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Inattention: Help, My Child Can’t Concentrate

Inattention in the Classroom

If inattention is interfering with your child’s academic performance, take an inventory of your child’s life and lifestyle before pursuing a diagnosis or medication to correct the problem.  Many times pursuing the simple advice which follows will produce amazing results:

First, slow down! Promote order in the life of the family!  Child thrive when life is predictable and orderly.

Enforce an appropriate bedtime

Most students today are getting too little sleep.  Lack of sleep is a proven cause of inattention in school. A reasonable target bedtime for an elementary aged child is 7:30 to 8:00, a junior high child is 8:30 to 9:00, and for a high school child is 9:00 to 9:30.  Homework or an extracurricular event may occasionally push this time later, but keep the target time in mind.  Avoid electronic stimulation (TV watching, tablet or computer) within 45 minutes of the target bedtime on school day nights. Restrict video game play to weekend days only.  Remove the TV from the bedroom; this has also been shown to be associated with insomnia and poor school performance.  Avoid drinking caffeine-containing drinks with or after supper.  Read a book for the 10-15 minutes prior to bedtime.

Limit screen time

Excessive electronic entertainment at home has been linked to attention problems in the classroom.  Limit recreational screen time (TV, tablet, video, smartphone) to 30 minutes or less per night on school days.  Restrict video game play (console and tablet) to weekend days only.  Do not allow any screens in your child’s bedroom!

Eat healthy breakfast on school days

In the rush to get ready for school, breakfast may be missed.  Research has shown that eating a nutritious breakfast improves memory, improves attentiveness, and reduces depression, anxiety and hyperactivity.    Ideally, a healthy breakfast should contain complex carbohydrates, fiber, protein and healthy fats (primarily omega 3’s).  Examples of healthy breakfast foods include whole grain cereal, fruit, eggs (scrambled, fried or boiled), granola cereal, yogurt, oatmeal with nuts/raisins, bagel with cream cheese, banana with peanut butter and whole wheat pancakes or waffles.  Always eat something for breakfast!

Eat a balanced diet

A balanced diet is helpful for optimal mental performance.

  • Encourage the eating of vegetables and fruits, instead of frequent fast foods and sweets.
  • Eat together as a family whenever possible.  This strengthens the parent-child relationship.
  • Offer healthy snacks after school, including fruits.
  • Severely limit drinks or candy containing caffeine; only 0-2 soft drinks per week.
  • Eat breakfast daily.  This is essential, even if it is just orange juice and a piece of toast.
  • Take a multivitamin if there is poor variety in your child’s diet.
  • Eat more fish.  Research has shown that essential fatty acids (known as omega-3) found in fish can enhance learning and attention in children whose intake is low.  Fish that are obtained from the “wild” and not farm-raised are the best source, such as ocean-raised salmon.

Encourage some physical activity after school

Thirty minutes of exercise (riding a bike, fast walking, or playing a sport) after school will be refreshing and stimulating to the body, mind and emotions.

More advice for the inattentive child at home and at school

Supporting Research

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