Helping Distracted Students Get Back to School and Succeed

Eight success tips for distractible students

Posted Aug 24, 2010

It is that excting time when school is starting. Backpacks, folders, notebooks, and gymbags start coming into focus. For parents with children who have focusing and distractibility related concerns, however, this often is a time of added anxiety. While most children go into the school year planning to succeed, for the many who suffer from distractibility problems, doing well in school quickly becomes a losing battle.

As frustrating as this is for the distractible student it can be even more challenging for their parents and teachers. Complicating matters, when adults react harshly to a distracted child, that child usually becomes even more distractible.

Distractibility in children can be the result of one or any combination of several sources, including:

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
• Anxiety
• Major life changes (e.g., divorce, relocation)
Learning Disabilities

Telling a child that if s/he cannot pay attention s/he may fail or be expelled from school almost never helps the child improve and is more likely to create feelings of inadequacy and shame. A strategy more likely to succeed would be to explain that you are proud of how hard your child has worked to achieve success, even though he has been challenged with distractibility.

If you want to manage your child's distractibility, you must manage your own strong reactions, and respond in a calm, systematic way. Here are 8 proven tips for helping distracted children at home or in the classroom.

* Be mindful. Remember that the distraction prone child is struggling with feelings of inadequacy.

* Avoid yelling. Yelling only clouds your child's mind, making him more distractible.

* Be calm, firm, and non-controlling. Keeping your cool, stating clear expectations, and trying not to command these children is the formula for success.

* Keep proactive and open communication with your child's teachers. Distracted children tend to shut down quickly when they encounter obstacles. The great news, however, is that you can help your child resist sinking and keep on swimming if you stay active and involved.

* Encourage your child to break big assignments and task into smaller and more manageable ones. This strategy is overlooked and underused. Distracted kids will feel more motivated by small successes versus big failures.

* Use checklists. Help your child get into the habit of keeping a to-do list. It's very reinforcing to be able to cross tasks off a list.

* Be a helper but not an enabler. Doing too much to help your child to finish a difficult assignment may feel good to her, but it's not good for her.

* Build your child's self-esteem. Amidst their considerable challenges, it is easy for distracted children to feel that they are often in trouble and inferior to their peers. Let your child know that in addition to loving him that you believe in him.

Remember that distracted children are often surrounded with negativity and begin to expect failure. As much as you may hope your distracted child will outgrow her distractibility down the road, it is far from certain. For some children, the symptoms get better as they grow older and learn to adjust. Others, because of their genetics, may demonstrate continued tendencies toward distraction. Just keep in mind that the distractible children with the best chance of becoming well-adjusted adults are those who have loving, supportive parents who work together with school staff, mental health workers, and their healthcare provider (when needed).

The 8 proven tips for helping distracted children are presented in, 10 Days to a Less Distracted Child : The Breakthrough Program that Gets Your Kids to Listen, Learn, Focus and Behave (2007) by Jeffrey Bernstein, Ph.D. Dr. Bernstein works with children, couples, and families. His website is