Parents have been asking how to help children focus in the classroom since classrooms were invented. In a setting where kids are asked to sit still and be attentive, there will always be a few who struggle to do so. The reason many kids struggle to focus is because it’s a learned skill that has to be practiced. For other kids, however, difficulty to focus stems from a weakness or disorder.
This year, and the years immediately following, it’s likely we will see more kids struggle to focus in the classroom. Younger kids who just started grade school haven’t learned how to operate in a classroom setting yet. Meanwhile, the challenges of distance learning may have magnified attention weaknesses in students who are a little older.
With time, the consequences of COVID-19 on learning will be better known and understood. For now, we can use the tools we have to help students build or rebuild their learning foundation and confidence. So, let’s talk about how to help a child focus in the classroom.
Does your child generally focus well in other settings? If the classroom is the only place they seem to struggle with focusing, the issue could be distractions created by peers. It could also be an early sign of hearing or vision issues. If they are struggling to see the board or hear the teacher, and they don’t realize this is problematic, they are likely to mentally check out. I recommend talking to your child’s teacher for their input. A visit with your child’s pediatrician may also be warranted.
Executive Function Issues or Disorders
There are many behavioral skills that fall under the umbrella of executive function, including but not limited to time management, task initiation, task completion, flexibility and attention. These skills begin to take shape in early childhood and continue to develop into the mid-20s.
Students who show signs of executive functioning issues do not always have a disorder; and students with specific learning disabilities do not always struggle with executive function skills. This paradigm makes it challenging to know the true cause of a child’s difficulty to focus just by using observation.
That’s where an educational evaluation will help. I highly recommend taking your child to a private practice when it comes to difficulty focusing in the classroom, rather than seeking an evaluation through your child’s public school. For more information on this, please visit my blog Help for Kids Struggling with Learning.
Following an evaluation, I am able to help parents see their child’s strengths and weaknesses, pinpoint the main problems and come up with a plan for success.
Prioritize Play Time and Exercise
Kids benefit so much from physical activity. Incorporating some sort of aerobic playtime into your child’s day can give them an outlet for extra energy, trigger a better night’s sleep, and increase oxygen to the brain and therefore increase attentiveness.
The CDC offers specific recommendations for the minimum amount of physical activity kids should be getting based on their age. This can be a good starting goal if your kids are not already achieving these hours. Keep in mind, though, that some kids do benefit from even more physical activity. You probably already know as you read this if your child is one of those with seemingly endless energy.
Helping a Child Focus in the Classroom
There are plenty of other reasons a child might be struggling to focus in the classroom, such as the nutrition they are taking in and their at-home activities (looking at you, video games). These factors can be taken into account just by observing and reflecting on your child’s normal routine.
If your student has only just recently started in-person school, they may just need time to adjust. However, if their lack of focus is causing big problems for academic performance or behavior—regardless of how long they have been attending class in-person—you should meet with the teacher to discuss any ideas. From there, you should decide if you will be pursuing an evaluation.
I am always available to answer questions and give parents an idea of what the road ahead can look like for a child. If I can be of help, please fill out my contact request form or give me a call at 661-255-2688.