Parents often talk about issues they’re concerned about through our helpline or parent network. The inability of a child to pay attention is a common topic.
Karen has a daughter, Harley, who’s almost 9 and has a real problem with paying attention. She doesn’t cope well at school because she is so easily distracted.
Hayley’s father has ADHD and really understands how Hayley’s experience is so similar to his own. Karen is worried about her daughter and looking for help to improve her attention.
Hayley’s just returned to school after a long time away from a regular classroom and the structure that her daughter was once more familiar with.
You might already know that for kids in class, there can been far more interesting things going on outside the window or across the room. Thoughts can wander off to places that are fun and of interest to the imagination.
Some children who experience more specific issues with attention, are constantly in motion, whilst others have minds that are inclined to intense daydreaming where their minds race.
Every child is different and the ways in which they behave and navigate the world are particular to them. Brains are wired in many different ways, but what can parents do when they identify a problem?
We can get better at understanding what makes children tick, working with their strengths and interests to help them develop calm and focus, as best we can.
Harley says, “I have trouble paying attention. I daydream and go into my own space. I dream of things like Disneyland. I am sad about it and I get worried. I can’t really learn. I sit in class …if the teacher asks me something I get stuck…no words come out. Everybody starts looking at me and makes fun of me. I get really embarrassed. I didn’t mean to daydream. I can’t help it. My mum gets on to me about it and I do try to pay attention, it just doesn’t happen. It’s so hard.”
This isn’t a great situation in a classroom, it can get kids into all kinds of trouble! Not only does it impact on the ability to focus and learn, it can also lead to social isolation. Other children might be put off by behaviours they don’t understand or identify with, and sometimes bullying can occur.
So how can you help manage their distractions and channel their energy in a way that is more productive?
Families are the experts on their children’s emotions, behaviours, interests, needs and wants so as parents and carers, we can take the lead.
You could make sure, for example, that the teacher has enough information to help them more effectively support your child whilst in their classroom.
Working together with a teacher to come up with strategies to support your child to stay focused on the task at hand can be really effective.
With some guidance from our family team, Karen scoped a plan to work towards making things better. She elected to try to keep herself focused on one thing at a time and her first step was to meet with the teacher and discuss how they could come together to work up a strategy for Hayley.
Read on about what happened.
“I am better at listening and doing something else at the same time. I can listen to the teacher and scribble drawings as well. It kind of helps me pay attention. I can ask the teacher to take a walk around the corridor or go out sometimes. That helps me when I get stuck on my chair. I don’t like the way I have to sit for too long…If I can move around, I am ok again.
I’ve got a squishy fidget toy that I use to keep my fingers busy. It stops me daydreaming. If I start to think about somewhere else, I can’t really stop it. The fidget helps my mind to pay attention to the teacher and what’s going on in my class. The other kids have fidgets on the table too sometimes. I don’t feel so different anymore.”
I’ve not felt so embarrassed in class because I can do things which help me do my work. I know my mum and dad understand what it’s like… and that makes me feel good. I love them for that.”
Karen has been really delighted at the progress Hayley has made in such a short space of time.
“I think I had too many things going on in my head at the same time and wasn’t able to see the woods for the trees. Having space to talk and think about the main things I needed to do was good for me. Good for my family. It’s really helped me to focus. Which is funny really, because I wasn’t paying attention either. It’s been great to get some help to reflect on me and how I was thinking and feeling. Our family can be a bit chaotic so feeling I was calmer and more focused helped Hayley become calmer. She looks at me more, pays more attention. Even our eye contact and the bond between us has got so much better. She loves to sit with me and get a special story each night just with me. That didn’t happen before as she would often get fed up after 5 minutes as her brother would distract her. Now I do 2 stories, one each, and sometimes 3, for both of them together with Dad!”
Dimitri, Hayley’s dad:
“It’s been hard watching my daughter go through things that I went through when I went to school. I didn’t grow up here and things weren’t very well understood then. I remember how stupid I felt. How lonely I was as a child. I didn’t have a childhood really. My family just thought I was weird. I can see now why I was such an angry boy. I have overcome a lot of the problems, mostly because I left my country to come here, and work for myself. I avoid social situations, but I don’t want that for my children. I’m glad we have been able to make some changes to our home life and my wife feels able to speak up for Hayley at school. I am thankful.”
Reading about Karen and her family, we get an idea of the depth of thoughts and feelings attached to just one area of Hayley’s life and the impact on her and her family. We often take for granted that when we have a child, everything should just fall into place. That’s often not the case and especially when families include children who need that extra support to help them shine.
Parents often feel overwhelmed and it’s really not surprising given the daily pressures of keeping a family going, work, money, the expectations put on parents as educators, carers, nurturers. It’s a lot!
Our aim is to be there to help families become the best communicators and educators for their children, understanding that emotional health is key to nurturing wellbeing for all the family.
Our Family Support team would be delighted to help out if anyone would like to contact us.