When my sixth-grade daughter was much younger, I used to tell her to “look at me” when I was speaking to her. I wanted to make sure she was paying attention, especially if I was explaining something or giving her a task.
Turns out that developing attentiveness is an important factor that can predict how well children will do in school and later in the work place, according to a new study from the University of Montreal published online by the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology.
The study found that children’s attentiveness in kindergarten, including their ability to follow rules and work by themselves or with others, predicted how well they would develop the skills needed to succeed at work. That’s because the classroom is essentially the workplace for children; it’s where they learn to be productive, task-oriented and to get along with others, says the study’s author, Dr. Linda Pagani, a professor and researcher at the university.
“Children who are more likely to work autonomously and harmoniously with fellow classmates, with good self-control and confidence, and who follow directions and rules are more likely to continue such productive behaviors into the adult workplace,” she said in a release.
For the study, elementary school teachers observed attentiveness in more than 1,000 kindergarten kids in Montreal’s poorest neighborhoods. Then teachers observed the same kids as they moved through grades one through six, rating their levels of self-confidence and self-control and how well they followed directions and rules and worked by themselves or with others.
The study found that boys, aggressive kids and those with lower cognitive skills were least likely to be engaged in the classroom over the years.
Tackling attention problems early on, Pagani said, could help kids avoid later problems such as dropping out of school, unemployment and substance abuse. “Our findings make a compelling case for early identification and treatment of attention problems, as early remediation represents the least costly form of intervention,” she said.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Early Years blog.