Supporting Attention and Focus in Children

Supporting Attention and Focus in Children

For those of us with kids at home, it seems that just as summer break kicks off, we find ourselves preparing for the start of the next school year. We create checklists of school supplies, go shopping for the newest styles and juggle various calendars of events and extracurriculars.

When our children have struggled with attention and focus at school, summer time is also an excellent opportunity to explore new ways to manage this aspect of their wellbeing. As it always feels like there is more to do than time to do it, I’ve focused this blog on two critical areas: basic needs and mental health.

Are Basic Needs Being Met?

According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, before we can expect our children to learn, their basic needs, like food and safety, must be met. A child who is not sleeping enough or experiencing unstable housing, for example, may appear inattentive because of those unmet basic needs. Taking the time to reflect on basic needs is important, especially if attention problems seem to have “popped up” out of nowhere. Let’s dive in with some practical strategies for supporting the basic needs of nutrition and sleep:

Food/Nutrition. While having consistent access to enough food is an obvious first priority, the next is incorporating nutrient-dense foods before school and throughout the day. Well-rounded meals (those containing fiber, protein, gentle carbohydrates and healthy fats) give a child’s brain and body the energy to learn. Here are some ways to maximize mealtime:

  • Increase protein intake by offering mixed nuts, high-protein bars or shake or a hardboiled egg alongside any meal.
  • Skip the store-bought frozen pancakes. Make & freeze ahead your own whole-grain or high-protein version. I freeze mine on cookie sheets for a few hours and then stack and store in an airtight container.
  • Use nut butter, hummus or smashed avocado on toast rather than plain butter.
  • Make overnight oats or stone-cut oatmeal rather than the 90-second microwave version.
  • Swap popular “fat-free” and high sugar yogurts for Greek-style (which has higher protein) or full-fat varieties. Use honey, agave syrup or fruit to sweeten.

Still seeing energy and focus drop between meals? Then, it may be time to talk to your child’s healthcare provider about testing to assess their nutritional needs. Did you know that iron is the single most common nutrient deficiency of childhood? Symptoms of low iron include fatigue and lack of stamina, both of which could contribute to inattention.

Other common nutrient deficiencies amongst school-aged children are vitamin D, calcium, fiber, folate, vitamin E, magnesium and potassium. From a “treat the cause” philosophy of health, correcting underlying deficiencies before resorting to more medicalized means of increasing focus just makes sense!

Young girl sleeping

Sleep: As adults, we recognize the feeling of being overtired and how this affects our mood, performance and motivation. These are hard for a child’s brain to understand, though. They need us to notice their signs and patterns of being overly tired, and help them establish a more restful routine. Here you will find the National Sleep Foundation’s recommended sleep times by age. If the kids’ current routine doesn’t quite hit the mark, shift bedtime 10-15 minutes earlier each week until a better total sleep time is reached.

Consistency is key! Build a bedtime regimen that the kids come to expect and know how to successfully navigate. Before brushing teeth, offer Valerian Glycerite to calm those busy bodies and ease the sleep schedule transition. They will soon look forward to this alcohol-free, light and sweet-tasting herbal preparation.

Does Mental Health Need to be Addressed?

Anxiety. According to the CDC, nearly 6 million U.S. children aged 3-17 have a diagnosis of anxiety. Anxiety can present in many different ways, including lack of focus (or hyperfocus) and difficulties with attention. A child with social anxiety may seem “spaced out” or agitated during a school-wide assembly, for example. Get ahead of anxiety-inducing situations by adding lemony-sweet Kalmerite to your child’s mental health toolbelt. Many children that take this at my suggestion now ask their parents for it. They have learned to better recognize how their anxiety presents and how taking this blend keeps them feeling cool and collected.

Have you noticed complaints of tummy aches in the morning on school days, but not over summer break? This could be an anxious response, as well. The feeling of having “butterflies in your stomach” is a perfect example of that brain-gut connection. To alleviate those morning complaints, work on simplifying the morning routine, encouraging age-appropriate mindfulness strategies and adding Tummy Glycerite. This formula is one of my absolute favorites because of how well it calms and soothes a nervous tummy, making for a more relaxed morning routine for the whole household.

Irritability/Frustration. Just like adults, kids are going to have “bad days”. Frustration and angst are a part of life. However, increasing irritability, frustration and angry outbursts should be examined quickly and closely. Schools have professionals, resources and processes to evaluate these changes in our kids (if their school life is being affected), use them!

Outside of school assessments, it is also useful to check in on many of the topics discussed previously in this writing. Other conditions like insulin resistance (which makes it difficult to stabilize one’s blood sugar) and gluten-sensitivity should also be explored, as both of these can present with angry outbursts and “short-fused” tempers.

On those inevitable days when everything feels heavy, Melissa/Lemon Balm Glycerite is often my go-to herbal tool to lighten the mental load. Nature therapy (getting outside!) and warm bedtime baths with soothing lavender and Epsom salt can bring about a renewed sense of peace, too.

With these suggestions, strategies, and botanical supports, back-to-school doesn’t have to mean back-to-stress. Get started today!

Please take the necessary precautions and speak with a professional knowledgeable in herbal and nutritional formulations before adding supplementation to your child’s health and wellness regimen, especially if your child is taking prescribed medications.

This blog was written by Dr. Stephanie Nishek, please click here to learn more about the author. 

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