying attention important?

How does the GOALS Program teach children to pay attention?

How does the GOALS Program teach children to ignore distractions?

Watch videos to see how the GOALS Program teaches paying attention and ignoring distractions.

How can I help my child develop skills like paying attention and ignoring distractions?

What are some books I can read to my child about paying attention and ignoring distractions?

Additional web resources for parents


Why is paying attention important?
Learning to pay attention is an important skill to get your child ready for later schooling. Paying attention is important to help your child stay safe, follow directions from you and other adults and get along with others. Preschool children are just learning different ways to pay attention, such as focusing on something for a period of time, shifting focus from one thing to another, following directions right away and keeping different rules in mind as they work. You can expect your preschool child to have a short attention span.  Remember that children will pay attention more to things that interest them, and children often have shorter attention spans when they are tired, hungry or sick.

How does the GOALS Program teach children to pay attention?
To pay attention, the GOALS Program teaches children that they need to look at the person who is talking, listen and be quiet. In the classroom, teachers use the simple phrase, “Look at me,” when they need the attention of individual or groups of children. Children practice looking at the teacher immediately when they hear this phrase.

Paying attention also helps your child be a good friend. To get along with others, it’s important to focus on what our friends say, such as suggestions for what friends would like to play. And, looking at someone’s face when he or she talks lets children read how the other person really feels about what he or she is saying.

How does the GOALS Program teach children to ignore distractions?
Distractions take your attention away from what you should pay attention to (e.g., a child who is talking to another child when she should be listening to the teacher). The GOALS Program teaches children to ignore distractions by not paying attention to them. By ignoring distractions, children can stay focused on classroom activities.

Check out the videos below to see how the GOALS Program teaches children to pay attention and ignore distractions.

It’s hard to hear, but this video shows a child telling a story about ignoring distractions and staying focused. It shows an example of a child using language from the GOALS program to express ideas. As you can see, sometimes kids will have trouble doing this skill. You might need to practice until your child gets it.
As you can see, this might be one of the more challenging exercises you can do with your child. You might need to remind your child several times to ignore distractions. This video shows children shifting attention, an important school readiness skill. By learning how to shift attention, your child can keep up when directions or rules change.

How can I help my child develop skills like paying attention and ignoring distractions?

  • Use “Look at Me” at home. When you need your child to pay attention, say “Look at me.” If your child does not immediately look at you, say, “Oops. I know you can look at me faster than that. Let’s do that again.” Repeat, “Look at me” until the child looks up immediately. This is a good thing to practice before you give your child directions such as telling him/her it’s time to clean up or telling him/her what needs to be done before going to bed.
  • Praise your child for paying attention and following directions. When you ask your child to clean up, say things like, “You picked up your toys as soon as I asked you. That shows me that you paid attention so that you could follow directions. Great work!” When you are giving your child directions, praise your child for paying attention: “I can tell that you are paying attention to me because you are looking at me, you are listening and you are quiet. Good job!”
  • Play games that help your child learn to shift attention, like Hot Potato.Play games that teach your child to change focus from one thing to another, like Hot Potato. To play Hot Potato, you will need a ball/bean bag, music and someone to control the music. Sit across from your child and start the music. Pass the hot potato (ball/bean bag) as quickly as possible from you to your child. When the music stops, your child should quickly look at you and then do an action, like clapping hands or stomping feet.
    • To explain the game to your child say, “We are going to play Hot Potato. We are going to do different things when the music stops, so make sure you focus on me so that you won’t miss directions. Let’s pass the ball back and forth. When the music stops, quickly look at me and clap your hands.” Then, start the music.
    • When the music stops, praise your child for looking at you right away and remembering the directions: “You did such a great job remembering to look at me right away and clapping your hands! That shows me that you are paying attention- excellent work!”
    • When the music stops, if your child does not look at you right away and follow directions say, “Oops. I know that you can remember to look at me right away and clap your hands. Let’s try it again.” Repeat the game until your child looks at you right away and remembers to follow directions.
  • Play games that will help build your child’s memory. Play games that involve telling a story where each person adds to the story. For example, you can start with, “I went to the grocery store and bought some chicken.” Then your child repeats the list and adds another item: “I went to the grocery store and bought some chicken and cookies.” Then, you continue the list using chicken, cookies and another item.
  • Praise your child for ignoring distractions and staying focused on her own activities. For example, “When I was talking on the phone, that could have been distracting to you. You did such a great job ignoring that distraction and staying focused on your game!”

What are some books I can read to my child about paying attention and ignoring distractions?

  • It’s Hard to be Five: Learning How to Work my Control Panel by Jamie Lee Curtis
  • The Very Busy Spider by Eric Carle

 Additional web resources for parents:

  1. Online memory games:  Has several games that you can play with your child to help develop memory skills. http://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/chmemory.html
  2. Parent League: Gives background on attention problems and some practical tips to help your child pay attention better. http://www.parentsleague.org/publications/selected_articles/helping_children_learn_to_pay_attention/index.aspx
  3. Huntington Learning Centers: Gives suggestions to help your child pay attention. http://huntingtonlearning.com/PDFs/Huntington-Elem-Attention.pdf