When a child can’t pay attention to things, both at home and at school, it creates frustration for everyone—the child, playmates, parents, and teachers.
The child feels exasperated because he or she can’t do anything right, playmates are frustrated because the child doesn’t play fair; parents are annoyed because the child never follows simple instructions; and teachers are discouraged because the child is disruptive in class.
Before leaping to the conclusion that your child has ADHD and needs to be put on medications to slow down and focus, the child’s disruptive behavior could be due to other reasons that should first be identified and addressed:
- Clothing: Your child may not consciously be aware that they feel frustrated because seams in their clothing distract them from the task at hand and irritate their sensitive skin. SmartKnitKids provides super-soft, seamless undergarments and socks for kids who are experiencing hypersensitivity, sensory processing differences, or who simply get irritated by seams in their garments that pinch their skins.
- Feelings: Your child may have suppressed feelings of anxiety or depression about something you are not even aware of, feelings that they avoid experiencing by acting out. By talking about what could be bothering your child, these feelings can become less overwhelming. In some cases, the situation might be remedied; for example, bullying in the playground or at school. Once a child feels understood, they will start to feel more in control of their own feelings.
- Overstimulation: Your child may be overstimulated by electronic media. Television and video games usually excite too much emotional overstimulation. When children get hyper-focused by cartoons and fast-action video games, this retrains their brains to expect constant excitement. Schoolwork, by comparison, is boring. It forces them to reflect on information, cognitive skills that call for intentional focus. The best way to cope with overstimulation from media is to limit screen time.
- Overwhelm: Your child may be overwhelmed and confused by other people’s expectations and demands. If this is the case, they need to learn how to develop sequential thinking. By breaking up simple assignments into small steps, you can train them how to organize their experiences.
- Poor attention span: There are many reasons why people have shorter attention spans than ever before, ranging from constant electronic stimulation to excessive sugar in our foods. Unfortunately, the average person faces so many distractions in a given day that it’s impossible to weed out all sources of distraction. For a sensitive and alert child, these constant tugs on their attention may be something that they can’t control. The best solution for scattered-brain thinking is to retrain their mind to focus. For a preschool child, this can be done through engaging games like “Simon Says” and “Red Light Green Light.” There are also games for older children that help retrain their brains to focus on task completion like drawing or jigsaw puzzles, board games like checkers, and building sets games like Legos.
Learning to Pay Attention Is A Life-Enhancing Skill
Paying attention is a learned behavior based on understanding how to regulate emotions. This is an essential issue that needs to be addressed, an issue that can affect their lives as adults. According to an early child development researcher, Megan McClelland, “Our study shows that the biggest predictor of college completion wasn’t math or reading skills, but whether or not they were able to pay attention and finish tasks at age 4.”
What to Do and What Not to Do
When a child is acting out and behaves in a disruptive, unfocused way, this is a no-win situation for everyone. However, it’s important not to get pulled into the drama and take the time to figure out how to handle the situation in a sensible way.
What not to do:
- 1. Avoid dismissing their disruptive behavior as just a stage in child development. This assumption may or may not be true. Either way, it’s important to be proactive.
- 2. Quit trying to use a disciplinary approach. Simply exerting more discipline will only make you more frustrated as a parent and make your child feel even more confused. Shouting, nagging, threatening or taking punitive measures will only cause things to escalate.
What to do:
Understand that patience, kindness, and keen observation are necessary to understand what is going on. Once the cause is recognized, constructive remedial steps become possible.