Parents often see their children watching screens and ask whether this is an activity that supports concentration. We get why this is such a natural question!
When your little one is watching a screen, they usually can hold still for a long period of time, they keep their eyes fixed on the entertainment, and they are not easily distracted. In many ways, these are observable qualities of concentration.
When your child is focusing on a screen, they are being entertained. They are being occupied from an outside source that does not require any engagement on their part.
A baby or child who is looking at a screen is passively consuming content. Similarly, your little one rarely will exhibit the same positive development characteristics after spending time on the screen.
Rather than joyful, peaceful, confident, and capable of self-regulation, you may observe that they are tired, cranky, and have trouble controlling themselves. This is another indicator that screens create a different experience from true concentration.
True concentration is distinct because it requires your child to be a willing participant in the activity.
Your little one must act, engage, move, and think in order for concentration to arise.
When a child focuses in this way, their bodies and mind operate in harmony – both are active and alert. A concentrating child may hold still while they are thinking, but they probably will be moving some part of their body. If they are a tiny baby, they may only be moving their eyes as they focus on a mobile.
Older babies and toddlers will move their bodies and their hands as the activity requires. Concentration means that their whole body and mind will be focused and working together towards the purpose of one task.
It requires the right match of skill level and challenge, which means that your little one must be an active participant in the activity, and not simply a passive recipient.
Another way to consider the idea of concentration is to ask yourself, “Who is working harder, my child or their toy?”
Screens, as well as toys requiring batteries, are working hard! This is a sign that your little one is not working as hard as whatever it is that they are paying attention to. Toys that require imagination, creativity, and movement of hand and body all require that your child does work. It is through this active work that your little one will have the experience of concentrating, thus, developing themselves.
You can consider whether they are consuming or acting, you can watch what parts of their bodies and minds they are using for their activities, and you can observe how they behave afterward.
By finding opportunities for your baby or toddler to concentrate, you are supporting them in their development in the most positive way possible!