Understanding Inattention in Children with ADHD

Symptoms of ADHD, including distractibility, are caused by differences in the brain. Children with ADHD typically have a smaller frontal lobe, which is the area of the brain which controls a number of functions, like language, memory, problem-solving, and impulse control. It’s also the area responsible for attention, which is why this skill is often such a challenge for children with ADHD.

Because of this difference in the frontal lobe, children with ADHD have a lower level of brain arousal. That hinders their ability to screen out distractions. As a result, they lose focus easily when an activity isn’t stimulating enough. It’s helpful for parents and caregivers to remember that this isn’t a behavior problem — it’s just the way the child’s brain functions. In children with ADHD, the frontal lobe takes longer to develop, so skills like attention which are controlled in that area are simply more difficult to master.

Tips for Improving Focus

A number of methods can be used to help children who struggle with ADHD-related distractibility, including:

Seat children strategically: In school, it helps to have a child positioned close to the teacher with doors and windows out of their direct line of sight.

Use privacy shields: Fold-out privacy barriers can be placed on a desk to help students focus on their work. These can also be useful at home when a child needs to focus on homework or another seated task.

Block out noise: Wearing headphones or earplugs can help minimize noise-related distractions. White noise machines or soft background music could have a similar effect.

Keep activities short: Kids with ADHD are more likely to get distracted during a longer task, so switching between activities more frequently can be helpful.

Provide breaks and/or rewards: Between activities or assignments, allow for short breaks where no focus is required. In behavioral therapy, a therapist may help families set up a system that rewards the child for paying attention.

Avoid reprimands: Keeping in mind that children with ADHD face challenges to maintain focus based on their brain development, it can be helpful to simply redirect a child if they get distracted rather than admonishing them or using punishments. Constant reprimands can be discouraging and may cause a loss of self-esteem.

Provide more supervision: When possible, give kids with ADHD more one-on-one supervision from an adult. This can help them stay on task and learn how to maintain focus for longer periods.

Being able to maintain focus is an important skill for every child. But for kids with ADHD, there are some extra challenges involved. Try the techniques listed here or work with a behavioral therapist to come up with additional solutions.