For Teachers

How Can We Help Inattentive Children?

Are your students lost looking out the window? Or staring into space? Use these smart strategies for pulling a distracted child with ADHD back into the learning zone.

A girl with inattentive ADHD daydreams in class

Decrease the Distractions

Face the inattentive child’s desk away from high traffic areas of the classroom. Also, put any classroom aquariums, pets or other potentially distracting displays behind the student, rather than in the line of sight.

Use Proximity

If there is something that you want kids to remember, be sure that you are physically close to them when you speak. You may need to use touch where appropriate. A hand on the shoulder works well. Be sure to:

  • Make eye contact.
  • Have their attention before you begin to speak.
  • Realize that “uh-huh” doesn’t mean a whole lot.

Kids with ADHD can look you right in the eye, nod their head in agreement at the appropriate times, and “uh-huh” their way through a conversation and still have no idea what you just said. This “imitative empathy” can be misleading. She may appear to be with you, but she’s really a million miles away, occupied with her own thoughts and internal distractions. You might as well be speaking another language.

[Free Download: Inattentive ADHD, Explained]

Be aware of this “uh-huh” habit. Just because she nods and grunt at the semi-appropriate cues does not mean you have made contact. Don’t assume the student understands what you are saying.

Teach Kids to Use Reflective Listening

Rather than ending every sentence with “Now, do you understand?”, which puts the child on the defensive, teach the child to say “You want me to….”, “You’re saying that…”, or other reflective statements in conversation. This will confirm to you that they have heard what you have just said, and it will also reinforce the message as they repeat it back to you. It will also be a valuable communication tool for future relationships.

Bring her Back

Periodically (and gently) remind the student to get back on task, using your voice, proximity or touch to “reel her in” from the daydream.

[Pep Up Your Inattentive Kid]

Teach Self-Monitoring

Make the child aware that she has a tendency to drift off into her own thoughts. Emphasize to her that this is not a bad trait; in fact it is the very essence of creative, problem-solving thinking. However, she needs to be aware of when it is happening so she can better focus on completing her work.

Offer Solutions Kids Can Use

One such solution is to quickly write down the distracting thought. This “puts it to rest,” so to speak; at the very least, it provides closure to the compulsive need to follow that tangent. After quickly jotting down what she is thinking, the student can return to her work with less time spent off task.

Allow Enough Time

Keep in mind that timed tests are not going to be a good indicator of the ADHD without student’s actual ability. Allow extra time for these students to complete tests and classwork. Such an “extra time required” statement may even need to be included in the student’s IEP.

[Tuning Out Distractions, Zeroing In on School]

Recognize Different Thinking Styles

Children with ADHD, with or without hyperactivity, are not and will never be linear thinkers. There is no need to try and force them to become linear thinkers, and too much time and resources have been wasted in the attempt to do just that. They simply need to be able to return to the point of departure when the situation calls for it.