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Ask the Experts

My Child Is Easily Distracted

By Dr. Ron Taffel, Family Therapist

Question:

I have a second-grader who seems to get easily distracted in class.

He tends to pay attention more to what goes on in his surroundings instead of paying attention to the assignments at hand and doesn't finish his assignments. How can I help his teacher to get him to focus on what's in front of him instead of what's around him? I'm fresh out of clues. Help!

Answer:

Create a communication routine with your child's teacher, either a weekly email or quick phone conversation about what has happened in class and the assignments that were given. At home, during a quiet moment, ask your son for his ideas about focusing better in class. Let him think about how he can pay less attention to his surroundings. Is it better if he sits closer to the teacher - away from certain other kids? Come up with a plan together. Then pass these ideas along to his teacher in a positive (non-critical) way.

Between regular feedback from the teacher and the plan the teacher, you and your son have developed, you may find him able to focus more easily. If you don't see results within a few weeks, you might consider going for an evaluation about subtle attention or learning issues - since second grade is a great time to get a sense of your child's strengths and academic areas to work on. It just may be that his lack of focus and not finishing assignments is a signal that he needs a little extra help with the more demanding challenges of second grade.


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 GreatSchools.org readers

06/18/2012:
"I have 2 sons. One is 10 and the other is 12. They both failed math at school. But I passed the whole year helping them. The 12 one is always pay attention to other things and the other is good but forget easily. Please help me. "
01/24/2012:
"Everyone really MUST read the book: Strong-Willed Child or Dreamer? by Ron Braund, Dana Spears I just wish this book had been around when I was in school. For me, it was like reading my own biography. It doesn't seem to apply directly to the issues I'm having with my daughter, but it has enormous applications relevant to my nephew, who is much like me. I'm sure you have someone in your life, who you could understand better by reading this book. Check it out at your local library, buy it, borrow it...I beg everyone: just read the book! =D "
01/5/2012:
"Does the problem lie within our children, or within the school system? I have an almost 7-year old in 1st grade. Since day 1 of his life he has always done things independently. He is smart, genuine, nice, and respectful. Like most children, he is high-energy. However, in Preschool, teachers were frustrated that he didn't want to color the pictures they gave him. Now, he loves to color when given blank paper to express his own ideas. In Kindergarten, his teachers were concerned because he would not sit and do the work that all the other children were doing. Yet, he blew them away with aptitude and 1st grade readiness tests. Now in First grade, his teacher struggles to keep him focused on his work. He spends the first half of his recess making up the work other children had already completed. He comes home with work that I know he knows how to do, he reads the instructions out loud to me before he does it, the room can be quiet, or with classical music, or with me ! making dinner, and he STILL will find every reason he can think of to distract himself. When doing legos or a craft with his hands, he's all in for hours! I used to struggle to make him do his paperwork, and get so frustrated that he resisted for so long. The bottom line is, and perhaps 'No Child Left Behind' is having a horrible affect on classroom expectations, my child does not want to do the same repetative pencil work over and over until the rest of the class catches up. He is very tactile and needs to do things with his hands, not on paper. He needs lessons to be kept interesting to keep him engaged. And when he gets a topic, he needs to be able to move on to the next challenge. The problem is not with my son, or likely half the other children who's parents are reporting the same things on this site. The problem is that these children learn differently then most. There needs to be some acknowledgment to this affect...somewhere? I'm not crazy, and I have a ra! ther intelligent, but bored child! "
11/11/2011:
" I would love to hear from a young man who went through this as a child and what helped him. "
10/4/2011:
"My parents work and leave my little sister with my other sister who all they do is watch tv. The other day I went to pick her up from school and the teacher told me she has trouble focusing so I went home and tried helping her. She gets very neveous when it comes to doing work and gets distracted way to easily. She'll start playing with her hand or hair if I don't stay telling her to finish her work. Also when I ask her for answers she looks at me and guesses. I explained her hot to do her work but she pretends to know what to do when she doesn't. Even with coloring she doesn't do it neatly unless I ask her to. I'm getting a little fustrated with her and need help on how to get her to think instead of me thinking for her!! "
09/28/2011:
"I have a 9 year old son that has a problem focusing, i really don't know what to do this is getting so frustaiting for us, every time there is an open house in school i always get the same complain about him that he takes a long time doing his work and he dosent finish most of the time on time and he dosen't focus and he is always paying attention to what the others are doing instead of finishing his work. when he gets home from school he always needs help for his homework and if we dont help him he just stops doing it until we help him he just dosent try. he takes about 5 hours doing his homework every day i really need help i don't know what to do...help "
09/27/2011:
"My nephew is in the 4th grade and is having problems in school not wanting to do his work at school or at home. He just acts as if he don't care and even sometimes will tell you he don't. Not a bad kids as far as hitting or anything like that. Just don't want to do anything. But he like to go to school no problems getting him up and going just when he gets there he don't want to do anything. What are we to do?? "
08/2/2011:
"Im scared that i may have ADHD, and im 12 years old. I get so easiy distracted, I cant stay focused. I try to set reminders but its hard. I never relized my distractions but now that ive read about it and i really know what it is I realize it. And I grew up not knowing and as i do notice it i feel it more. Whats wront with me!!!! HELP!!!!!!!!!!!! "
05/2/2011:
"my child is of 11 years she was very serious and careful in 5 grade but in 6 grade she is not paying attention in studies what should i do"
03/29/2011:
"I have a 10yr old and we have been having problems at school since he started. I do not want to put him on meds. I think are kids are way to little to be put on these meds. There bodies and brains are still growing. My son can't stay focused in school but if it's something he enjoys he will do great! Math is the only subject that he is really having a hard time in. All the other subjects he would do fine if he would complete his work. He will find or bring things to school to play with a his desk while the teacher is teaching. He has always been a touchy kid. Always wanted to give hugs and now from what Im told at school he pokes kids or is playing with something and not focusing on the lesson.I'm not sure what do to. All I want to do is help him so he can enjoy school and get good grades."
02/7/2011:
" I have a son in third grade. He can't seem to concentrate at all. I have tried a few things and his teacher is having a hard time getting him to finish his work being giving in class. He gets bored very easily and loses interest. He loves school and is a very happy and clever boy. I'm aware that my son has ADHD but on a lower grade. Please how can I help my son? "
10/26/2010:
" Dear sir I would like your opinion if you dont mind, I have a six year old boy who is in year two and he just started the new simester, i am getting feed back from his teacher and she says my son is easily distracted and can not concentrare in class. he doesnt hand in his completed home work like the other kids when the teacher asks for them. he sometimes day dreams. hes a good boy. and when he does school work he in class time he does it. what do you make of this.many thanks your truely Jo."
05/13/2010:
"Did you notice that 95% of all of these messages are about boys? School is not structured for young boys. It never has been. This does not mean that you child may or may not have a learning disorder, but before you get exasperated, talk to his teacher and school for additional structure for your child in the classroom. They do not teach kids with the same structure they did in the 1970's. In my opinion...there is way too much interaction between children in the classroom. The interaction needs to be between the teacher and the student."
04/14/2010:
"i have to kids and they both are doin really bad in school... wat would be a good webside for me to put them to do an extra work at home or were would i find some work for them to do...."
04/5/2010:
"Why can;t all of these kids pay attention allof a sudden? That is what i had to ask myself when my 7 year old 2nd grader was working on his 9th school! Every where he went there was a problem with him crawling ont he floor, leaving the class, not completing his work making sounds, etc. BUT at home he was brilliant, smart and loving. I really thought they were lying until nine differnt people said it. How can a child only have ADD at school?! I make him do workbook all of the time and he does the work no problem. They wanted him on medicine, but luckily I figured out that the problem was food coloring. THe only place he did not have a problem was in one school where I packed his lunch each day. I have now eliminated all foods containing food coloring especially red 40 from his diet. I simply shop at Whole Foods grocery store. A lot of people think it's the sugar and say the kids are bouncing off the walls when they get the candy and soda, but really it's the dye i.e. food coloring in the candies and soda. My son is jsut fine now and has been at his school with no prolem for 4 months and he has also been off food coloring for 4 months?????"
04/2/2010:
"I believed that teachers should get your child attention, by saying ' I like the way Billy is pay attention' Sometime children do not pay attention because they are lost or did not known how to do assignments. A bright child will understand the concept in one day, while the other child will understand on third day. It just take the child a little longer. Thats when the parents need to reinfore all the papers that comes home. Another way to help your child at home, give that child a puzzle to concentrate, and focus. This will help your child to think,focus, and concenrate. Also play music like Mozrat, Beethoven or classic music. This help the brain to click"
02/24/2010:
"I have a son who's in 3rd grade and seems not stay focused very well. I have good communications with his teacher and he sets by her everyday. I don't know what else to do. He plays with anything or talk so he won't pay attention at all."
02/1/2010:
"Has anyone had the experience of a child, 10 yrs old, who just can't seem to complete a math paper in class or write a paper. He does fine in spelling and can read and build detailed airplanes with legos, but when given a paper with math problems to finish within a given time in class, he only gets to the 2nd problem. Also, he can tell you what he wants to say on a paper project, but has a hard time putting it on paper. He's not hyper, he is calm and quiet."
02/1/2010:
"My son is in the frist grade he has problems of focsing and paying attention in school. In the begaing of school it was just minor problem, but after winter break it got worst. Not only in school he is having this problem, but also home. He is a smart boy, but it is very hard for him to express himself. He has problems with finishing his work on time in class and with concentrating. Even when I ask him any questions about school he will ignore it or change the subject. It is very hard to get anwsers from him. Even when he dose his home work I have to be very stricked or he will not do finish it. Iam very worry if he might have ADD. Please help me find the right anwser . thank you "
11/6/2009:
"My son is in second grade, and he is also having difficulties staying focus in class, he hears someone talking or hears a noise he will stop what hes doing to see what happen. I'm fresh out of ideas. It starting to affect his grades,he will do a lot of incomplete class work and here at home he does his work really well and fast. what else can i do to help my child? I'm sure that hes lack of concentration is having a HUGE impact on his grades."
10/19/2009:
"Cool site."
10/13/2009:
"I have a five year old son who is immature for his age. In school he is easily distractted by his surroundings but, also by his own thoughts. He can sit forever in circle/story time and pay attention but, when asked to attend to an independent activity (i.e. art) he isn't able to apply himself. I would like know if the capability of focusing comes with maturing in children. "
09/16/2009:
"My son just started kindergarten and is having trouble paying attention to work. He's too busy focusing on his surroundings too. I'm not sure if his incomplete school work is due to his not listening or if he really doesn't understand. How early is early to have your child evaluated for possible learning difficulty? Or should I just give it more time, since he just started kindergarten?"
05/20/2009:
"My son is in second grade. He makes the grades but he cant seem to finish the work in class because his gets distracted easy. I'v asked the teacher to test him for something but she doesnt pay attention to me what should i have him tested for? That way I can tell his teacher what to test him for."
12/12/2008:
"Good article..."
11/5/2008:
"My son is in 2nd grade and is been having problems finishing his work on time with the rest of his classmates. I work at the school and have been communicating with the teacher. My concern is if there are 7 kids in his class with one teacher why can't my son concentrate and finish his work . His teacher says he stops and looks around and playes with his pencil instead of looking at his paper. My son is an A student and has taken his SAT test since Kingder and all his results have come back average or above average. When he comes home with all the classwork he doesn't finish he understands them all and does them at home without problems. I really need someone to direct me in the right direction , I am really concern since teacher has mentioned to have him tested for ADD. My son is smart and I just can't take it anymore seeing him do so good with me and other teachers but not with his 2nd grade teacher. Please help."
10/23/2008:
"My daughter did really good up to 2nd grade now this year she has went down hill with her math! Her teacher has told me that she wants to refer her to special needs for math but I don't know if it is necessary or she just needs some psychological help from a specialist? I don't know what else to do because she does not focus at all at school or at home during homework time. Any ideas will be helpful. Thanks"
10/13/2008:
"I don't necessary think it should be a law for parents to go back to school, I do however think textbooks would benefit me and my child. I have not done algebra in upteen years. My son does not have a textbook and he is not a very good note taker. The school does not have the funds for text books??? I try the internet but most websites were not clear to us. "
10/8/2008:
"Perhaps it should also be law that adults return to school for refresher courses every 10 or 15 years... >From what I can tell reading these parental replies. They could really benefit from being exposed to things they have forgotten. If they could actually help their children with school work... Instead of saying 'not now', 'I don't have time', or 'ask the other parent, or sibling' because they really don't know the answer. Often I see that children can accomplish more on their own then with their parents help. That shouldn't be the case."
09/25/2008:
"I have really enjoyed your web site. I first found it by reviewing schools in our area but continued reading and found an area of interest. I am very interested in children that have trouble concentrating or staying on task. The one mothers comments about her second grader having trouble paying attention in class was interesting. My daughter is in fifth grade now but I have noticed this since third grade and ask for screening through the school with very little resolution. I have since sent her for private screening and found that she may have a 'mild' case of ADD. Do I medicate or just continue to monitor her progress in fifth grade. Her current teacher is awsome so she is thriving so far? Any feed back to this subject be helpful."
05/5/2008:
"my son did great in grade one now his in grade two and brought home a very bad rapport his teacher told me that he dont concentrate in class he dont finish the tasks she gave him, he cant read or spell correctly she also said that his always very quiet in class and talks with no one, i know my son is very clever but something isnt right, what could be going wrong?"
04/17/2008:
"my son was place in an IEP program 06-07 school year he did well with his grades. 07-08 school he started the year with 70% know he is failing with 43-66% in all class the school has him label as a 'behaviorial problem' he is smart boy. the aide is a member of the PTA she is not a teacher. I have question this with the school but, your guess is as good as mine. My son use to love school, 1 may be 2 absences a school year. Know he feels the teachers don't like him so he can't get the help he needs in class. Please help stress out single parent."
04/11/2008:
"my sons kinder teacher said she filed paperwork as he could not concentrate for 30 mins. she now retracts this as she is not sure. i am concerned but more alarmed at the cavalier way this was handled. suggestions please"
03/13/2008:
"I am reading alot about the child having a hard time focusing while in class, but does their home-work well at home. I am this same issue with my son, but I am finding it very easy to just label a child with ADD or ADHD insteading of accepting that our children were created this way and there isn't anything wrong with them. I think giving a child some meds and calling it a day is much easier then taking a look at home life, is the school at it's max when it comes to teacher student ratio, is there a teachers aid, can parents come in to help. I mean, let's take more proactive approach and see what we as parent can do. Of course, if a child does indeed need the meds, great, but try to get involved and see what you can do as a participating parent at school and home. Let's think back when we were in school. Mom's stayed home and did home-work with kids and it was a lot more hands on. Perhaps we need to take a step back before giving our child medication to calm them down. "
03/5/2008:
"My 1st daughter is 5 y.o., is hard to focus in class, she likes to move around in the class but still she can answered the question about the lesson. That quite surprised the teacher. She is a smart girl and also a quick learner, but it is hard to make her sit in the chair for more than 5 minutes so sometimes make the class become distractive. Especially at home, she cannot just sit nicely but jump over the couch, running, or maybe screaming. Sometimes I must yelled at her. I really don't know what to do.... My friend told me that my child having a focus distraction. I need ur advice. Is it possible that we can protect her from anykind of food that will raise her hyperactive and became a focus distraction child."
02/5/2008:
"My daughter had lots of trouble focusing, mostly right after school when she was trying to do her homework. That was in 2nd grade. As time went by, she started to forget to bring assingments home, or the book to do the homework. By 4th grade, she was crying by the time she got off the bus because she didn't want to do her homework. Any noise distracted her and she had to basically start over. I had her tested at the school for ADD in 4th grade and they said she was AVERAGE. nothing wrong. The first week of 5th grade was worse than 4th grade. Went and talked to our doctor and she put my daughter on Focalin FX. Small dose just to see what would happen. By this time my daughter had low self esteem and was putting herself down about school. We started the medicine on a Saturday and on Monday, she came in the front door BOUNCING after school! She was SO excited about her day! She was able to pay attention all day and she did ALL of her homework without one breakdown.! That was all it took! I didn't want my daughter labeled ADD, or taking meds everyday. And the school kept saying she was fine. She was the one telling me it was hard, I was the one noticing her having a meltdown every time there was homework. We did up th medicine to th next level and it seems to last clear thru dinnertime now. She knows she must do her homework as soon as she gets home, or that medicine wears off and she can't concentrate as well in the evening. This year has been GREAT compared to the rest. I wish I would have trusted my gut earlier and not listened to the school. She looked like she was paying attention in class, but she was truly distracted and figured out how to cover it up. By the time she got home she was exhausted from trying to pay attention and couldn't. This medicine has changed the way she views school and herself. I am thankful everyday for it. She is too! and- she taked the initiative to take it everyday without being reminded. ! She never forgets it! THAT tells me she can really tell the ! differen ce! "
02/4/2008:
"Have an 11 yr old son that has a hard time focusing and following instructions from the teacher. His mind wanders off when teacher is explaining or giving instructions. "
01/30/2008:
"i have a son who knows the information but cant seem to be able to get the info onto the paper like you can ask him about a word to use in a sentence he can tell you but cant seam to get down to the paper it frustrait him as well as my self cause he knows it but cant get it out cany you help me to help him me and his teacher are at lose at this "
01/23/2008:
"I have the same problem but with my Kindergarten son."
01/10/2008:
"i have a son who has had some problems focusing on his work at school but is fine when he is at home. the teacher is telling me he has an attention problem. i am not putting my kid on drugs to satisfy a teacher. i do understand that it is getting dificalt for the teacher to manage her kids and grant but she keeps telling me he is very intelligent and he knows what he is doing he just don't want to do it when told."
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