Welcome to Part II, The Art of Focus: Emotional and Organizational Strategies for Success.
What happens when you give your child a task but several minutes in, they’ve abandoned the task and are already engaged in something else? Do you find yourself repeating instructions, shaking your head in frustration, exacerbated to the point of eventually yelling?
Instead of reacting, it’s important to develop a sense of anticipating the actions which may emerge and subvert them with a combination of intelligent planned and emotionally supportive behavioral applications. Our Team at the OAS Center can help you develop and implement strategies tailored specifically toward your child. Whether you struggle with an unruly child, often termed ODD (Oppositional Defiance Disorder,) a child with hyperfocused disorder due to ADHD, with autism, or with sensory processing overload, know that you’re not alone!
We are here to help you understand how to shift your child’s behavioral patterns. Adults who implement these simple tools will benefit twofold: you’ll experience a shift in your child’s behavior while simultaneously embracing feelings of hope and success instead of frustration and emotional depletion. Welcome to a sustainable future, the next phase in your relationship with your Focus-challenged child!
What exactly is Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)?
“Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a disorder marked by an ongoing pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development.
- Inattention means a person wanders off task, lacks persistence, has difficulty sustaining focus, and is disorganized; and these problems are not due to defiance or lack of comprehension.
- Hyperactivity means a person seems to move about constantly, including in situations in which it is not appropriate; or excessively fidgets, taps, or talks. In adults, it may be extreme restlessness or wearing others out with constant activity.
- Impulsivity means a person makes hasty actions that occur in the moment without first thinking about them and that may have a high potential for harm, or a desire for immediate rewards or inability to delay gratification. An impulsive person may be socially intrusive and excessively interrupt others or make important decisions without considering the long-term consequences.”
Parenting Skills and Organizational Strategies for Success
We agree with the NIH that a crucial aspect of behavioral success with ADHD kids is modifying how you relate to your kids. Termed Parenting Skills Training, or behavioral parent management training, the NIH terms this as “an effective means of combatting lack of attention.”
A few simple suggestions follow:
Setting a Timer:
Setting a timer can be an effective method of combatting anxiety and helping kids prepare for a specific task. Let’s say your child wants to playing piano, but can’t seem to practice for more without frustration. They may complain that it takes for-ever, but you know all they put is a total of 7 minutes of practice spread out amongst 30 minutes of avoiding practice. (side note: music lessons are an effective way of channeling and focusing the energy of ADHD kids.)
First, you must agree on a specific manageable time frame, let’s say, 10 minutes to start. This action already places a finite end to the task, which empowers the child. Additude Magazine says, “For a child with ADHD, the general rule of thumb is that a task is most likely to get done when the child knows that “the end is in sight” at the beginning of the task. It’s easier for kids with ADHD to do six five-minute chores than to do one 30-minute chore.”
Additionally, by allowing your child to set the timer themselves, you’re reinforcing their sense of control over the situation. Once the timer rings, allow your child to get up, stretch, and show you what they just did. Take a little break, before starting the process all over again.
In the beginning, you may only successfully run through two 10 minute sessions. As time goes on, the task becomes less daunting and more approachable and your session times will increase. You may play with increasing the time by just one or two minutes to begin. It will also be very helpful to embrace some of our physical strategies discussed last week, such as wiggly seat bottoms for kids who simply can’t sit still. Or, allow for your student or child to work on the task at hand in a non-traditional way, such as at a standing desk.
Additude Magazine also encourages us to ask our child to estimate how long a task will take. “Your child may think it will take an hour to do his math homework. If he finds it took him only 15 minutes, he will be pleasantly surprised — and much less likely to procrastinate the next time he has to tackle it.”
Create Opportunities for Kids to Interact in between breaks:
In conjunction with the timer, we recommend spacing out your breaks for at least 50% as long as you set the task, timer: if your kid studies for 20 minutes, give them at least a 10 minute break from studying. Then back on again to studying for 20 minutes.
During these breaks, it’s up to you if you want to allow for your kid to use their screen, which can be used as a reward. We suggest first trying to create an opportunity for engagement and interaction in other modalities. You might go over the material they just accomplished, or you might reflect on their school day, the music they like to listen to, or their relationships with their peers. Or you might join them for a dance party listening to their favorite music. Paying attention, praising, and sharing time with your child is crucial.
Once you return back to the activity or task, sit down next to your child, even if all you’re doing is reading a book or working on bills. Your presence alone is a grounding, comforting force that helps them focus.
Give Power Back To Your Kid: Allow Them to Choose and “Own It”
Let your kid choose which activity they want to do first, second, third, and so on and if possible, let them choose the scope and nature of their projects. By providing choice, you are gifting them with a sense of power and control over their environment. The act of ownership reinforces their sense of will and accomplishment.
Hyperfocused Kids? Try scheduling Less Breaks!
This may seem contradictory, but for kids who have a tendency to tunnel focus, or hyper focus on one activity, it may be helpful to schedule less breaks rather than the traditional 10 minutes ON, and 5 minutes -10 minutes OFF mode of behavior. With less breaks, students who tend to hyperfocus are more likely to enter that flow state and be able to accomplish tasks with greater ease.
Embrace Problem Solving with Creativity
Most kids enjoy solving problems because it’s a part of our inherent, natural play instinct. Kids want to figure out how to climb up that tree, for example, and might spend hours constructing a stepstool, a ladder, or a rope mechanism which allows them to do so.
This same sense of play can be extended into home, classroom activities and chores by creating a game. Let’s say you’re working with a group of kids and you follow all of the steps outlined above, including allowing your kids to determine how they’re each going to contribute to the project at hand. Now, if you add the incentive of creating a class video which highlights the process, all of the sudden, following through on a task becomes all the more fun – because there’s a video at the end you can share on Google Classroom with parents and family.
Professor John Spencer, terms this theory Engagement: “The bottom line is that students don’t have short attention spans. They can focus for hours on a single project. But it has to feel relevant and meaningful to them and they need to have the time and the space to accomplish it. It’s not easy in a world of school bells and curriculum maps. However, it’s something we should strive for. We should draw students in to the deeper, slower work of creativity — because when that happens, learning feels like magic.
Step outside the traditional box of fixed roles, subsets and tasks and let your imagination fly. Once you do, you’ll be surprised and delighted at how much more attentive, interested in and focused your kids are!
Questions? Concerns? Contact us.