Many children and young people have trouble sitting still and staying focused.
In the majority of cases it’s a temporary blip and nothing to worry about, after all they have a lot of energy that they need to burn off, and so focusing on a task, such as homework or reading, may not be their biggest priority.
On the other hand, learning to concentrate and sticking with something is a skill everyone needs as an adult.
If your child is slapdash it means they are not paying enough attention to detail. Sometimes the most creative ideas-driven people start out this way, but while generating ideas is wonderful, they eventually do need the ability to look at the nitty-gritty, so that they can execute their ideas in the long term.
Childhood is a time for learning and experimentation, but if your child makes many errors, particularly repetitive mistakes even after further instruction from you or a teacher, then there may be an issue. If you know that your child understands the instructions being given, but then is flippant or ignores what you say, pay attention. Your child is struggling to stay focused.
You may agree an activity with your child and then find that their attention is rapidly drawn elsewhere. They may be colouring one minute but suddenly want to play outside, or watch the TV instead. Their focus has disappeared.
Your child has probably learned to appease you and stay quiet when you talk to him or her. However, you can probably tell whether s/he is listening to what you are saying, and whether that information is being processed. If you ask, “Did you hear what I said?” they will answer in the affirmative. If you test them, you’ll find they didn’t actually hear what you said and can’t act on it.
The reverse of number 4 above, is that your child may listen and hear what is said, but cannot then remember or follow instructions. They may not keep what you said in their short term memory long enough to act on it. A similar symptom of trouble focusing, is where your child loses or misplaces things. Often this is not intentional, but can be frustrating for all concerned.
Another sign that your child is having trouble staying focused is if s/he cannot seem to organise themselves ahead of time. They may not be able to pack their school bag the evening before for example, or they may be unable to complete projects that they’ve started. Their room may be a complete mess, or they may struggle with writing etc.
Children who have trouble focussing tend to be easily bored. This links in with the need to constantly change activities, and their slapdash approach to life. It’s something for you to look out for.
If your child is struggling to focus, there are a few things you can try to do that might help them. While this time in their development is frustrating for you, your patience will pay dividends. Remember that your child has far too much energy and they need to burn it off. Get them out and about, doing something physical. Try and wear them out a little before you get them to sit down and concentrate on the task in hand. Team sports are great, but a trip to the park or the beach will work just as well.
Block out all distractions as far as possible. This means dealing with your child alone, with no other stimuli around: no people, no TV, no phone, no radio etc. Don’t talk to your child when they are thinking. Provide clear instruction, and make to-do lists with your child, and always encourage them. Have a series of rewards to offer them when they complete their tasks in order. Make sure your child has enough breaks so that they can recharge their batteries, and allow them to expend more energy if they need to.
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