Whether you are a teacher or a parent, trying to teach a child who finds it hard to focus is a challenge. They stare into space rather than working on the task that’s been set, try using distraction tactics to stall the learning process, and sometimes flat-out refuse to work. For children with additional needs such as ADHD, remaining at one task long enough to complete it can be difficult without strategies to support them. These tips will help you give a child who struggles to focus the skills to remain on task and engage with learning.
Ensure you have everything you need to complete the task – this might be as simple as a pencil or pen or could involve specialist equipment such as protractors, compasses or watercolors. Make sure pencils are sharpened before you start working.
Before starting, help the child get comfortable. We all know it’s hard to focus if something is distracting us, so remind them to use the bathroom, if necessary, move into a comfortable position, and help make the environment as conducive to learning as possible. This might be by drawing a curtain if the sun is in their eyes, sitting them away from others so they are not tempted to talk or disrupt their learning, or turning off a television or radio if you are working at home, so they are not distracted.
Tell the child what you expect from them, both in terms of behavior and the task. Use language that is appropriate for their age and ability. If you set out the expectations before you start you can refer to them if the child starts to drift. Whether you are a teacher in a classroom or a parent supporting a child at home, it can be useful to have a set of rules, so they know what is expected for learning. Allow them to contribute to the list of rules, so they have a level of autonomy over their learning.
Many children who struggle to focus benefit from one-to-one support. This allows them to ask questions, if necessary, which is important as children who don’t understand what is expected of them are more likely to lose focus. It is often best to sit facing a child (at the opposite side of the desk to them) when assisting so they don’t need to turn to ask any questions. Look for signs that they are starting to lose focus – this could be looking around the room or excessive erasing of work. Encourage them to remain focused, offering praise when they are doing well.
For some children, particularly those with additional needs, it may be helpful to give them tools to help themselves, especially if they struggle to focus when being taught in a large group. This could be a fidget toy such as a stress ball or pop-it that they can use as they listen to expend additional energy that can become a distraction. Giving children their own mats or spots to sit on during carpet time can also be helpful, so they have a space they know they are expected to be. The better you know the child, the easier it will be to work to find strategies to help them.
Repetition is a key part of learning and giving children a task they are familiar with can help them focus. Using resources such as these free 2nd grade writing activities when planning work can help, as can working on worksheets, which can easily be reproduced. Repetition also builds confidence!
Remain Calm and Patient
It can be hard to keep your cool when children are struggling to focus, especially if you know they can do the work. Take deep breaths if you find yourself getting stressed. It can also be beneficial to step away from the situation for a moment, especially if tensions are rising. Helping children learn the skills needed to focus can be challenging, so be kind to yourself – it takes time to pass on these good habits and it is as important a lesson as any other.
Using these tips, you have the best chance of giving a child the support they need to help them focus and succeed. Be proud of what you are teaching them – these skills will benefit them not just through school and college, but also through work and all aspects of their life.