For Teachers

How to Snag the Attention of Distracted Children

Any teacher or parent knows that the wandering eye – and mind – of a student with ADHD is a serious impediment to learning. Use these techniques to focus the attention of children who have trouble paying attention to assignments and lessons that don’t spark their interests.

Distracted boy with ADHD trying to do homework at table
Distracted boy with ADHD trying to do homework at table

You’ve probably noticed that a child with attention deficit disorder (ADHD) can focus intently (also called “hyperfocusing) on certain activities — playing video games, for example. But when it comes to schoolwork, she has a hard time staying on task.

Researchers recognize that ADHD doesn’t impair the ability to pay attention, but rather the ability to control what one pays attention to. Medication can do a lot to help many kids concentrate, but all children with ADHD can benefit from the focus techniques listed here.

In the Classroom

  • Seat kids with ADHD away from distractions, such as doors, windows, and high-traffic areas. Surround them with well-behaved classmates. Arrange the room furniture so you can circulate freely and have access to all students — your movement will hold their interest and allow you to redirect a student whose attention drifts.
  • Make lessons exciting, funny, mysterious. Turn off the lights and use a flashlight to illuminate objects or words on the blackboard. Invite a surprise guest. Draw silly stick figures to illustrate key points, and invite students to the board to do the same. Whenever possible, plan lessons around current events or topics of interest to students. Hold their attention with batting averages and other baseball statistics during math.

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  • Vary teaching methods. Limit the amount of time that you talk while students listen. Have them chant math facts, tap out the number of syllables in words, or formulate questions for their classmates to answer.

At Home

  • Get the medication right. If your child takes ADHD meds, make sure he’s getting the right medication at the right dosage. When paired with behavioral techniques, stimulants and other ADHD drugs can dramatically improve a child’s ability to focus.
  • Make learning active. Encourage your child to get fully involved in his homework. Have him underline reading material with colored pencils or draw cartoons to illustrate vocabulary words. When he’s working on math problems, let him use pieces of popcorn to work out computations.
  • Teach self-monitoring. Help your child become aware of the things that distract her. With time and practice, she’ll get to know what being distracted feels like, and will recognize when her attention is drifting. Individuals with ADHD benefit from positive affirmations, such as “I will pay attention to my work.” Teach your child to repeat these to encourage herself to keep going.
  • Play attention-boosting games. Many classic children’s games, including Simon Says and musical chairs, require attention and good listening skills. In a game called Champion Distractor, one player focuses on completing a task, while the other tries to distract him. To win the game, a player needs to be a good Distractor, and must be able to avoid being distracted.
  • Spend more time outdoors. Recent studies link time spent outside, especially in natural environments, with improved concentration. Try walking or driving the green route to school, and give your child time to play outdoors before she sits down to do homework.

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