How to get kids to focus better

Normally when parents are concerned about the focus of their kids, it’s about something the parent is concerned about like school or chores or paying attention to some instructions that have been given. Now is that important to the child, maybe, maybe not. Kids are really good at filtering out what they need to pay attention to and what they can ignore. So I got to tell you about this father that came to see me, single dad, five kids, okay. Single dad, five kids and he is pulling his hair out, he is so frustrated because his kids won’t focus, pay attention to him, listen to the instructions that he’s giving them and his question to me was, why do I have to tell him 12 times before they’ll do something? I asked him an important question right after that. Why do they do it after the 12th time? Kind of a funny question when you think about it but it’s an important one as well.

Are they responding after time 12? If they are, what’s different the 12th time that he’s asking them? Now you can imagine how this goes, right? So maybe dad’s in there fixing dinner and he says to his kids “Hey, you guys. Get those toys picked up and and finish up what you’re doing because we’re going to eat in just a few minutes.” Now put yourself in the kids’ place. Kids sitting there, hearing that, input and it sounds like white noise, you know just kind of a shh or maybe like those old Charlie Brown cartoons, remember all the parents, all the adults sounded like and it didn’t mean anything to the kid. Why? Because of the tone of voice, the way it was delivered, it just kind of blended in and it became white noise.

Time number two, dad says “Hey guys, you need to pick up that stuff and get ready for dinner.” Now do you hear the tone is a little more urgent, right? And now the kid’s thinking, no, not yet, not yet. See, they know what level it needs to get to before they need to respond because what’s dad going to do? Obviously, he’s going to ask again. I can wait. Oh is that frustrating to hear that? But just check in with it. So times three, “You guys, are you listening?” Kids processing, is it time to listen yet? No, not yet. See the kid is really good at focusing on what’s important to him, whatever he’s doing right there, right? Not so good at focusing on what dad wants him to focus on. Why? Because it hasn’t hit that level of importance yet for him. Time number four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve. Finally, time twelve, dad is beat red in the face, dad’s voice is loud now, it’s gone up like a hundred decibels and now as the kid hears this, he registers, oh, time to pay attention, right? Because now is the time that I need to respond, if I don’t, I’m going to get clobbered, right? So here’s the strategy, you guys, how to get your kids to focus more on what you want them to focus on?

Turn your words from garbage into gold so that as soon as that child hears your melodious voice, it triggers something in that little brain to say, hey, this is important, pay attention, focus and they’re already really good at focusing on what’s important to them. Boy, that is so important to understand, isn’t it? So how do we turn our words from garbage into gold? Let me ask you a question, how often do you want to ask them before they respond? I’ve asked this question to a lot of parents, there is a very common number one favorite answer to that question. What? How would that be if you could say something and you only have to say it once and your child immediately orients and attends and pays attention and focuses. That would be really awesome, right? So here’s what we’re going to do, we’re going to learn from time number 12 what it is that makes the difference and it’s the consequence, right? What if you were to follow your words with an appropriate consequence? Hmm then your words become the trigger for that child understanding that a consequence is eminent and it’s not your tone of voice, it’s not that your face is beet red and that you’re yelling and screaming as a parent, it is simply that you say the word and they know now what to expect so in an in a recent video.

I also shared the difference between a slot machine and machine. Let’s just review that really quickly because your consistency as a parent matters. A slot machine, I was presenting at a conference in Las Vegas and you know how all those casinos are everywhere in these hotels and people stand there all day long, feeding money into these machines that give them nothing in return. A slot machine, right? Someone feeds money into a slot machine and it doesn’t respond, what do they do? I mean, it spins and you hear all the noises and the bells and whistles but it doesn’t give you anything, you put more money in. Seriously, you can go watch people doing this all day long.

Why are they putting more money in? Because sometimes, it pays off, sometimes it pays off. Can you see how that might relate to parenting? What about a vending machine? You see someone put money into a vending machine. I watched this on a university campus, I saw this person put the money into the vending machine, nothing happened, they looked at it all offended like, what? I see this person kick the vending machine, they start pounding on it, they tried to shake it, something’s wrong, right? And then you go complain to the management. I tell you what. If you complain to the management in a casino that a slot machine didn’t pay off, they’ll laugh you off of the property, it’s the nature of the machine, see, and it’s the nature of the machine that trains the the user of the machine how to interact with it so what have we trained our kids? Have we trained them that we’re a slot machine? Yes, sometimes you play me long enough, sometimes I’ll pay off and we’re all human, okay.

I mean, there are times when you just cave in and you give your kid what they want even though you know that you’re enabling that behavior, right? Okay, we do that as parents but for general purposes, are you a vending machine or are you a slot machine? Increasing your consistency in how you approach, so you say something or you asked your child to attend or to focus on something, that’s important to you and then you follow it with a consequence consistently. That turns your words from garbage into gold and as they hear your voice, it triggers them, oh, I better pay attention to that because something’s going to happen next that’s going to be really important to me. Do you see how this works? You can turn your words from garbage into gold and that way you can help your kids to use their already installed ability to focus on things that you find to be important too.