One of the main symptoms of ADHD is inattention - the inability to focus for a sustained period of time. As parents of children with ADHD, inattention isn’t just a word, it is our reality. From getting (or not) chores done to the dreaded homework time, we watch our child struggle with paying attention for more than a few minutes. As a parent, you search for strategies to help. Medication, certainly improves focus, but is only one part of the answer and for some parents, whether because your child can’t take ADHD medications or because you prefer he doesn’t, it isn’t a choice. Behavioral strategies need to be part of the solution. The following are six ways you can take to help your child focus.
Address the issue of inattention. Talk with your child about lack of focus as part of ADHD. Sometimes a diagnosis of ADHD is a crutch. Even when it is not obvious, the unconscious thought, “I have ADHD, I can’t focus for very long,” may be there. Our expectations push us and motivate us to try harder. Addressing inattention and lack of focus may help. Look for story characters and real-life heroes who have overcome obstacles and pushed themselves to be the best they can be despite their hardships. Is your child interested in Harry Potter or the American Girls? Is he interested in sports? Is she aspiring to be a musician? Use your child’s interests to talk about how most people must have obstacles in their life they must rise above. Motivation to try harder, push further may help your child focus for a few more minutes.
Talk about the importance of failure. How has ADHD impacted your child’s life? Does he feel that no matter what he does, it isn’t good enough? Does he doubt his abilities? Many children with ADHD have low self-esteem and, in a sense, give up before they even try. For some, not trying is easier than facing yet another failure. Explain that failure is a part of learning, that it is better to try and fail than not to try again. Explain that it is through our failures that we learn the most and make the most progress. Failure is not a bad word, it is an attempt to learn. Emphasize that it is what we learn through the process, not the outcome that matters. For more ideas about improving self-esteem: Tips for Improving Your Child’s Self-Esteem
Use interests and hobbies as a foundation for building skills. We know that our child can intensely focus if it is something he is interested in. Use this to help build basic skills. For example, if your child is interested in baseball, use this topic to help teach math - geometry can be learned by measuring the distance between the bases. If your child is interested in dolls, find books with her favorite doll as a character to help build reading skills. These skills will help in other subjects and help increase your child’s feelings of accomplishment.
Work on study skills outside. Green areas help children with ADHD focus according to one study. The greener the space, the greater the attention span. Spending time outdoors helps reduce ADHD symptoms. Consider, during the nice weather, having your child work on homework in the backyard rather than sitting indoors.
Schedule exercise before a study session. Exercise has been found to help improve focus, self-esteem and overall feelings of wellness. Rather than having your child come home from school and immediately sit down to start on homework, schedule 15 to 30 minutes of exercise - playing outside, working with Wii Fit, yoga - you may find their ability to focus increases substantially.
Allow your child to fidget while studying. Experts believe that when a child engages in a “fidgety” mindless activity, focus increases. This could be chewing gum while reading or doing homework, fingering a small toy while studying, walking around when studying spelling words or times tables. Effective fidgeting is one that doesn’t distract from the primary activity but works to fill your child’s need for activity, allowing the mind to focus on a task.
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.