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Pay Attention!

Natural Ways to Boost Kids' Concentration

The ability to concentrate despite distractions, boredom or being tired is a skill that requires a lot of discipline.  Many parents struggle with their children’s lack of concentration at home and in school. A small percentage of children have an attention disorder but for the majority, the lack of concentration can simply be from what they eat, their sleep pattern and lifestyle.

Good Nutrition: This is a huge factor to improve your child's ability to perform in class. Various foods are believed to increase hyperactivity such as sugar, artificial colours and sweeteners, chemical additives, foods that contain salicylates, etc.  However, more rigorous research is needed to discover if limiting certain foods or food additives will help reduce hyperactivity in children.  A balanced diet that incorporates fruits and vegetables, complex carbohydrates (whole grains, beans) and healthy fats such as omega-3, olive oil, avocado and flax seed will nutritionally sustain them over a longer period.  Limit your child's love for sweets to special occasions and try making modified homemade treats that are low in sugar.  Read labels for sneaky sugars and remember that anything that ends in “ose” is a form of sugar (ie. Lactose, glucose).  Many foods considered 'healthy' have a surprising amount of sugar: yogurt, cereal, juice, pasta sauce, oatmeal, granola bars, etc.  High levels of sugar intake is concerning due to its association with poor dietary quality, obesity and risk of noncommunicable diseases (diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, etc).  In 2015 the World Health Organization proposed new draft guidelines that recommend only 5% of the total daily calories in our diet come from sugar.

Good Sleep: Typically school-aged children need between 9-12 hours of sleep every night.  Proper sleep is critical for learning and memory.  Conversely, lack of sleep negatively impacts our health, safety, and longevity.  Having a hard time falling asleep and waking up during the night are common among children which, in the long run, will impact their concentration in school.  However there are a few tricks you can try:

i) Maintain a regular and consistent sleep schedule

ii) Have a relaxing bedtime routine such as reading a book, taking a bath, or listening to gentle music

iii) Turn off the computer and television at least 2 hours before bedtime

iv) Keep the bedroom cool

v) Instead of dismissing bedtime fears, address them

Physical Activity

Physical fitness is critical for your health but regular exercise also helps release brain chemicals that are key for memory, concentration, and mental sharpness.  It is recommended that children get at least sixty minutes of moderate to intense exercise every single day.  There are so many fun activities to choose from:  bike riding, swimming, soccer, judo, dancing, walking, playing tag, skipping, etc.  Physical activity will help burn off steam, but it can also help with concentration, impulsiveness and social skills.

Avoid overscheduling

Parents want the best for their kids and try to give them things they did not have. Often kids are whisked from activity to activity with virtually no free time for playing, exploring, and learning on their own. Overscheduling can be physically and emotionally exhausting for both parents and children. Try to limit scheduled activities to two during the school week and one sport per season.

Spend quality time with your child

Instead of turning to electronic entertainment (TV, computer, video games or smart phones), have your child focus on other activities that will help increase their concentration such as reading, board games, puzzles, memory games, music, helping to do chores, and just imaginative play.  Over time your child will experience longer and more effective periods of concentration.

There are some supplements that can also help your child focus but these should be used with care under medical supervision.

Omega-3: Omega 3 fatty acids can help with a child’s memory, behaviour and focus. Unfortunately, your body cannot synthesize omega-3 itself, so it must be incorporated into your diet (olive oil, flax oil and fatty fish).  Ensure your child consumes plenty of these foods.  If you cannot get your child to eat fish on a regular basis, omega-3 supplements are readily available in oil or capsule form; aim for 1000-2000 mg per day.

Bacopa: Bacopa monnieri is also known as Brahmi in Indian traditional medicine.  It is known to boost neuronal transmission and increase the levels of certain neurotransmitters in the brain.  Bacopa’s ability to modulate or enhance cognitive function has also been studied in children.  A double-blind, randomized, placebo controlled trial of 36 children with diagnosed attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder was conducted with Bacopa (50mg twice daily for 12 weeks, standardized to contain 20-percent bacosides) over a 16-week period and showed marked improvement in cognitive function.

French Maritime Pine Bark (Pycnogenol®):Pycnogenol, extracted from the bark of the French maritime pine tree,  offers a multitude of health benefits that appear to control blood glucose  and blood flow (with the common mechanism being related to Nitric Oxide increase).  Also possessing antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, Pyconogenol has been used as an alternative treatment for ADHD with a noted improvement in attention, possibly secondary to improvements in general cognition, during prolonged academic testing.

Aswagandha: Withania somnifera, commonly known as ashwagandha, is an herb used in Ayurveda medicine. Ashwagandha is a powerful adaptogen that can modulate your response to stress or a changing environment.  It is able to reduce anxiety and depression without causing drowsiness and can also improve learning and memory.

Essential Oil Diffuser Necklace or bracelet: Diffuser necklaces for kids are gaining in popularity and are very beneficial. Just apply 1-3 drops of your favourite essential oil on a pad and insert it into the necklace. Different oils can be used for specific purposes.  Lavender is calming and soothing, cedarwood is calming, citrus oil is uplifting, peppermint oil and eucalyptus oil aid congestion. They can be worn for a few hours or all day -  just make sure that the scent is not overpowering.

September is the beginning of the school year. May all children find a supportive teacher that will be open to understanding their uniqueness and challenging them to succeed.  Helping your child to concentrate and stay on task will go a long way in helping them towards this success.