My Child Has Trouble Listening in Class
By Dr. Michelle Alvarez, Consulting Educator
My second-grade daughter has a very hard time listening in class. If she listens, she does her work very well, but she is easily distracted.
My mom, who is a retired teacher, told me that my daughter started school too early and she was pushed too early, so she wants to play now. I tried sending her to piano classes to concentrate and focus. She is very outspoken and loves to dance and sing. Do you think it is the school or she is bored?
The good news is that your daughter does have periods of time where she listens and does her work very well. This is what the focus needs to be as you explore the issue.
Ask yourself : What is happening at the time she is listening and completing her work that could be replicated at another point in the day when she is having trouble focusing? First begin by working with school personnel (teacher, school social worker, school counselor and/or school psychologist) to collect information about the times when she is listening/focusing. This can be accomplished by asking a member of the student services team (school social worker, school counselor, or school psychologist) to do a formal observation of your daughter and have them interview your daughter. Ask the teacher to share a list of the number of completed assignments and those that were not completed.
There are some environmental conditions that could contribute to her inability to focus that may not be present when she is able to focus. Was a window open? Was the air conditioner or heat running? Were other students noisy? Was the class a structured or unstructured class? Was it an assignment that required movement around the room?
The subject matter can also contribute to her inability to focus. Is she stronger in math than reading? Is the work too easy or hard for her? Does she not like gym or art? The time of day can also impact her ability to focus. Is she having trouble right after recess, at the time the class is changing subject areas of study, after movement to another classroom?
Once your team identifies at what time of day, in what subjects or settings she is doing well, you are ready to address when she is not able to focus. The data collected for when she is doing well (how often and under what conditions) can be used to try to replicate her behavior in other situations. Some ideas for addressing the issue include:
- Have your daughter write down the directions so she can easily refer back to them.
- Ask the teacher to move your daughter's desk to a place where she can focus.
- Place a study carrel, which she could choose to move to when she is having trouble focusing, , in the classroom
- Have your daughter monitor her ability to listen/focus on a sheet of paper by listing subject areas and having her place a smiley face if she could concentrate and a frowny face if she had trouble. (This could give you ongoing feedback and alert you to times of day or subjects where more support would need to be in place.) If the work is too easy, ask the teacher to add a more difficult task that she will be able to do once she finishes the assignment; if the work is too difficult, ask the teacher if she can complete a shortened version of the assignment and do a task she enjoys (reading, drawing) after she has completed the assignment.
- Work with the teacher on a method where the student can take a short break from an assignment and then return to complete the task. The break would not be disruptive to the class but could give her time to refocus on the assignment.
- Both you and the teacher could work with your daughter on ways to help her practice sustaining her attention, modeling at home some of the techniques listed above during the time she completes her homework.
- Have the school social worker, school counselor or school psychologist meet with your daughter to help increase her time on task.
After you have tried different methods to help your daughter listen and then complete assignments, go back and repeat the observations and interview to see if there has been any change in her ability to listen/focus. If not, try some other methods of helping her and then meet again to look for change. It is an ongoing process and data collected should help you and school personnel decide what is working and what is not.
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.