Design a site like this with
Get started

Activities to Help Children Improve their Focus and Self-Control

According to Ellen Galinsky in Mind in the Making, children need focus and self-control to help them achieve their goals. Unfortunately, focus and self-control isn’t something they naturally develop as they grow up, it is something they need to practice in order to get good at it.  The following are some activities recommended by Galinsky in Mind in the Making that you can do with your children to help them improve their focus and self-control.

For babies and toddlers:

  • Observe your baby to see what helps him to calm down and follow his cues.
  • Use the method that works best for your baby. A commonly recommended technique is to hold your baby until he cools down – so when your baby or toddler loses it, the best thing to do is be present, not walk away.
  • Acknowledge your baby’s successes.

Pre-schoolers and older children:

  • Encourage your child’s interests – it might be a lemonade stand (these are easy to do in this day and age of technology) or a desire to learn martial arts. Helping your child cultivate an interest in something he cares strongly about will help him develop focus.
  • Play focus games like “I Spy”, guessing games, jigsaw puzzles, musical chairs, etc. These games require your child to pay attention.
  • Read stories to your child because listening requires focus. You can also play listening games, e.g. guess which song this is.
  • Play computer games that promote focus.
  • Watch TV programs that encourage children to pay attention. Select age-appropriate, meaningful and educational programs (children over two can learn a lot from such programs). Use the subjects covered as a launching platform for further discussion with your child.
  • Play sorting games with changing rules. E.g. Sort random objects by colour, shape, and/or size.
  • Play pretend and make up stories.
  • Play game with rules, e.g. “Simon says”.
  • Do Stroop-like exercises (see below)

Stroop Test:

When presented with a chart like the one shown below, we have a tendency to read the words. The aim of the task is to say the colour of the ink that the word is printed in rather than reading the word. In the example below, the first line would be: green, purple, yellow, red.

Focus - Stroop Test
Image Source: Pinterest

The stroop test is a good one for adults as well. It is one of the exercises included in Ryuta Kawashima’s “Train Your Brain: 60 Days to a Better Brain“. There is a Stroop test app for iPhone/iPad. You can also do the stroop test online at cognitive tests.

Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of (a website on parenting, education, child development) and (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

9 thoughts on “Activities to Help Children Improve their Focus and Self-Control

  1. Hi Shen Li
    I re-visited your website today with this question in mind – what a synchronicity – your article had the very same question that was bothering me….
    The further I research the topic of Early Childhood Education, it seems the more uncertain I am about which direction to head toward…

    Shichida method, brillkids, teach your baby to read, Glenn Doman.
    Right brain kids —-
    I have the same vision as you – but I am more confused


    1. Hi Raymond,

      I have done all these programs with my children. Currently, we are doing Heguru (which is similar to Shichida), BrillKids (Math, English and Chinese), and TweedleWink. I have also done Glenn Doman and Your Baby Can Read in the past. For me, I believe exposure is the key. I fully believe in Right Brain development, but I continue BrillKids because I want a stronger focus on Math and Reading. In some way BrillKids reinforces right brain development because LM and LR are flash cards as well. I just cut back on the repetition.

      There are many camps in the early childhood development discussion. Because there is no clear cut “right” answer, I have taken on what I believe to be a good compromise between all the philosophies that resonate with me.

      At the end of the day, I think we just need to do what we feel comfortable with. If our children can feel our love and if we can present the material in a manner that is interesting and engaging for them, they will learn.


  2. Perhaps Ellen Galinsky should extend his study and/or research to also incorporate both GD ‘s or Prof. Makoto ‘s philosophies in ideas of how to inculcate long focus span in children from birth to older children, or even adult.


    1. Yes, this is the gap between books like Mind in the Making, Brain Rules for Baby and Glenn Doman, Shichida. Unfortunately, no one has closed that gap with answers, so we must make the most of what we know and piece together the pieces on our own – for better or worse.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: