Paying attention in class is difficult, but it’s even harder for children whose attention span is beyond their control. How do you know whether your child is experiencing normal distractions or if the problem is more severe, like ADHD? Here are some things to consider when helping children stay focused in school — whether they have ADHD or not.
What is ADHD?
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is a diagnosis that describes atypical brain function in children and adults. People with ADHD may have trouble with focus or impulse control. The CDC separates attention disorders into three categories:
- Predominantly inattentive: People in this group are easily distracted and struggle to complete routine or general tasks.
- Predominantly hyperactive-impulsive: People in this category have trouble sitting still or waiting their turn.
- Combined presentation: People who exhibit both inattention and hyperactivity fall into this third group.
In younger children, these behaviors may not be symptoms of a problem. If these behaviors persist as your child gets older, consider seeking a diagnosis so that you and your child can be aware of how the disorder manifests and learn to navigate it.
Tips for staying focused
If your child gets distracted easily or has ADHD, there are several ways to help them stay on task.
Here are some ideas from the CDC and Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder that might help children with ADHD keep their focus.
- Encourage more physical activity: Channel your child’s excess energy into a sport or other activity. This will also improve their sleep quality.
- Keep their hands busy: The need for movement is one of the primary symptoms of ADHD. Provide your child with a fidget spinner or some other small device to help satisfy their need to move, yet stay on task.
- Get organized: Working in the middle of a mess can lead to feeling overwhelmed, and this is not limited to living spaces. Decluttering your student’s backpack may help with focus and keep things from getting lost.
- Set a reward: Extra motivation may help your learner return to a task after focus is lost.
- Use a planner: If your child has trouble keeping track of everything that needs to be done, writing down all activities and events in a planner may help.
For children without ADHD who still need some help staying on task in the classroom, the following tips may be just what they need.
- Make sure they’re getting enough sleep: Sleep deprivation has measurable impacts on the body, including reduced ability to focus. This may be more of a problem with teens, whose circadian rhythms do not align well with the school day.
- Make sure they’re hydrating well: Dehydration can mimic sleep deprivation and hunger, so drinking more water may help your student.
- Develop healthy eating habits: Incorporate a healthy diet of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, as well as choosing lean proteins.
- Take notes: Note-taking functions as a sort of stimulatory device on its own. Studies have shown that writing notes by hand improved student retention.
- Remove distractions: Digital distractions tend to be the worst offenders. If you can’t remove phones and computers completely, try limiting screen time amounts and silencing notifications.
- Take breaks: It may seem counterintuitive to suggest stopping work to maintain focus, but working in small chunks helps prevent brain burnout. Consider a homework schedule using the Pomodoro Technique or something similar, where you work for 25 minutes, take a five-minute break, and return to work.
At Bard & Didriksen Pediatrics, we want your child to have the best possible start in life, and education is an important piece of that foundation. We have the skills and knowledge to diagnose your child’s specific situation precisely and accurately to determine the right treatment options. Contact us with any concerns you have about your student’s physical or mental health so we can support you on their journey to adulthood.