How To Improve Your Child's Ability to Focus
The most common reason families with ADHD reach out to me is because of the lack of “focus” their child is exhibiting. Their child is failing to engage in class and the teacher is explaining their poor academic performance on “inattention.” Anyone who has ever spoken to me on the phone knows that ADHD is so much more than focus and attention. However, in this post I do want to focus on focusing.
Here is a list of things you can do as a parent to improve your child’s focus.
1) Healthy Food and Exercise. Any parent knows that reducing sugar and increasing exercise will help focus, but change can be hard. Start with breakfast and make sure there is fat and fiber in whatever your child eats, and please eliminate juice. Speak with a nutritionist if you need support. If your child doesn’t walk to school, put on a YouTube video that gets your child moving. You will not believe the difference this makes, even in children who are incredibly active after school. I’ve had rep hockey kids improve when they had 15 minutes of exercise in the morning, as well.
2) Eliminate so called “focus tools.” Fidget devices, fidget spinners, stress balls are often touted as helping with focus. It’s true, but the child is focused on the tool and not the lesson.
3) Advocate for accommodations. Preferential seating, visual anchors during lessons (a copy of the notes they can highlight is best), visual schedules on their desk, egg timers, use of the resources room and activities chunked into pieces are just some examples that, when consistently used in the class, can improve focus. Even if this is already in the IEP, you may need help advocating to make sure that they’re being utilized regularly enough that your child can depend on them.
4) Improve academics in a one on one environment. As a tutor, it isn’t surprising that I would suggest this remedy. In my experience, the closer the child is to “grade level” the more they are able to engage with the lesson. If what the teacher is teaching goes right over their head it’s hard to maintain focus. Building core skills can lead to paying more attention during the lesson, which in turn improves focus overall.
5) Anticipation versus Anxiety. Before your child goes off to school use the visual schedule in your home (get one if you don’t already have one) to remind them what will happen after school. Take the time to alleviate any concerns they may have. Kids with ADHD often worry about planning and details of their night because it’s taxing on them to try to envision their night. The less anxious they are about their after-school life the more they will be able to focus at school.
6) Consistent Bedtime Routine and White Noise Maker. Kids with ADHD appear to need less sleep but it is merely appearance. As a parent you can improve outcomes by increasing sleep. Having a routine that is consistent and predictable will lead to better sleep. Also, studies show that a white noise maker improves the quality, length and depth of sleep in children with ADHD.
I hate when we blame children for not focusing enough. I have never met a child who intentionally disconnects from the lesson. As educators and adults, we need to create the right environment for students to truly do their best.