The number one take-home message of this article is that making a child feel badly about their distractibility will not help. Yelling is an obvious way to make a child feel badly, but there are other tactics that should be avoided as well. Comparing them to other siblings or friends, shaming them, and spanking are all ineffective ways of changing a child's distractable behavior. For most persistent cases of distractibility, the child is not choosing the behavior. They are struggling with it just as much as the parent is-in fact, probably much more. Chances are, the child is aware of the issue and already feels bad about it while he or she is at school. It will not help to make your child also feel bad about the issue when at home. This can lead to your child feeling like he or she cannot escape this issue; that this is a part of who they are and always will be. He or she may begin to internalize and feel hopeless or helpless about the situation. This can lead to some depressive symptoms and if your child is already struggling with depression-which the article mentions is a possibility-it may exacerbate the issue.
This issue, like so many educational, emotional, and behavioral issues with children, needs to be dealt with in a supportive way. The article does a great job of outlining some very concrete and simple things that parents can do to support their child through this frustrating time. Of course, what will work depends on the individual child, teacher, parent, and family. It's worth it to take some time to think about the source of your child's distractibility. If you are struggling to figure it out, consulting a psychologist may help as we are specially trained in the assessment and treatment of behavioral issues. Once you figure out what might be going on, try a strategy or two. Try several strategies. Heck-try all of them! You never know what might work. It's important to be patient-both with yourself and your child. This is not an easy process and though initially time-consuming it can actually help with time issues in the future. Recognize that you are going to feel frustrated throughout the process and that's ok. If you feel overwhelmed and need support-again, it may be a good idea to seek help from a psychologist.
Here are some of my favorite interventions from the article:
-Open and proactive communication with teachers. This one is HUGE!!! Having worked in schools, I saw how infrequently this was done and when it was done-it was often done incorrectly. Keeping open communication with teachers does not mean telling them what to do. It means informing them about the situation, asking them for their input, and sharing yours. Let them know what you see at home, ask about what they see in the classroom, and then collaborate to see what you can do together. Teachers are professionals and may see some things at school that are vastly different from what you see at home. They will also be able to tell you how the behaviors are impacting your child's ability to learn. In short-working with the teacher is key. It should also be said that you can and should engage administrators, counselors, the school psychologist, and other school professionals as necessary.
-Limit media distractions at home. This one is SO HARD! How else are you supposed to cook dinner, clean up, and tend to your other children without at least one child occupied by technology?!?! While I don't think that technology has to be banned in one's house, but it should certainly be limited. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that screen time be absent before age two and limited to one to two hours for older children. This does not just include TV, but also computers, tablets, and video games. Too much screen time makes it difficult for some children to pay attention in other arenas. It can also significantly limit creativity. Engage your child in a discussion about screen time. Ask what other activities he or she would like to engage in and see how you can recreate some of that at home. You may be surprised to learn what your child is interested in (they might even be surprised themselves!). You never know-your child may become so engaged in their other activity that they don't want to participate in screen time. Or that screen time may help them develop their other activity even more. The take-home message for screen time is limit and redirect.
-Use checklists. This is especially helpful for older children. This is something that they can participate in and eventually take over doing. It is a useful skill that can help children as they become more autonomous in high school, college, and adulthood. Start by making a list with your child and having them add a few items. Don't make the list too long or it will become overwhelming. Make it fun, make it colorful, put it in a prominent place, link it to incentives-whatever will help your child complete the list and feel great about doing so. Eventually as making lists becomes routine, you can add additional components-such as dates or time limits. Ultimately, you want your child to start making, or at least initiating, the list. This is an intervention that can take some time, but has a big potential pay-off in the future.
Those are my favorites, but use what works well for you and your family.
This article is a little bit more reader-friendly than my previous article from the Back to School series (Academic Stress). There's less jargon and unnecessary technical explanations of statistics. However, the two articles definitely complement each other. I would encourage you to check out both of them. As always, leave your thoughts in the comments, tweet me: @fpschDrSweeney, or contact me directly. And stay tuned for more Back to School tips and information as we gear up to start school on Monday!