Focus & Following Directions

Pep Up Your Inattentive Kid

Slowed-down, sluggish, and drifting? Smart strategies for getting a distracted, daydreaming child back on track.

ADHD Parents: Pep Up Your Inattentive Kid
ADHD Parents: Pep Up Your Inattentive Kid

My son has been diagnosed with inattentive ADHD. He is easily distracted, slow to complete tasks, and has a poor sense of time. Once, in fifth grade, he was assigned a project in which he had to figure out which three foods 36 cats preferred the most. Four days into the weeklong project, he learned that cats do not digest corn or rice, cat urine glows in the dark, and Isaac Newton invented the cat door. He didn’t have a single observation about the project itself.

I have inattentive ADHD, as well. Through the years, I have found tools to keep me energized, focused, and on time. I’ve gotten my son to use them, as well:

> GET ACTIVE. When my son gets sluggish, I increase his energy levels by having him do a short jog, laugh, do deep breathing, suck on a mint, or dance to some loud music. On some days, he will run around the block every 15 minutes. The jogging has not only turned him into an excellent cross-country runner, but has greatly improved his homework completion rate.

> REMOVE OR SILENCE DISTRACTIONS. That means turning off music, as well as removing items from his homework space that move, chime, are glittery, or that give off strong odors. My son is distracted by cooking smells, so when I prepared food during homework time, he would leave his desk and come to the kitchen to sit and smell. His schoolwork time is more fruitful if I cook well before or after he does his work. When he was younger, he insisted that music made him more, not less, attentive, so we did an experiment. He read a book while listening and not listening to music. He was amazed to find that he read twice as many words when the music was off.

> MONITOR VIGILANTLY (AKA nag constantly). I check in on my son every 15 to 30 minutes when he is supposed to be working, to make sure that he is still on task. I also use an iPhone timer app (there are apps for Android and Windows, as well) that beeps every 15 minutes to remind him that he is supposed to be working.

> FORM HABITS AND RITUALS. Doing the same thing the same way at certain times of day keeps my son from forgetting tasks. Matthew uses a certain ritual every day for packing his lunch before school and returning the house key to his backpack after school. I can almost hear him saying, “Check, check, check!” Doing these acts exactly the same way daily has kept him from going hungry at school, and from sitting on the porch until someone lets him into the house.