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7 Tips to Help a Distracted Child

Try these suggestions for helping your child maintain his or her focus.

These simple tips will help a child who is distracted, inattentive, or having problems focusing on his schoolwork. The tips are also useful for any child, and can even prevent inattentiveness in an ever more distracting world.

  1. Keep a calm home environment. This means not yelling at your child if he doesn't mind you or settle down to do his homework. Of course, every parent can be pushed to the extreme and "loses it" occasionally. Every parent yells or screams at a child once in a while. If this happens, simply apologize to your child and reassure him that you love him, while explaining that his behavior is sometimes frustrating.
  2. Limit media distractions in your home. Many children are not as good at filtering out noise as adults are. This means that having the television on while your child is trying to do her homework may interfere with her ability to concentrate. Limit your child to one hour of "screen time" per day. This means limiting television, electronic games and other forms of eye candy. The American Academy of Pediatrics warns that early exposure to television is associated with ADHD in children. They also recommend that parents avoid putting a television set in the child's room and that you keep the TV turned off when you are not watching a specific program.
  3. Have your child's vision and hearing tested. If your child suddenly starts to have trouble at school, take him to the pediatrician for a vision and hearing test. Sometimes a child is not able to express that he is having trouble seeing or hearing clearly. Several times in my experience, a child's teacher thought he might have ADHD when the real problem was nearsightedness.
  4. Stay positive in your child's presence. Don't argue with your spouse or partner when your child is around. Surprisingly, children worry about their parents just as much as their parents worry about them. Hearing parents argue or even talk in loud voices can be scary to a child. Even if the arguments are not serious, to a child's vivid imagination, arguments might signify that his parents are headed for a divorce. Tell your child only the good things in your life, and keep the arguments for when the child is not present. Even if your child is in the other room, he can still hear your tone of voice and pick up on angry feelings. To air out differences, parents should think about having lunch together or taking a walk alone to clear the air.
  5. Be "in the moment" with your child at least once every day. Have a few minutes each day when you can focus 100 percent of your attention on your child: read her a book, play a short board game, or make a drawing or a painting together. If you prefer outdoor games, go to the park and play basketball or tennis with your child.
  6. Have clear rules and enforce them consistently. Parents should come to an agreement about the rules concerning their child, and back each other up. Being on the same page about discipline is especially crucial if a child is having trouble focusing. When parents ask me about a good book on discipline, I always recommend 1-2-3 Magic by Thomas W. Phelan, Ph.D. His method really works, especially for younger children.
  7. Enroll your child in a sport to channel his extra energy. If your child is "hyper," he may need more outlets for his energy. Remember, Olympic gold medal swimmer Michael Phelps had trouble focusing in the classroom and was diagnosed with ADHD. After being on medication for four years, Phelps decided that the medication was an unnecessary crutch. With the help and support of his doctor, he weaned himself off medication at age 13. Phelps learned to control his inattentiveness at school by using the power of his mind, and found a wholesome outlet for his extra energy in competitive swimming.

Copyright Marilyn Wedge 2011

Read Dr. Marilyn Wedge's new book on ADHD: A Disease Called Childhood: Why ADHD Became an American Epidemic.

More from Marilyn Wedge Ph.D.
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