How Do I Help My Child Focus?
By Debra Collins, Family therapist
I have a kindergartner who has become less focused. The teacher and I have been talking frequently, and I talk with him. But his behavior is actually getting worse. He is just being silly and frequently he gets way off track. Even when he is at home, I give him three things to focus on and do, and he can barely do it.
I don't believe he knows what he is doing wrong because when we talk or I yell, he just changes the subject as if he didn't hear or his eyes just fill up with tears. We have tried taking away toys, but he just continues. I thought about doing a reward chart, but I don't think it will help at this point. What can I do to help him? Could it be something we are doing at home that is causing this?
You are probably correct in assuming your son doesn't know specifically what he's doing wrong and how to correct it. When adults get frustrated they tend to yell, lecture or give rapid instructions. Your son is showing you that he is confused and overwhelmed by changing the subject or getting teary, which is an age-appropriate response. Acting silly can also be an indication that he doesn't understand or is unable to perform the task at hand.
If there have been no major stressful changes in your household recently, you may want to ask the teacher if she thinks he was ready for kindergarten. He might not have the academic skills and emotional maturity to be successful. Explore with the teacher whether your child might benefit from an extra year of kindergarten or extra help with academics.
You might want to reconsider the reward chart. Children learn better when positive rather than negative feelings are evoked. The teacher may have some good methods, because most classroom management uses some variation of reward incentives.
I'm not sure if the three things you are having him focus on are behaviors you want him to change, tasks you want him to complete, or new academic skills he needs to practice. Frustrated parents can sound like this: "Johnny stop being silly. Go do your homework. Wait! Pick up your back pack! Don't drop things on the floor. How many times have I told you ..." If you are doing some version of this, try keeping the instructions separate and as emotionally neutral as possible.
Break things down one task and one step at a time before moving on. This will reduce your anxiety and his. Although it will be tedious in the beginning, it allows him to begin mastering following instructions.
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.