The potential for distractions is all around us. Just take a look around the average home and you will see multiple TVs on, computers up and running, Ipods, Ipads, cell phones ringing and buzzing, not to mention all the added stress these things can add to our life. These things are distracting for people that don’t have to deal with ADHD or other “isms” that include being easily distractable. Imagine what it’s like to have a brain on a constant search for the next shiny thing.
We all would like to have easy answers to solving our distraction problems, and helping children we parent, care for, or teach to be able to manage their focus. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as pushing the “Easy Button”, or just telling the child to try harder, or focus. In fact, telling the child to just try harder will only backfire.
External vs. Internal
Before you can start limiting the distractions, it helps to understand what the distractions are. A child who is easily distractible may not even understand what their distractions are or that they are, in fact, distracted. They just feel the frustration of failure and disappointment.
The first step is separation of External distractions and Internal distractions.
The external distractions are easier to see. These are usually more tangible and often easier to control with a little planning. The list of external distractions includes items on the list up above: the TV, cell phones, sounds, conversations, and movement by other people. This really is about an environment that is distracting. For more information on addressing the environment see my Special-Ism article Plugging the Drain Part 1 and Part 2. Helping the child understand how these distractions limit them and supporting them in building habits to manage their own environments will increase their chances for continued better focus.
Managing External Distraction:
- Notice distractions. Take some time to watch and note the things that distract your child. Pay attention to the tasks their given, and what distracts them from the goal. Are there things that you notice in the child’s environment that can be easily changed or planned around to promote successful focus?
- Clean workspace. Create a clutter free workspace for getting homework done.
- Provide background Noise. This could be some light music or something to offer some “white noise”. The background noise blocks out other multiple distracting sounds and offers the brain something else to focus on to help keep it from wandering. Even recordings of nature or ocean waves in headphones may be helpful.
- Use a visual timer. Kids with ADHD, for example, have poor internal clocks. Having the ability to know how much time is left and how much time has elapsed helps them stay on task.
- Create a check list. Personally, I’m not a fan of too many lists and sticky notes. However, I do find it helpful to have a check list of things I’m doing. Keep it short and manageable and in order. Scratch out things as they are done. (Spelling, Math homework, Walk the dog)
- Keep healthy. Making sure to get plenty of sleep, proper diet, and good exercise is crucial to promoting good focus. Studies show that physical exercise greatly improves the ability to focus. (Michigan State University, 2012)
Internal distractions are harder to manage both as caregivers and as the distracted child or individual. These are the thoughts in our heads, the beliefs that have been created over past disappointments, fear, and anxiety. The brain is made for thinking, and those of us easily distracted are usually running with thinking in overdrive.
Managing Internal Distraction
- Use Mindfulness Meditation. Many people have reported the positive effects of meditation. This practice helps you learn increased self awareness, emotional regulation, and to calm the mind. Scientific studies have reported the benefits as well. (Massachusetts General Hospital, 2012)
- Discover Strengths. Help your child discover what their strengths are. You may be able to do this by talking and paying attention to your child, using a Coach, tutor, teacher, or therapist. There are also assessments available online for very reasonable fees that offer great feedback. Learning how to use strengths can help build self confidence which leads to better focus.
- Provide positive reinforcement. Praise the child more than you criticize. Even if you feel they are doing more things wrong than right, point out the right five times more than the wrong.
- Learn to notice. Be somewhat of a body double for the child. When you notice them loosing focus, gently point out to them they have gotten off task. Gently is the key here. Avoid being judgmental or making fun of them and avoid comments like “Earth to Dan” or calling them a “space cadet”. Some kids will only need a light touch and a smile or maybe an agreed upon word that lets them know.
- Promote positive self talk. Learn what you can about positive self talk and how to relate this to your child. Positive self talk will help increase self-esteem and confidence.
- Address Perfectionism. Perfectionism is a killer of fighting distraction. If the child believes they can’t do it, they’re never going to be able to. Help your child learn that we are all human and make mistakes.
Managing the distracted mind is a learning process. Every brain and child and situation is unique and needs to be treated that way. Your child knows what is going on inside their head and body better than anyone, so include them in the planning and learning process. They know from experience that the “Easy Button” doesn’t exist, but by working as a supportive team, “possibility” does.
Cline, MD, Foster & Fay, Jim. (2006). Parenting With Love And Logic . Pinon Press.
Loh, B. A. (n.d.). Improve your Child’s Concentration – Tips and Suggestions. Retrieved from Brainy Child: <http://www.brainy-child.com/article/improve-child-concentration.shtml>
Massachusetts General Hospital (2012, November 12). Meditation appears to produce enduring changes in emotional processing in the brain. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 19, 2013, <http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/11/121112150339.htm>
Michigan State University (2012, October 16). Exercise may lead to better school performance for kids with ADHD. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 19, 2013, <http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/10/121016132109.htm>.
Quinn, MD, Patricia O. & Stern, MA, Judith M. (2012). Putting on the Brakes: Understanding and Taking Control of Your Add or ADHD. American Psychological Association.
Tartakovsky, M. (2012). 15 ADHD-Friendly Tips to Fire Up Your Focus. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 19, 2013, <http://psychcentral.com/lib/2012/15-adhd-friendly-tips-to-fire-up-your-focus/>.