HomeHealth & BehaviorBehavior & Discipline

Ask the Experts

How Can I Help a Distracted Child?

By Dr. Ron Taffel, Family Therapist


My daughter is a very bright child. However, she is easily distracted and often gets in trouble in class for not following directions, excessive talking or getting distracted and disruptive in class. When we talk to her at home, she cries easily and says she doesn't know why she gets in trouble.

She loves to read and loves to do her homework when it is her idea. She is very excited to learn something new or when she does well in school but it is sometimes very hard to get her to want to do the work she brings home. Help!


It may be hard to accept this, but when your daughter says she doesn't know why she gets in trouble, she probably doesn't. Rather than spend time on what she is not able to do, build a communication loop with the teacher -- get a brief weekly email or some other quick communication about what she has done well in class. Your daughter obviously likes positive feedback. Since she responds better when it is her idea, sit with her and ask her for some practical suggestions about creating a routine around homework. Let her lead the process about how to get the homework done without a fight. Will it be better if she starts right away? Should she watch some TV first or later? Come up with a plan together. Between regular feedback from the teacher and the plan she has developed, you may find your daughter able to focus more easily.

Dr. Ron Taffel is a noted child and family therapist, and author of Parenting by Heart, Why Parents Disagree, Nurturing Good Children Now, The Second Family, and a guide for child professionals, Getting Through to Difficult Kids and Parents. He consults with and lectures at schools and community organizations around the country. He lives with his wife and children in New York City.

Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.

Comments from readers

"I really need you to read this... Our son has difficulty focussing in school,he is in grade 3 now.He has been told by the teacher to get started faster.the teacher start calling us making a big issue about it and recommending medication ,not once, not twice but three times,we said NO!!.after that she decided it was time to make a meeting with 3 other teachers and the principal and it backfired on her.when she recommended to put him in a special class with other kids witht learning and behavour problems ,one of the teachers, stood up and said;we actually did a test in the class and he was the highest score in the class. In the top 95% percentile for kids his age. Also did you know that 70% of kids that are diagnosed with adhd become addicted later in life since the medication they take is an amphetamine.But I think all parents should know this before they decide to use this medication also 90% of diagnosed cases are wrong....missdiagnosis. What this teacher has is 5 kids in her class who cause some trouble and our son probably causes most of it but change your teaching strategy and dont let these teachers take the easy way out by drugging our kids.Maybe they are just bord because they are to smart.and they need new challenges. "
"My son is in 3rd grade and he has had these problems since grade K. I am not sure what else to do. I have daily emails with both of his teachers (good and bad days are addressed). I have had parent teacher talks and even a talk with the student advisor to come up with a plan, yet nothing is working. We have included my son so he knows what is going on. My son is smart, but lazy. I have been to a special doctor, but they say he is at grade level, the school says otherwise. What else can I do?? I am headed for a second doctor to see if there what other options are available. I am not looking to use meds. "
"It is amazing how reading about other parent's concern can help others to relate and have different options for their own concerns. I have a third grader going into fourth and he is very bright that he is in the gifted and talented program in his school but has difficulty following directions in class and the teacher has complained about him talking to much in class. This has been a problem since preschool. After reading about the suggestions other parents have posted I would definitely consult his pediatrician."
"I have 32month old daughter.. She’s very bright but she can't concentrate. I am having trouble teaching her colors and other pre-school material. any suggestion should I consult a doctor. "
"Hi my daughter is starting third grade and I had problems in second grade that we are on top of. First of all we totally eliminated soda pop and junk food, this tends to make life worse! After that is out of her system then we focused on routine and incentives. They had to be small and now insentives and visual. Even if that ment a nickel for any extra homework you do. Then there were immediate consequences if she didn't stay on task like if she didn't do her homework and goofed off for 5 minutes then 5 sentences of I will do my homework- later during homework time she off task goofing off then 5 more sentences added. She soon learned and now a days she only gets to 5 sentences and she knows she has to do them after her school work/homework is accomplished. If she won't go to bed after a timely matter and is playing with stuffed animals etc. we tried taking them away- don't work instead we said OK stay up and write sentences it only took 5 and she wrote them and quick! ly went to sleep! For her it works... Every child is different and she like to have attention negative of positive- we try to turn it in to something positive and ignore negative attention but it is hard. Throwing her stuffed animals became a game so we changed tactics. Just like one of my daughters would not stop writing on walls when she was a kindergardner! Finally I brought home a box from the washer/or dryer and said here color on this go ahead! But not my walls!!!! Next day she was sneaking in the box to quietly color, I caught her and exclaimed good girl color more here have chalk too how about some felts and pens cool! Just not on my walls!!! Shorten it up she was cured never again to write on my walls or futniture again even after the box old and torn and threw it away it was our of her system! "
"I also face this issue,but not with positive results.I find that many teachers push parents to medicate our young children in order to control the child,thus making the job easier and I just find that criminal.Where are the resources for these children, parents and teachers??????"
"I am experiencing a similar situation with my son and I have used all kinds of interventions. Sometimes the student and teacher relationship does not work out. The teacher is too busy focusing on 'behavior issues' and avoid telling the parent the true problem. I talk to my sons' teacher weekly and still get bad progress chart and only on 'bad days' do I get a report. I am now resorting to private tutoring with them have parent teacher conference to assist us. I am hoping tutoring will help him "
"I had the same problem with my son last year. I even went so far to try and get my sons teacher switched due to the fact that he was staying in trouble and he wouldn't go to bed didn't want to even get up to go to school saying he didn't like his teacher. Needless to say he was held back due to all of this. This year he got the teacher that he wanted last year and he has done a complete turn around loves going to school, I don't have to fight with him to do his work and he hasn't had one bad report this year. Last year was a nightmare for myself. He stayed in trouble even got suspened for a day, but this year has been the opposite and I personally think it was all about the teacher. So far this year he has had nothing but good reports I am just glad that there is more than one parent that has went through this with their child because I was starting to think I was the only one that had went through this."
"I could have written this question, it describes my daughter to a T! However, I was disappointed and let down by the answer. My daughter's teacher and I communicate DAILY and have twice sat down and came up with a plan together to try and help my daughter, who is also bright, in fact the most academically advanced in her class, focus and not be disruptive in class. The second meeting we included my daughter to get her input as to what she thinks might help her stay on task. As for the homework thing, I have found that allowing her to have some say in when she does it like before or after TV or dinner etc. only caused her to take advantage and ultimately resulted in even more of a struggle. I was so hoping to find a new idea in Dr. Ron Taffel's answer. Unfortunatly his answer is typical of all 'experts' who have obviously never raised any kids, or least not ones with any of the problems they are supposedly experts on!"