Cognitive Control, Focus for the Young Child

Dec 16, 2013

Credit Tiffany Assman, Creative Commons

Daniel Goleman is a psychologist and author who may be best known for his writings on emotional intelligence, an idea that challenges the old concept of IQ as the most important measure of one’s abilities. He joined Where We Live to talk about his new book FOCUS: The Hidden Driver of Excellence.

While it's clear that it's time for most of us to put down the smartphone and pick up a yoga mat, Goleman stressed the importance of developing focus during a child's development.  It's all about cognitive control, or as he defines it, "the ability to stay with one point of focus and to ignore that distraction." Whether the distraction is the urge to pick up your phone, or to play a video game instead of homework, we all experience it.  

Goleman said he visited a second grade class (seven-year-olds) who engaged in an exercise called "breathing buddies." "They get their favorite stuffed animal, find a place to lie down on the floor, put it on their tummy," he said. "They watch it go up when they breathe in, down when they breathe out…When their mind wanders, they bring it back." Similar to what happens in any meditation scenario: the mind wanders, we bring it back to focus. The mind wanders, we bring it back to focus. Until, someday, we hope to reach Zen. But most likely repeat, repeat, repeat. 

Credit danielgoleman.info

Goleman said that every time we do this - every time we notice our mind wandering off and bring it back to focus - we're actually "strengthening the connectivity for the circuitry of paying attention." Circuitry, he said, that is growing from the moment of our birth. 

This is especially important for kids, Goleman said, who need to strengthen their circuits for inhibition over impulse.


Before you run out to get your child their own yoga mat, there's more.  On Monday, NPR cited a British study that found inconsistent bedtimes for kids leads to bad behavior. 

Kids who didn't go to bed on a regular schedule had more behavior problems at home and at school. When those children were put to bed at the same time each night, their behavior improved.

So... yoga, then bed at 7:30PM sharp.