Prepare your child to be engaged and ready to learn
By Lynn Utzman-Nichols
Along with shiny notebooks, new pencils and stil-pink erasers comes the potential of a fresh, new school year. The grade books are promisingly blank. Anything is possible.
As parents, we are highly invested in our kids’ school success. We want to see them perform well, absorb knowledge and fully engage in school. One requirement to making this happen is paying attention in class.
While it seems like a simple command to “sit still and listen” it isn’t always easy. Keeping their minds from wandering is harder for some kids than others. And a number of things—noise, boredom, stress, hunger and more—can pull kids off task.
Here are some ideas on why kids might not pay attention in class and what you can do to help clear their minds and set them up for success in the coming school year.
Why kids don’t pay attention
There are many reasons why kids might not pay attention in school. One is simply the difference between how brains work: “Paying attention comes very easily for some kids. For others, it can be more difficult. It depends on how well they are wired to focus,” says Dr. Usha Udupa, a child psychiatrist with Mountain Crest Behavioral Healthcare Center in Fort Collins, a part of University of Colorado Health.
Brains are built differently
Some kids’ brains are built to tune out distractions—such as whispering, tapping, feeling hot or hungry—while others have issues with sensory overload. In this instance, every noise, movement and sensation is equally significant. “For these kids, a child tapping a pencil can easily pull them away from what the teacher is saying,” adds Udupa.
Another reason kids don’t pay attention in class is simply that they don’t understand the material. “If they don’t grasp what’s being taught they’re likely to do something else instead of listen,” says Udupa.
Kids also zone out or lose interest when the material is too easy for them. “Smart kids might find the material boring and stop paying attention,” adds Udupa.
Of course, a fair number of kids struggle with some level of true attention challenges, like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). A diagnosis, by the way, that doesn’t mean these kids can’t succeed. “ADHD is very treatable,” says Udupa (see side article for more).