How to get a child to focus in class

My daughter came home today with a note from the teacher saying she didn't finish an assignment during class because she wasn't focusing on her work. This is the third time this school year this has happened. She is very good in reading and writing, but when it comes to math, she is on grade level, but it doesn't really interest her as a topic overall, so she tends to zone out and when the allotted time for the task is over, her page is incomplete. She is only in grammar school (4th grade), and this is the second year we are hearing about this happening. Are there any strategies that can help her to stay focused and on task when it is something she'd rather not do at all? This is obviously something she needs to learn to get through all of life. At home, we just threaten to take away a privilege and that usually gets her to do the things she'd rather not, but not sure what to work on for when we are not there... anyone been through this and have some ideas to share? This is one of those times I wish kids came with a manual...


Get her a real tutor now who will help her learn to enjoy math. It's only going to get harder from here, It will pay off in the long run.


As with math work, you need to be able to understand the problem before you can work out the solution. Schedule a meeting with the teacher to determine if the teacher has identified any underlying triggers to this behavior. Ask if the "zoning out" is occasional (the few times a note is being sent home) or if it is more frequent or constant. Ask if the behavior is restricted to math assignments done in class or if it occurs during other classwork as well. Ask if the behavior seems to be concentrated at a certain time of the school day or a certain day of the week. Be prepared to answer the teacher's questions about whether anything is bothering the child at home, how well the child is sleeping, if the child is eating breakfast before leaving for school, if there are any underlying physical conditions that could be interfering with the school work. Once you and the child's teacher have been able to exchange observations, you will be that much closer to arriving at a solution to the problem.



She probably does not like math or prefers something else. You said she is a good student and still on grade level in math. So, she sounds like a normal kid to me. Given a choice between math and daydreaming, many would choose to daydream. The teachers in that school, perhaps instructed by the administration, are keeping you very informed, so the situation is documented and not a surprise later. It's often frustrating for parents to get this kind of information because there is not much they can do about small, often uncontrollable, actions such as daydreaming.

There are strategies for students to become more self-aware of off-task behavior, but the amount of effort required might not be worth the effort. You should start with a probing, yet the nonconfrontational conversation with your daughter to try to figure out if the problem is interest or frustration. Next, might be one or more of the following: 1) accept her occasional disinterest unless she starts to struggle, 2) get her screened for ADHD and possible medication, 3), Get her a tutor so she gets ahead in math and increases her interest or can finish the paper before daydreaming, 3) Start working together with the teacher on a behavior plan (teacher-parent partnerships are very beneficial to students--especially when there is trust between the parent and the teacher).


I agree with Nan re: screening for ADHD. This started with my dd in 4th grade in math and whatever else she didn't find interesting. She does have ADHD, though she is not on ADHD medication, and the accommodations she has have been extremely helpful. Her math grades (and everything else) improved dramatically.

nan said:

She probably does not like math or prefers something else. You said she is a good student and still on grade level in math. So, she sounds like a normal kid to me. Given a choice between math and daydreaming, many would choose to daydream. The teachers in that school, perhaps instructed by the administration, are keeping you very informed, so the situation is documented and not a surprise later. It's often frustrating for parents to get this kind of information because there is not much they can do about small, often uncontrollable, actions such as daydreaming.

There are strategies for students to become more self-aware of off-task behavior, but the amount of effort required might not be worth the effort. You should start with a probing, yet the nonconfrontational conversation with your daughter to try to figure out if the problem is interest or frustration. Next, might be one or more of the following: 1) accept her occasional disinterest unless she starts to struggle, 2) get her screened for ADHD and possible medication, 3), Get her a tutor so she gets ahead in math and increases her interest or can finish the paper before daydreaming, 3) Start working together with the teacher on a behavior plan (teacher-parent partnerships are very beneficial to students--especially when there is trust between the parent and the teacher).



Just to clarify, ADHD in girls often presents very differently than in boys. Many do not show the hyperactivity of boys. Rather, their minds wander a lot when they are not inherently interested in something.


Assuming this only happens in math (which indicates it likely is not ADHD or a health problem which would manifest throughout the day---BUT is it also possible it is a mild health issue which she is able to work through in the other classes she is more interested in).

There needs to be a school/home partnership on this one. If possible the teacher should be managing it within class, but that can be difficult with a full class especially without calling unwanted attention from the other students to the situation.

The teacher needs to be on the look out for the issue and have a signal to give her to pay attention.

She needs to be REWARDED for paying attention. Maybe the teacher can give her a token when she completes her work that she brings home to trade in for something. You will need to determine how often she needs the positive reinforcement. At first it may be every day with a small reward. As she gets better, it can be every time she earns 3 tokens she gets a nicer reward, then 5 tokens an even better reward, then 15 (about a month) a BIG reward such as an outing to a favorite restaurant or fun place like a trampoline gym or that place on 10 with the arcade/rides, etc.

You can check with the school to see if the school behaviorist will consult (some only do it for students in special ed).


Should I assume Math is in the same class with the same teacher as her other classes she does good in?

The point about the time of day is good...was her math class last year around the same time?


You might also want to note the time of day of the Math class in relation to breakfast or lunch or snack (if they do snacks). Sometimes dropping of blood sugar levels can affect concentration. In class, when we were trying to figure out a behavior, we would usually do a quick A-B-C chart (antecedent/behavior/consequence) - what happened before the behavior was noted, what was the behavior, and what was the result of the behavior (and this last one could be tricky - what you think is the consequence may not be, and it might be a positive or a negative consequence).

I agree that talking with your child and asking her why she zones out can be very helpful. Kids often are very insightful on why they do what they do. Good luck.


Thank you everyone for your thoughtful replies. I have asked some questions based on your feedback, and it seems to be occurring at random times, and during more than math. Ugh. And, there are days that it does not happen at all, so it is not a set time/subject issue. I think we may look to have testing done for ADD, though I am reluctant, but it may be good to have some services that that may bring about (specifically different strategies for coping). She is overall doing well, so I am hoping to explore all areas and find strategies that can help her and her teachers move forward... wish me luck!


Not to panic you, but could "zoning out" be something neurological? Some seizure disorders present like this. Might mention to your pediatrician as well as watching carefully at home. Especially if the situations seem random.



NizhoniGrrrl said:

Not to panic you, but could "zoning out" be something neurological? Some seizure disorders present like this. Might mention to your pediatrician as well as watching carefully at home. Especially if the situations seem random.

Actually, that's a good point. A friend's kid had "zoning out" episodes. Turned out to be a type of epilepsy. The zoning out was a type of seizure. He's 100% fine now on meds.


There are MANY things that can cause attention problems...vitamin deficiency, an allergy (years ago I heard of a story of a kid who supposedly had severe ADHD--turned out it was bananas....for some reason is brain reacted badly to them....he stopped eating bananas and symptoms went away It could be mental health or something stressful in her life you don't even know about. I had serious issues in school for a few years...after a traumatic event I never told anyone about.
As far as epilepsy look up 'petit mal' or absence seizures.

if it might be ADHD, consider try meds..trying is not a life long commitment. if it were my kid and I tried meds. I would randomly not give the meds and ask teachers for a comment on her symptoms that day. maybe you can have a schedule. Week 1 teacher fills out a questionnaire on Monday, week 2 on Weds, etc and on alternate weeks with hold meds (without telling the teacher) and see if they notice anything different....you can also tell them you are stopping meds when you aren't and get their opinion, that way they are not just saying she is better because she is medicated..because they don't know.


Don't lie to teachers about your child's medication. Not a good idea.


A little over the top to suggest seizures and epilepsy. Kid just might be bored. My son would sit in class and roll his eyes all around his head. Kinda freaked me out, but he's fine now. Don't panic


It is not likely to be seizures, but if a child is put through a battery of tests they are frequently tested for seizures. There are some that do not appear to be seizures but are.

It is a little early to be talking about medication at this point. Cross that bridge when you get to it.


If zoning out appears casual, random, and not specifically limited to math class, it is unlikely that a suspected dislike of math is the culprit. However, it is entirely possible that there is a common denominator contributing to this behavior. Could be a problem dealing with seat work, boredom, stress, personal problems, illness, learning disability, fatigue, eating habits, or a slew of other things. Keeping a journal would be an ideal way of narrowing down the possible suspect(s). If the child is displaying this type of behavior at home, noting date, time of day, and possible triggers could help zero in on the problem. Asking the teacher if it were possible for him/her to keep a similar record and then comparing notes could make identification even easier, especially if the two of you work together on this.


This is the type of seizure mentioned above.

Absence Epilepsy (Petit Mal Seizures)

Written by Rachel Nall
Medically Reviewed by Jeanne Morrison, PhD, MSN on January 6, 2016

Overview
Symptoms
Causes
Diagnosis
Treatments
Complications
Outlook
Read This Next

lamotrigine (Lamictal)
valproic acid (Depakene, Stavzor)
Pregnant women or women who are thinking of becoming pregnant shouldn’t take valproic acid because it increases your risk for birth defects.
Some activities can be dangerous for people with absence seizures. This is because absence seizures cause a temporary loss of awareness. Driving and swimming during an absence seizure might cause an accident or drowning. Your doctor may restrict your activity until they’re certain your seizures are under control. Some states also may have laws about how long a person must go without a seizure before getting back on the road.
Those who have absence seizures may wish to wear a medical identification bracelet. This helps others know what to do in case of an emergency. People also may want to educate loved ones on what to do if a seizure occurs.

Part 6 of 7
Epilepsy Foundation, about 65 percent of children outgrow absence seizures in their teens. Anti-seizure medication can usually help to control seizures. This will help avoid any social or academic difficulties.

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It's good to test for ADHD just to see what's going on. It does not have to result in medication. Our child has mild ADHD, and is fine with a couple of minor accommodations at school. The schools also offer free social worker time. Sometimes they can find out things from our kids that we can not.

Don't get too anxious.



jmitw said:

There are MANY things that can cause attention problems...vitamin deficiency, an allergy (years ago I heard of a story of a kid who supposedly had severe ADHD--turned out it was bananas....for some reason is brain reacted badly to them....he stopped eating bananas and symptoms went away It could be mental health or something stressful in her life you don't even know about. I had serious issues in school for a few years...after a traumatic event I never told anyone about.
As far as epilepsy look up 'petit mal' or absence seizures.

if it might be ADHD, consider try meds..trying is not a life long commitment. if it were my kid and I tried meds. I would randomly not give the meds and ask teachers for a comment on her symptoms that day. maybe you can have a schedule. Week 1 teacher fills out a questionnaire on Monday, week 2 on Weds, etc and on alternate weeks with hold meds (without telling the teacher) and see if they notice anything different....you can also tell them you are stopping meds when you aren't and get their opinion, that way they are not just saying she is better because she is medicated..because they don't know.

Please don't recommend not giving medication to your child. Often times it takes about two weeks for someone to adjust to the given med. Not giving it to them consistently can affect its efficacy. Also, please trust that your child's teacher is not asking you to medicate your child on a whim or as an easy way out. I worked with many students whose parents did not want to take this route until exhausting all other options, and would feel incredibly frustrated if they were playing games like that behind my back.



FilmCarp said:

It's good to test for ADHD just to see what's going on. It does not have to result in medication. Our child has mild ADHD, and is fine with a couple of minor accommodations at school. The schools also offer free social worker time. Sometimes they can find out things from our kids that we can not.

Don't get too anxious.

+1


I am talking about skipping a day....try to follow. I am not talking about right off the bat...of course you have to give the meds a chance to work in the first place, but AFTER that..you need to test the adult perceptions if the meds are actually working or not

to assess if the medication is really working or not, you need to do trial and error. a teacher or parent could wish the medications are working and subconsciously skew their assessment.....to deal with that, you test out the assessments by lying about whether the child had medication that day or not...you say they did when they didn't and didn't when they did....this is a TEST to determine if the medication is really helping or not.
I am not talking about with holding life sustaining medications or doing it for long periods...I am talking about 1 day every couple of weeks to see if there is a difference and what the adult SUBJECTIVE perceptions are.
I have done this myself--gone off meds to see if there was a difference..I so much wanted the meds to work I believed they were working when they weren't...and suffered serious side effects from meds that were never helping to begin with.

tell a teacher a kid is on meds and they may subconsciously think the student is doing better...and report that even if they are not...
tell a teacher a student has stopped meds and the teacher could subconsciously think the student is worse when they are not

this is helpful to get an accurate assessment of the meds are working or not. I know a family that went through this with meds for poor attention...had the kid medicated for a few years, stopped the meds...no difference...I never saw a difference myself when he was on the meds, but others claimed they did..because they wished the meds worked.

When there is a dramatic difference this stop wouldnt be helpful as it would be obvious (I've seen this with severe hyperactive type), but since this is a mild issue it could be.


also, it is common for kids with mild symptoms to skip meds on non school days particularly when the symptoms are mild.
I have known numerous students who missed meds for one reason or another, missing a day NEVER had any long term affect beyond that one day, once they got the meds the next day, they worked.....it initially takes time for the body to adjust particularly to the side effects and for the student to 'catch up' now that they can focus more...missing one day does not really affect that....these meds are effective on the 1st day...it is just adjusting to them that takes time. One student just ran out of meds for a day and was back to normal the next day when he had the meds again, another was throwing it away for months...and the day he did actually take it, there was a major difference with just 1 day back on meds.


I disagree. You should not be performing science experiments on your kid and thier teacher. Work together with the teacher.


of course this would be done after discussion with the doctor...testing out perceptions IS working together with the teacher....it is human nature to have subconscious misconceptions..there have been psychological studies on this...you have to work around them. this isn't to do a gotcha on the teacher, but to assess if the meds are working or not.

and this is not very technical....drug trials are done all the time where a person is given a placebo (with telling them if they have the real med or not) to assess how they perceive if it works or not....that is done informally....with your own child, it would be the informal version of the same concept


I would be very concerned about a teacher who thinks she is perfect and has perfect judgement than one who innocently makes an error in judgement based on human nature.


no its not..it is appropriate ti suggest many other possibilities..I have heard of kids who were disciplined for zoning out when it was epilepsy.

krugle said:

A little over the top to suggest seizures and epilepsy. Kid just might be bored. My son would sit in class and roll his eyes all around his head. Kinda freaked me out, but he's fine now. Don't panic



There is absolutely no need to talk to me like that. I am perfectly capable of following and having a grown up discussion.

jmitw said:

I am talking about skipping a day....try to follow.

It is unethical to do science experiments without the concent of the participants. You cannot control the teacher variable when she has no idea she is part of an experiment. I am a teacher and I will tell you the way to get the best education for your child is to have a close TRUSTING relationship with the teacher.


I think it would depend on the teacher. Many of us are susceptible to bias when we have information. Trying something out and not telling the teacher could be a legitimate course to follow in certain situations. At this point in time, it is all hypothetical. There is no hard, fast rule. It would depend on many factors. A lot depends on the teacher. The teacher's attitude and perceptions.


Well, never say never, but I'd proceed with extreme caution before performing an expriment without permission from the subjects. The thing is, by not telling them you are not assured of unbiased results either, because you don't control all the factors in the room and they might not all be mentioned. She might be running off to a doctor's appointment and just decide to write less, or forget or feel like you have had enough days of bad behavior notes and try to soften the description. Also, sending in an unmedicated child to school without informing the teacher may have drastic consequences.


I can't open up this thread. When I try to open it, it only gives me this comment box with no one's comments.


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