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Tribulations with Attention?


by Michael E. Kirk, PhD
Dr. Kirk is a local clinical psychologist, father and grandfather, who specializes in working with families, adolescents, and children.
Parents who bring their child to the attention of the family physician due to reports of being distracted, daydreaming, or displaying disruptive behavior may often receive a prescription and a trip to the pharmacy. Although this has been shown to be an effective method initially, there is current research that suggests there is a lot more a parent can do.

Giving immediate feedback to a child is found to be the most effective behavioral method to improve an impulsive child’s attention and behavioral skills. While the medical doctor’s professional guidelines often suggest a pharmacological component, there is research that suggests behavioral interventions work just as well. Over time, a parent is likely to see improvement in the child’s behavior by applying a consistent behavioral program! The basis for an effective behavioral program includes three compoenents:

(1a) Parenting: The most effective approach seems to be to “catch” or observe the child being good and point this out to the child in a positive manner. By being attentive to desired behaviors, you are telling the child he is doing the right thing. Thus, he receives attention for desired behaviors rather than inattentive behaviors. Attention from a parent increases the likelihood a behavior will be seen again, so be careful what you are attentive to with your child. 

(1b) Teachers are often reminding children with problem behavior to “stop” or “sit still,” or “do your work.” These reminders may actually increase problem behaviors in the classroom. Research suggests that teachers should offer one-step-at-a-time directions, when possible, along with the consequences of a student not completing work on time. Secondarily, when children receive some commensurate reward for good behavior during the day such as stickers or paper awards, they will work to complete their assignments.

(2) Exercise is a potent intervention. It is suggested that just a few minutes of exercise a day can help children with ADHD to ignore distractions and stay focused on tasks, thereby improving academic performance. Recent research showed children with or without ADHD performing better on math and reading tests following an exercise period. Children with ADHD who exercised were better able to slow down and avoid repeat mistakes while working on a computer. It is apparent that exercise is a significant contributor to children performing better in academics.  Therefore, there are potential benefits for all parents to make certain that their children are getting daily physical exercise.

(3) Sleep research suggests that even an additional half-hour of sleep, a small but significant increase, can keep children from being restless at school and improve their behavior. Conversely, cutting back on sleep (children who stay up late) can result in unhappiness, crying, tantrums, and frustration for all. According to teachers, students who got more sleep showed improved behavior while behavior deteriorated for the children who got less sleep.

Interestingly, research shows that children with ADHD tend to be “hypo-aroused” when overly tired. Adults typically slow when weary, while children with or without ADHD tend to display fatigue by becoming hyperactive in order to fight off the sleepiness. Once observed, the parent should put the child to bed. He will perform better at school for it.

In conclusion: children repeat desired behaviors due to the attention they receive for it, exhibit enhanced performance on school tests when they exercise regularly, and exhibit improved behavior when they receive an adequate amount of sleep. Overall, this could be a prescription for a happy, healthy, and successful child.

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Tags: Featured Story, Parenting


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