In general, kids are known for their distracted, high-energy behaviors. Parents everywhere will undoubtedly have days when they throw up their hands, feeling tired of repeating their requests or chasing their kids around the house. But what if this hyperactive behavior and inability to concentrate wasn't their fault at all? Many children struggle with their attention span in our modern age, and with all the fast-paced, distractions all around us, who can blame them? It's up to us as parents to recognize when our kids are struggling, and to help them learn the skills to cope and succeed in spite of their challenges.
- Kids being kids or something serious?
- How inattentiveness impacts on our kids
- Issues that challenge kids' attention span
- Supporting a child with attention span challenges
- Stay resilient as a parent
- When life gets back on track
Watching your child struggle with inattentiveness and hyperactivity can be heartbreaking for a parent. You know they are trying their best to meet a goal, yet struggling to do so. Issues with attention span are extremely common and there is a wide variety of reasons, as well as options available to help. Finding a solution that works for both child and parent can take some time, but proactive support is a huge part of creating successful patterns of behavior for your child.
With just a small amount of dedicated de-stress time away from over-stimulation every day, our kids get a handle on their concentration challenges and improve their overall sense of wellness.
Kids being kids or something serious?
All children are sure to have problems with displaying inappropriate or hyperactive behaviors, waiting their turn, controlling their emotions and sitting still on occasion. We have to remember that children, in general, tend to be fidgety and forgetful at times. However, legitimate medical issues are usually much more extreme than the occasional problem with the things listed above—they tend to be constant.
Because of this, it is very important that parents take a close and comprehensive look at their child’s behavior before having them diagnosed. One of the major differences between normal, childlike hyperactivity and a disorder is an impairment in functioning or learning. Parents should be on the lookout for multiple symptoms, including problems regulating behaviors, emotional outbursts and a lack of organization, in addition to inattentiveness and hyperactivity.
A serious disorder is also likely to be present over time. If your child was extremely well-behaved and attentive at age 5 but suddenly becomes inattentive and ill-behaved at school at age 7, you should examine what else may have led to a change in their behavior.
Regardless, inattentiveness affects a child's here and now. Whether, the issue stems from a legitimate medical issue or just a lot of energy, your kid needs a helping hand focusing and calming down. Before we jump to a diagnosis let's try everything in our power to give them the help they need.
How inattentiveness impacts on our kids
Inattentiveness can manifest in different ways depending on its underlying cause and on factors such as the child’s age, their schooling, their home life, and their relationships with their peers. Younger children have far shorter attention spans, which is natural for their stage of development. Attention issues may look like:
- Messiness & disorganization
- Fidgeting & restlessness
- Short-term memory issues
- Inability to stay on task
It’s easier to notice these kinds of issues once a child is school-aged and has started regular schoolwork and homework, but sometimes even younger children can show signs of struggling with their attention span. Additionally, many children with attention issues manifest in more than one way. When these issues crop up, it doesn’t necessarily mean that your child is on the ADHD spectrum, though it’s always appropriate to consult with a trusted healthcare professional. It can take some work to connect with your child and help them improve upon any problems that might be impacting their ability to learn, but the results are worth it.
School-age kids especially are already dealing with the challenges of schoolwork, extracurricular activities, and social development. When they are also experiencing issues with inattentiveness or hyperactivity on top of their normal everyday activities, it can have a negative effect on their self-esteem, causing stress and emotional struggles. This pattern can create an undesirable circular effect, as the stress of not meeting expectations can cause your child additional anxiety, to their further detriment. At its worst, struggling with attention span can create frustration and ongoing anxiety about school.
Issues that challenge kids' attention span
There are many different causes of lack of attention span and hyperactivity in children, and while the list below is a good overview, it’s not completely comprehensive! We’ve outlined a few of the most common causes, but, as always, if you are at all concerned about your child’s behavior or school performance, it’s best to consult with your family doctor to address your concerns. Being a supportive and conscientious advocate for your child is already a great first step.
ADHD, which stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder, can manifest in children in many different ways. If your child has ADHD, they may be experiencing a higher degree of inattentiveness and distractibility, as well as be likely to exhibit hyperactivity. However, ADHD is a spectrum and there is a wide range of signs that they may or may not exhibit. ADHD is a very common disorder ranging in levels of severity, and there are many strategies available to you to help manage it. If you suspect your child may have ADHD, the best approach is to take note of any symptoms, and have your child evaluated by a health professional. ADHD is a very manageable condition, and though your child may have challenges that are different than other children, having supportive and proactive parents is a main ingredient in their recipe for success.
Children can absolutely experience both general anxiety as well as anxiety disorders, and it can be difficult for them to navigate as they lack the experience and development to process and regulate their emotions the way that adults are capable of. Signs of anxiety may include difficulty regulating emotions, irritability, avoidance of certain things like school or people, and even physical symptoms like an elevated heartbeat or panic attacks. Kids can develop anxiety as a genetic condition, or as a result of an incident that they found traumatic - which might not have seemed like a big deal to their parent! It’s important to put a support plan in place for any child suffering from anxiety.
Sometimes children who are going through a stressful time in their life - for example, a move or their parents divorcing - can have trouble staying focused and not acting out. If a child has recently undergone a traumatic experience, they may even be showing symptoms of PTSD - post-traumatic stress disorder. If your child is struggling and seems to be showing signs of stress, consulting with a healthcare professional is always the best course of action.
Some problems are simpler than others! Water is life, and dehydration can have acute effects on the brain’s ability to function properly. If a child isn’t drinking enough water to replenish their body’s hydration needs throughout the day, they can experience brain fog and sluggishness.
Just like their water intake, children need activity and a healthy diet to maintain their concentration and balanced mood. Simple refined carbs from processed, sugary foods can cause spikes and dramatic crashes in energy levels, disrupting a child’s mood as well as their ability to stay focused and engaged. Additionally, children need at least an hour and a half of exercise a day. Physical activity including an elevated heart rate intermittently throughout the day helps with mental cognition and building strength and positive habits, as well as improving your child’s emotional well-being.
Too much screen time
At what age and how many hours children should be allowed to engage with on-screen entertainment like television, tablets, computers, and even smartphones is a hotly debated and highly personal choice for parents. Books, art, and puzzles are unlikely to compete with the highly stimulating content of screens. The immediate gratification that screen-time provides can create risky patterns around needs for entertainment, potentially disrupting attention span development. Additionally, the blue light emitted from screens can disrupt melatonin production, interfering with a normal sleep schedule. Overtired kids are definitely more prone to distractibility and inattentiveness!
Supporting a child with attention span challenges
As a loving and dedicated parent, it’s a natural instinct to want to help your child adjust their habits for the better, and to support them if they have a neurodivergent diagnosis. Finding different ways to improve your child’s wellbeing and focusing on healthy family dynamics can go a long way to assisting your child.
if there is stress or neglect at home, that can be reflected in a child’s behavior. Spending quality time both one-on-one with your child and as a family can make a big difference for the better. Family dinner times can be a bonding and sacred time. As well, engaging in fun activities that also bolster social and mental development like board games, sports, puzzles, and art can help your child learn to absorb themselves in the activity at hand for longer periods of time.
Support their schoolwork
Sit down with them when they have homework to work on to provide assistance if necessary - but don’t do it for them! You may also find that your child’s education program has tutoring resources available for students who might be struggling.
Outside time and exercise
There is a wealth of evidence showing that time spent in nature can have significant benefits on emotional health, cognitive processes, and overall wellbeing. Encouraging your child to get exercise by running around outdoors can positively impact their engagement and attentiveness. Additionally, exercise is a big part of appropriate development, helping your child burn energy so that they can get a restful sleep, and creating healthy patterns that can serve them later in life as well.
Varieties of play
Different sorts of mental engagement can assist your child in different ways. Sometimes parents can over-schedule their children in extracurricular activities, homework, or sports, until the child has much of their time already accounted for. Letting your child engage in unstructured play can give their mind and emotions some breathing room and allow them to enjoy some activity time without a firm goal in mind. Likewise, encouraging creative activities can let your child engage in a focused yet creative flow, whether it’s coloring, collaging, music, or painting. Finally, puzzle games and memory games can be a great way to direct any frenetic attention, especially if you’re prepping a child with ADHD or hyperactivity to return to school after a holiday or summer vacation.
Minimal screen time
Although it can be tempting to let your child zone out for a while, it’s important to monitor and restrict the amount of time they are spending in front of a tablet or television. Too much screen time has been linked to a whole host of negative physical and mental effects on children, and if they’re engaging with the Internet, there’s always the risk that they may come across something age-inappropriate if filters aren’t in place.
Being sure to prepare nutritious, wholesome meals and snacks for your child gives them their best chance at a great day. What children eat has a significant effect on their mental and emotional presentation. A hearty meal with fresh produce and whole grains can go a long way to helping their energy levels stay stable, and getting them the vitamins and nutrients they need for their development. Sugary snacks can cause a spike and then swift decline in energy, affecting both the child’s mood and their cognitive abilities for the day. Some kids might be picky eaters or fixated on junk food, so there can be challenges, but there are lots of ways with some research to prepare both wholesome and appealing meals.
Supplementing for focus
While it’s important to make sure that your child receives most of their required nutrients through a healthy diet, there are absolutely ways to offer them natural and child-friendly support for focus and concentration through supplementation. Zinc, magnesium, and omega-3s have all been shown to have benefits for cognitive health.
Adaptogens, a phrase for powerful botanicals and medicinal mushrooms which support resilience to stress, have become widely popular, though they have been used in traditional medicines for centuries. It’s important to find a formula that’s appropriate for children that combine adaptogens and other herbs to effectively bolster concentration and stress relief.
Stay resilient as a parent
It’s a struggle to stay balanced when you’re confronting any serious issue your child might be experiencing. However, one of the best things you can do is find strength and reinforcements for yourself, so that you can continue to be their most valuable resource and advocate.
Find your own support
Whether you and your partner can lean on each other, or you have a friendly and sympathetic ear in a valued friend or family member, it’s important to have someone who’s got your back, who can listen to you and offer encouragement. Validation and care go a long way to keep you from feeling alone and frustrated in your efforts.
Empathy for your child
It’s important, when confronting the ways your child might be falling short in school, to rein in the frustration and put yourself in your child’s shoes. Only you can determine if there is a disciplinary issue or not, but working on providing understanding and unconditional love when your child is struggling with inattention, distractibility, or other issues that can masquerade as behavioural issue,s can build trust between you that lays the groundwork for applying solutions.
Be your best self
Making sure to prioritize your own physical, mental, and emotional health while dealing with a tough family issue can really help you keep your cool. It’s important to remember that while parenting is a vital role, you still have to nurture yourself as well. Keeping up with your fitness routine, eating well, and taking care to address any emotional or mental health issues you might be having makes you your strongest to stand with your child during their struggles.
Talk to the professionals
Ultimately, if your child is having difficulties beyond your scope, you should reach out for professional support. Discuss your child’s issues with a trusted teacher, family doctor, or other healthcare provider to make sure that if they need a diagnosis, or further support at school, that the people who are best equipped to evaluate them are a part of your child’s team for success.
When life gets back on track
Our fast paced lives are so full of distractions that it's not uncommon for even adults to struggle with attention span issues. Kid's are still developing the skills and resilience that we have, and it's up to parents to guide that development. Quite often a kid's whole behavior can change for the better with just a few lifestyle changes.
Most kids will eventually mature beyond their attention span and hyperactivity issues, and even some will completely grow out of their ADHD symptoms as they become teenagers and young adults. As soon as our kids hit their teenage years, many find that their hyperactivity and acute impulsivity get on track.
If you are concerned about your child’s hyperactivity and inattentiveness, pay close attention to their behaviors, speak with their teachers and other caretakers and contact your doctor to discuss your findings.