“Hello? Is anyone listening to me?”
Why it is so difficult to get your child’s attention
by Neil Amas, Panyaden International School Director
“Do I have to repeat myself three times?’’ Ever said that to your children? They are engrossed in a book, or watching the TV and despite your attempts to get their attention – including turning up the volume of your voice, waving, dancing, holding up a bar of chocolate – all you get is…blank!
But experts in neuroscience are telling us that our children may not be deliberately ignoring us, in fact they are experiencing ‘inattentional blindness’. Knowing this may not only help parents to be more patient with their glazed-over little ones, but also helps raise our awareness of important safety issues.
Inattentional blindness is the difference between hearing and listening, or seeing something and actually registering its presence. An article featured on the BBC draws on research by Professor Nilli Lavie of University College London which demonstrates that children have a limited ability for awareness outside of the focus of attention.
“Parents and carers should know that even focusing on something simple will make children less aware of their surroundings, compared to adults. For example, a child trying to zip up their coat while crossing the road may not be able to notice oncoming traffic, whereas a developed adult mind would have no problem with this. The capacity for awareness outside the focus of attention develops with age, so younger children are at higher risk of inattentional blindness.”
The reason for this is that the primary visual cortex, which is the part of the brain responsible for perceiving things, is less developed in children. They simply have less peripheral awareness than adults.
However, we adults do also tend to miss the ‘blindingly obvious’. The now infamous ‘selective attention test’ has shown that adults focusing intently on one thing can totally miss another object that very obviously comes into view. (Click on the link and try it for yourself!) Even experts in observation can miss what’s in front of their very eyes. One study found that 80% of radiologists from the Harvard Medical School did not spot the image of a gorilla that had been photoshopped on some of the 239 chest scans they had been asked to scrutinize for signs of lung cancer.
We are all prone to inattentional blindness it seems, but it is worth remembering that while parents may be more aware of what is going on around them, when we get zero response from our spellbound child, it does not necessarily mean they are ignoring us. Patient understanding and a gentle touch on the shoulder is likely to get us a lot further than yelling across the room while also lowering the frustration levels for everyone!