Sit Still, Pay Attention and Look at Me: Understanding the Developing Attention Skills of Children – Dr. Becky Bailey

Educators increansingly report children with limited abilities to attend, self-regulate, tolerate frustration, and delay gratification. Often both adults and children struggle with skill of conscious, mindful attention. We frequently resort to demanding a child’s attention (sit still and look at me!) or fall into the belief that if we get children to sit still and pay attention in circle time for 10 minutes when they are 2 years old, they will be prepared for a 20-minute circle at age 4. Attention is a complex skill that does not develop through stamina training. This session covered how attention develops in our social brain.


Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to change its structure, circuits, chemical composition and function in response to changing environments. Where we place our attention literally alters the structures of our brains.

  • Average focused attention span in 2000 = eight seconds.
  • Average focused attention span in 2013 = four seconds.
  • Attention = Attend, distract, refocus

Attention is a whole brain/body/mind activity; it is not stamina training.


Noticing and downloading calm or excitement.

Assertive adult – Focus o what you want and use a tone of no doubt.

Rhythm and routines in pictures – Music and movement with pictures/visuals books showing what to do and what to expect.

Composed adult – Model and teach children how to breathe and relax.

Safety job description, language, intention and sensory diet.



Joint attention: The ability to share a commmon focus on something (people, objects, concept, event, etc.) with someone else. It involves the ability to gain, maintain and shift attention.

  1. Orienting and attending to a social partner
  2. Shifting eye gaze between people and an object
  3. Sharing emotional states with another person
  4. Following the gaze and point of another person
  5. Being able to draw another person’s attention to objects or events to share



Describe emotional signals (“Your face is going like this”)

Name the feeling communicated. (“You seem _______ .”)

Acknowledge the child’s desire with positive intent. (“You wanted _______ .”) or “You were hoping ________ .”)



Regulating and developing the executive system for optimal attention requires:

  • Conscious awareness of triggers
  • Intentional goal setting and commitments
  • Maximizing play’s ability to override biology: Play extends attention span
  • Utilizing social play, dramatic play, all play: Play is not just to give the brain a break, it develops attention
  • Noticing instead of judging: Talk out loud
  • Balancing novelty and routine
  • Keeping realistic expectations: Attention span is equal to age: Two-year-old = two minutes, 20-year-old/adult = 20 minutes
  • Using interest and relevancy



Exercise, drink more fluids, get rid of clutter and do one thing at time (multi – tasking is the enemy of attention). Focus on what you want and what is most important to you.


Center time ideas you’ll L.O.V.E-Jenny Spencer/Lindy McDaniel

Conscious Discipline is a comprehensive evidence-based self-regulation program that integrates social-emotional learning and discipline.

conscious discipline pyramid

Transformative, brain-based and practical

Seven Skills of Discipline: Provides adults with the seven discipline skills needed to effectively transform any problem into a life lesson.

Conscious Skill
(emerges from powers)
Life / Communication Skills Value
Composure Anger management,
gratification delay
Encouragement Pro-social skills (kindness, caring, helpfulness) Interdependence, optimism, gratitude
Assertiveness Bully prevention,
healthy boundaries
Respect for self
and others
Choices Impulse control,
goal achievement
Empathy Emotional regulation, perspective taking Honoring diversity, honesty
Positive Intent Cooperation,
Compassion, generosity
Consequences Learn from your mistakes Responsibility

Seven Powers for Conscious Adults: Perceptual shift that empowers us to see discipline encounters as an opportunity to teach new skills.

  1. Power of Perception: No one can make you angry without your permission.

Goal: Take responsibility for our own upset and, in turn, teach children to be responsible for their own behavior.

 2. Power of Unity: We are all in this together.

Goal: To perceive compassionately, and offer compassion to others and to ourselves.

3. Power of Attention: What we focus on, we get more of. When we are upset, we are always focused on what we don’t want.

Goal: To create images of expected behavior in a child’s brain.

4. Power of Free Will: The only person you can make change is yourself.

Goal: Learning to connect and guide instead of force and coerce.

5. Power of Acceptance: The moment is as it is.

Goal: To learn to respond to what life offers instead of attempting to make the world go our way.

6.Power of Love: See the best in others.

Goal: Seeing the best in others keeps us in the higher centers of our brain so we can consciously respond instead of unconsciously react to life events.

7. Power of Intention: Mistakes are opportunities to learn.

Goal: To teach a new skill rather than punishing others for lacking skills we think they should possess by now.

Brain State Model: Addresses internal state first, using a neurodevelopmental brain model, so adults and children may learn to self – regulate effectively.

brain model


L ⇒ Language Facilitation

O⇒ Organizing Play

V⇒ Visual Supports

E⇒ Engaging all learners


  • Model your expectation
  • Add pictures
  • Practice a lot

“Don’t get so upset!” Help your children manage their feelings by understanding your own – Tamar Jacobson

– The brain is very sensitive to early experiences: In fact, 90% of the brain is developed at age 4. Experiences in the environment impact the way the brain wires itself.

– We can make emotional memory better than any other animal.

-My personal background and experiences influence the way I see and listen to people.

– What we do today echoes to the generations ahead. Ideologies and practices such as racism and discrimination against women have been taught to children and they repeat those tendencies as they grow:



Discipline➡ to teach (guidance, compassion, learn from example)

(Disciple: Discípulo)

Discipline is the process of teaching which types of behavior and attitudes are acceptable and which don’t.


Effective discipline uses different approaches like positive reinforcement, modeling, counselling, and a loving and supportive family/school environment. In the other hand, punishments based on violence (emotional and/or physical abuse) may seem as an effective and quick tool to some extent, but it doesn’t mean that they are effective.


– DISCIPLINE is helping a child solve a problem.

PUNISHMENT is making a child suffer for having a problem. In this case, we filter our discipline strategies through emotional memories of punishment.

– It is important to make connections about how I feel and what I do:

  • “It’s never okay to hit a child”
  • “You don’t have to hurt me to teach me”

– We have to make children feel that our purpose is to make them  feel safe: “I want everyone to be safe here” (Concious Discipline – Dr Becky Bailey)

-Playing should be supervised and observed. It’s a great instance to teach and learn.

-As teacher it is important to acknowledge my own emotional trauma by:

  • Naming my feelings.
  • Changing my emotional script.
  •  Understant how did I get attention.
  • Researching the self.
  • If you dont feel able to handle a child it is good to have some time out.

haim ginot


– Remember: The way you were disciplined will affect how you react to children- either you will want to do it differently or it worked for you.

– Give attention to the children.

– The teacher must be there for his/her students.

– Think: How would you like to be treated?

– Tell children what they can do- be explicit- even when you praise them- make consequences relevant.

“What works for me doesn’t always work for you”

– Follow through immediately, firmly, clearly make consequences relevant to what happened.

– Do it over and over again. Children learn through repetition.

Get in touch with your personal bottom line: What are your fears, values, beliefs? Choose your battles: What is important to you? Where does that come from?

– Make curriculum relevant, interesting and challenging


tamar jacobson

Tamar Jacobson’s blog: