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HomeHealth & BehaviorBehavior & Discipline

Ask the Experts

How Can I Help My Child Concentrate?

By Dr. Michelle Alvarez, Consulting Educator

Question:

My son has difficulty staying focused on the task at hand, especially when it comes to writing and getting thoughts onto paper. He's easily distracted by things and people around him.

If he sits near the teacher, he can stay on task, but there are 20-some other children in the class. It's been hard for him to learn to read. He is finally trying to sound out words and use decoding strategies, but doesn't read for meaning yet and will often guess at a word. There doesn't seem to be an issue with intelligence.

Any suggestions how to best help him concentrate and get the work completed with minimal frustration for both him and the teacher?

Answer:

First, always be mindful of the difficulty level of the work that your son is asked to complete. One of the primary causes of student off-task behavior is work that is beyond their instructional range. Provided the difficulty of the work matches the level of support he gets to help him complete it, consider some of the following:

  • Sometimes children who have difficulty completing tasks can be motivated through "beat the clock" strategies where they are given a set time to complete a task, a timer to assist in monitoring progress, and a choice of preferred activities after completing the task.
  • Self-monitoring strategies can also be helpful. The student is given a written form, divided by intervals of time (e.g. five-minute intervals), and is prompted to record if he is on task. Criteria for rewards can be set.
  • Ask the teacher to break up the assignment into manageable portions to lower your son's frustration level. After completing one section of the assignment, seek permission from the teacher for your son to draw a picture related to the story, stretch or stand up at his seat, or do some other non-disruptive physical activity between sections of the assignment.
  • Rule out any environmental factors that increase distractibility (e.g. an open window, an air-conditioning unit or heat duct nearby, noisy student seated next to him) and ask the teacher to move him to a place in the classroom where he might be better able to stay on task.
  • Peer helpers can also be employed to assist in keeping students on task. Peers, with proper training, can encourage others to stay on task and provide verbal praise (a powerful motivator) for on-task behavior.
  • For writing assignments students sometimes find it helpful to dictate the writing sample while being recorded and then transcribe it later. This activity assists the connection between oral and written language.

These same techniques can be used at home for reading assignments. After you have implemented some of the suggestions for a two-month period, follow up with the teacher to see if they are working. Keep re-evaluating the situation so that you can identify what works and what does not..


Dr. Michelle Alvarez is an adjunct professor at the University of Southern Indiana and project director of Safe Schools/Healthy Students for the Evansville-Vanderburgh School Corporation. A former school social worker in Pinellas County, Florida, she is co-editor of School Social Work: Theory to Practice and chair of the National Association of Social Workers, School Social Work Section. She is also the parent of a special needs child.

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

03/6/2012:
"hi my daughter is 5yrs old she is in kindergarten, i have a hard time getting her to concentrate and to be focus.. at school her attendance span is not good she barley copy anything from the blackboard, she comes home with barely anything written in her book, her teacher says she is not computing well and am very worried i dont know what to do, at home when am teaching her she will sit and do what i say but sometimes she will sit for abt 20 minutes and then she will start to cry and get out of control.can you help me how i can go about helping her so that she can keep up with the other kids in her class cause she is way back behind in her class.. "
07/18/2011:
"my son is 7 years old...and he has this attention and concentration problem,,at home he does alright but only wen i sit with him and control him ,though his attention distracts i moivate him and keep him focused at his work..but then scholl,he will recite anything oraly,the teacher says he has good IQ and general knowledge is also good.but he wont copy from the blackboard..maybe just a line or two,i tried talking to him,but nothing seems bothering him,his mind just gets diverted,onto anything possible..there r 30 plus students in class,thje teacher says she cannot possibly always giv only him attention..how can i solve this problem? pls help. "
02/21/2011:
"What do you do when your son is not focusing and wont do work and gets in trouble and try hard to stop but wont? He sits in back by teacher wont stop how can he help him focus and get work done, study, and focus stop getting in trouble in school?"
09/28/2010:
"My son has the same issues. He is now on an IEP (Individual Education Plan) and works with a specialist a few hours a day for reading and writing. I am currently checking into some other evaluations, but since he started the IEP this past August his learning seems accelerated. When I work with his reading at home, he seems to be understanding the material more and more. As a side effect of the extra help, he also seems more confident in his learning abilities. He still has all the symptoms, but I am starting to see improvement and its only been 2 months. I am looking into other avenues, through his pediatrician, for medical and theraputic evaluation and assistance. I would start with an evaluation ASAP with the school (ask his teacher how) and then if there is no improvement, got to his pediatrician. I hope this helps."
05/17/2007:
"Because of the lack of funding and a high population of foreign language residents, my son's school does not receive high scores in reading. Often times ranks fairly low on your great schools' list. My family resides in a town where most of the property taxes are ear marked for education but our township has few commercial properties therefore the school still struggles financially. Any there any Parents in similar situation and do you have any suggestions on how to work with my son to continue to challenge him academically. He is only in 1st grade, should ewe be very concerned at this point."
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