Two good games for developing impulse control (one kind of attentional skill) are:
“Simon Says” – ages 4-9 – great game for building an attentional skill researchers call inhibition. Most parents remember Simon Says from when they were young. The person in-charge, the caller, calls out relatively simple commands like “stand up” or “raise your hand”. If the command is preceded by “Simon Says” the child should do it, if not the child should not follow the command. As the caller calls out the commands they can become faster so that the child has to inhibit the response to act more quickly. “Mother-may-I” is an older playground version of Simon Says in reverse, where a child has to ask “Mother may i?” before following the command.
“Clap when I say ____” ages 5 – 12 – is sometimes called a continuous performance test. In this case the caller provides a specific target letter, number or word that a child needs to listen for; for example, the letter “m”. Then the caller reads a list where the target word, letter or number will occur randomly. Every time that target is heard the child should clap, but resist the impulse to clap when similar sounding targets occur. For older children, the target can be two words occurring together like the letter “a” only when it is preceded by the letter “c”, for example. In the more difficult case, the child will have to resist the impulse to clap at the letter “a” when it occurs by itself in the list.
THese games that improve your child’s ability to focus attention and reduce impulsiveness can be played in the car on long trips or at parties where children compete to keep from being eliminated by making an impulsive mistake.
We tend to think that attentional skills are inherent and unchangeable, but actually Courtney Stevens at University of Oregon has shown that attention can be trained. One kind of attentional skill that seems to be influenced by training is the ability to resist an impulse. Called response inhibition, this attentional skill improves as we mature. Impulsivity is common when anyone has a behavior that is highly conditioned. How often have you started out to run an errand in the car, for example, and found yourself absentmindedly driving a route you might take to work instead of the errand you had in mind.
Brain researchers like Adele Diamond in Vancouver refer to the ability to resist falling back on a habit or a knee-jerk reaction as inhibiting a pre-potent response. Learning to inhibit those responses requires us to stay alert and purposeful and it is a skill all of us must master to reduce impulsivity; so that we stop and think before we act. Impulsivity gradually decreases as we age but is a particular problem for children diagnosed with ADHD. An example of impulsivity in a classroom might be yelling out questions , comments or answers in a instead of raising one’s hand, or popping up from a desk at inappropriate times, or even looking a someone else’s paper during a test. Impulsivity on the playground might include chasing a ball into the street without checking for cars or hitting someone who accidently bumps into you. Impulsivity can get a child in trouble or annoy classmates but it is also a sign of maturity to be able to control impulses. Teaching inhibition through games when your child is young helps your child master self-control and build confidence in the ability to “think before acting.”
To build good attentional skills start with games that require focus and concentration --- PLAY ATTENTION!.