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ST Education Forum: What is the normal attention span of a primary school boy?

Published on May 4, 2014 12:17 PM

Breaking up big tasks into small chunks, spending quality time with your children with no instructions or teaching, and allowing boys who have short attention spans to take breaks - these were some practical tips experts gave to parents at the inaugural Straits Times Education Forum on Sunday.

Held at the Singapore Management University, more than 300 people learnt about saving for their children's education and how to deal with active boys among other things.

Professor Andrew Martin, who specialises in educational psychology at the University of New South Wales in Australia, said that it was inevitable that students would sometimes face problems at school but their parents can help by discussing their issues with them. "Talk about the (other) challenges they faced in the past and ask them to think about how they had overcome them," he suggested. "This will help them to see that they have the persistence to solve their problems."

He added that parents should be specific in their praise. For example, they should praise them for doing their homework without being instructed to rather than just saying "good boy or girl".

They should also plan and structure their children's activities such as time for homework, he added, and spend at least one hour of quality time each week with the kids, one-on-one, to build the relationship. "Do not instruct, teach or suggest alternatives during this time," he said. "Just express positive thoughts and feelings and follow their lead."

During the question-and-answer session, principal at all-boys primary school Montfort Junior School, Ms Genevieve Chye said that parents of boys should take advantage of the kids' natural competitiveness. The schools uses competition positively by, for example, dividing the students into groups and awarding them points for different tasks.

She also noted that the attention span of a boy in primary school is all of seven minutes. "If you're wondering why your boy starts fidgeting after 10 minutes and needs to walk around, he doesn't have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. He just needs to move around," she said.

For parents concerned that their children are spending too much time with electronic gadgets such as their phones or computers, Ms Chye had some simple advice: "The very quick answer is to take it away."

"You really have to have limits and draw boundaries. It's not about being authoritarian, it's about being authoritative. There is also the issue being a role model. How many of us as adults are always on our phones?" she said.

Mr David Hoe, a former Normal Technical student who had overcome substantial odds to attain his current undergraduate place at the National University of Singapore, said it was a group of friends who had set him on the right path. "I reckon that between 12 to 15 years old kids go wild and want to disassociate from their parents."

"At that age, for me, friends played a very big influence on my life. Parents want to know who their child is hanging out with, and as a mentor now myself that's what I encourage," he said.

Dr Martin said that parents should not be too hard on themselves, and should also set aside time for themselves. "Some 86 per cent of children report that their parents' stress affects them negatively. So you should exercise, spend time on your hobbies and with your partner and connect with friends," he said.

The Straits Times' inaugural Education Forum:
Presenting sponsor: POSB
Venue sponsor: Singapore Management University

If you have questions of your own, you can ask our Senior Education Correspondent Sandra Davie using the hashtag #STasksandra here and on Twitter.