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  • Sarina Shirazee

How to help your child pay attention

I don't think I've ever seen an inattentive child successfully maintain concentration after simply being told, "concentrate", yet it's something many of us working with children instinctively do, including myself. What can we do instead? ⠀

• Ask the child - Firstly, I try to say “I can see you’re having trouble concentrating. That’s OK. What do you think would help?” Let them make suggestions. They often have a pretty good idea of this - try to be flexible!⠀

• Remove visual distractions - move away from stimulating visual input like screens or colourful pictures (the less cluttered and visually "busy" the room, the better), or move outside;⠀

• Remove auditory distractions - close windows or doors if there are distracting noises coming from outside, use headphones to block out noises, play soft music, or move outside amongst nature sounds;⠀

• Break the task down - use small, manageable steps and ensure the child knows what to do;⠀

• Use a timer - e.g. using sand timers, prompt the child to try and stay focused for as long as the 3 minute sand timer is going, then if they need a break, they can turn a 1-2 minute timer over to guide this. If they don't need a break, they can turn the 3 minute timer over again (until they do need a break);⠀

• Allow them to move whilst working - e.g. sit on a wobble stool, wobble cushion, fit ball, or use an elastic band around chair legs. Research suggests that movement enhances learning for children with ADHD, though for neurotypical children, you may need to do your own tests as to whether they learn better with or without movement;⠀

• Allow movement breaks - stand up and move around at frequent intervals (for neurotypical children kindy to year 2, every 4-8 minutes; for years 3-5, every 8-12 minutes; for years 6-8, every 12-15 minutes);⠀

• Provide alternative seating options - sitting, standing, lying down;⠀

• Oral motor input - e.g. gum, crunchy snacks, a "pencil topper" or "chewelery" like a chew necklace;⠀

• Provide lots of positive reinforcement - if a child only receives attention and feedback when they’re inattentive, they will be less motivated to put in the conscious effort required to concentrate.


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