needbe asks:

How can I help my 9 year old focus in school better?

In Topics: Motivation and achievement at school
> 60 days ago



Oct 29, 2010
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What the Expert Says:

We all have had moments when we’ve struggled to focus ourselves and there can be varying reasons why at that time we just couldn’t focus on what was happening around us.

Sometimes the root of the problem is a lack of understanding of what’s being taught.  If your child is behind and whatever is being explained isn’t making sense, it could be a reason for not focusing.  It’s very difficult to focus on something in its entirety when we’re already floundering to make sense.  For example, when my husband, an engineer, goes into depth about a project and all the technical details surrounding it, I know that I totally lose focus.  However, as an adult, I can hide it a lot better than a child and I’m not going to be tested on my knowledge later.  We’ve all experienced those moments when someone is explaining something to us and our base of knowledge just isn’t adequate enough to make sense of their explanation.  

In a classroom the teacher is tending to several other children so it’s difficult for him/her to remain focused on what your child is doing at all times.  If your child has been struggling in school for several years and things aren’t getting better, there could be a chance that he’s feeling lost in the classroom and thus losing focus.  If this is the case, you’ll want to figure out where he’s at academically and either work with him extra each day to help him catch up or hire a tutor to help him catch up.  If a tutor was working one-on-one with your child, s/he’d be able to constantly engage him/her to ensure understanding and when it wasn’t happening, the tutor would then know to switch tactics or concepts until understanding and focus were regained.  It’s a more intense process than what’s happening in the classroom and that’s why it’s effective.  A tutor can help him figure out his classroom world right now, and help him catch up on the concepts he’s missed out on in the past.

Is your child anxious?  When we’re anxious, it’s difficult to focus on much other than what we’re anxious about, never mind trying to turn our brains on to learning.  If this is the root of the problem and his anxiety is causing him to have difficulty focusing, perhaps you need to look at some methods to diminish those feelings.  It could be as simple as him having a favorite pencil and eraser, knowing that when he uses those particular items he’s in a good place.  Kind of like Linus from Charlie Brown and his security blanket, your child may just need something personal to keep him calm.  

Perhaps the structure in the classroom isn’t conducive to your child’s ability to focus.  S/he may need something more structure in order to be able to anticipate what’s coming next and then be able to concentrate on the task at hand.  Some children are so busy thinking about the upcoming task and what may be involved (because they don’t know the taxk) that they can’t focus on the task at hand.  It could be that outlining the day on the classroom board is a necessity for your child so that s/he knows what the day looks like.  It may end up requiring even more structure whereby each activity is outlined as well, again promoting a sense of calmness rather than anxious anticipation of what will be next.

I don’t know the whole situation here, whether or not your child has been tested for learning disabilities or ADHD, but if it’s enough of a problem, you may want to talk to your family doctor to determine whether or not there’s more here than meets the eye.  There may not be, but if there is, your child may be eligible for an aide in the classroom or perhaps some suggestions on how to modify his schoolwork so that it appeals to his learning abilities.  It could even just be a matter of him/her having a different learning style than what’s being used in the classroom.  I’ve run across kinesthetic learners who really struggle in the typical school environment where visual and auditory learners are appealed to the most whilst other learning styles are more difficult to indulge.

Finally, it’s important to consider your child’s sense of ‘readiness’.  Is s/he on the younger or more immature side of things?  This can make a difference because while the expectation is that other children are sitting at their desks for longer periods of time, your child may just not be ready.  Set realistic expectations each day, perhaps doing it with your child.  Work with the teacher to improve these skills.  Maybe it’s a matter of setting up a daily journal that goes back and forth between you and the teacher to communicate how your child did in each lesson and daily task.  It may be as detailed as examining entry into the classroom (loud, noisy, getting indoor shoes on right away, sitting at desk with agenda out, etc.) or behavior in a line-up, or your child may simply need to focus on certain subjects.  Whatever the case, work together in a positive way to improve your child’s focus.  Simply telling a child to focus doesn’t mean anything in a world where focus is already a problem.  Be positive about the ‘wins’ and when there’s a bad day (and there will be) discuss what could have been done differently and express your confidence that the next day will be better!

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