What to say to your child about trouble with focus

Lots of kids have trouble paying attention and staying focused when they’re supposed to. When kids don’t focus, it can be frustrating for everyone. But constantly being told to pay attention or concentrate, and having a hard time doing it, can make kids feel bad about themselves.

Knowing what to say to your child about trouble with focus makes a difference. It lets you respond more positively when your child doesn’t pay attention. It gives your child a chance to talk about the challenges. And it allows you to work together on strategies for staying focused.

Here are tips for talking to your child about trouble with focus.

Talking about challenges

When you talk to your child about challenges, there are two important messages you need to get across:

  1. You understand or want to understand.

  2. You’re there to help.

Focusing is a skill. When kids struggle with a skill or a task, they’re not doing it on purpose.

Tell your child, “I know focusing is hard for you, and that not everything is interesting. But some things are important to pay attention to, even if you’re not interested in them. Let’s talk about what might make it easier to focus on those.”

Explain that lots of people have a hard time with focus. If you know why your child has trouble focusing, be open about it. For instance, if your child has been diagnosed with ADHD, use that term and explain what it means.

The harder part is knowing what to say in the moment. That could be when your child is zoning out or not following directions. Or it could be when your child is doing poorly in school because of focus challenges. Here are three things to do when you talk to your child about not focusing.

  1. Point out the behavior. Kids don’t always realize when they lose focus.

  2. Ask your child what might help. It’s important for your child to know that there are ways to work on it.

  3. Don’t accuse or criticize. Avoid saying things like “You never pay attention” or “You have to stop daydreaming.”

Here are some common situations for kids with focus challenges and examples of things you can say:

When the teacher raises concerns about focus: “I know you try hard to pay attention in class. But your teacher says you get distracted. What would make it easier to focus? Your teacher suggested having you sit up front and away from the window.”  

When lack of focus causes a problem: “You must not have paid attention when I asked you to walk the dog. Now she’s had an accident. I’ll clean it up this time, and then we’ll talk about how to help you focus on the things you need to do.”

When your child doesn’t focus on homework: “You haven’t gotten any farther in your reading since the last time I checked in. What do you think can help keep your mind from wandering? Some people focus better when they listen to music. Do you want to try that?”

When you need to get your child’s attention: “I can see that you’re not really focusing on what I’m saying. Please put that down and look at me. And later, let’s come up with a signal to help you know you need to focus.”

When kids have challenges, they can feel like they’re alone. Explain to your child that lots of people have trouble with focus and attention. And everyone struggles with something.

The more you know about why and when your child has trouble focusing, the more specific your conversations can be. Your child’s teacher can be a great resource. Ask the teacher what’s going on in class and if there are ways to help your child focus better.

Kids have trouble with focus for different reasons. A common cause is ADHD. If you’re concerned that your child might have ADHD, learn about steps you can take to find out and get your child the right support.


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