I am beginning to wonder if it isn't the hormones in our meat, the pesticides on our vegetables the violence on our televisions and the unending amounts of social media our kids are exposed to that is causing a rise in ADHD. Maybe it's not the outside world killing our kids' attention spans, but it's the world inside our homes. Maybe it's us.
On Christmas Day my 15 month old daughter and I had a tremendous disagreement on how one uses markers. A family member had given her a set of age-appropriate markers and I sat down with her, excited to teach her this new skill. She loves to color with crayons and pens so I was pretty sure I was about to blow her mind when I demonstrated what markers could do.
As I sat down to work with her I quickly realized that she had no intention of using markers correctly. She wanted to take them in and out of the box, line them up, roll them, and then scribble on the paper with the tops on. Whenever I took the tops off the markers for her she'd cry, say "Uh-oh" and then turn the marker over and use the bottom of the marker to rub on the paper. You know, NOT making any marks at all. This also meant that the now opened tip of the marker was in her hand and pointing to her clothes. Awesome.
No matter how many times I showed her what markers could do she continued to "color" with the marker backwards, or just build, stack, and roll the markers. I wish I could say I followed her lead. I didn't. I wouldn't give up trying to get her to make marks on the paper with the markers. There were tears. And some huffing. In the end we both needed to cool down and we sat in front of the Christmas tree, markers far from our view, practicing taking deep breaths.
Why couldn't I just let it go? The marker box said 18+ month, so already I should have known that using them would involve higher skills than she had. And she was happy using the markers without actually coloring. Why did I have to push it?
If I'm honest with myself it's because I was bored. As an adult in this current world I've become accustomed to being entertained. And my daughter wasn't entertaining. She was doing the same thing over and over again.
I notice this frequently when I play with her. I am constantly fighting the urge to redirect her to play another game. She is perfectly happy taking her bib and wiping her baby doll's mouth- over and over and over and over again. But I can't let it go. "Can you feed your baby?" I hear myself asking. "Can you make your baby go night night?" And when she doesn't respond to that I find myself looking at her other toys. "Let's play with a puzzle. Want to color? Here's a ball?"
I'm teaching her to focus on things very quickly, for brief amounts of time. If I'm not very alert and aware of not interrupting her play with my own attention span I am going to create a monster who doesn't know how to engage in toys without direction, and will automatically get bored with an activity after 3 minutes.
And it's not her- it's not my daughter's attention span- it's mine.
I feel like in general I am a fairly patient person, a fairly educated person when it comes to child development, and am fairly in-tune with my daughter's needs. So if I find myself fighting the urge to constantly change my daughter's play schemes in order to entertain myself, I know other parents must be doing the same thing. I'm sure I'm not the only parent who quickly gets bored during my quality play time and finds myself distracting my daughter.
Perhaps if we learn to let our children learn to play we'll see an improvement in our children's attention spans.