Ask Mrs. P.

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I have decided to open up my years of teaching experience to the blogging world and beyond, by starting a column called Ask Mrs. P.

Ask Mrs. P. allows readers to address any issue at any time.  If I don’t know the answer, I will try to refer you so a better source for the information.  While I haven’t organized my blog yet to show the column on it’s own, I have decided to take up my first question from another reader.

Dear Mrs. P.
How can a parent help his or her child stay focused in school?



There are a variety of things that contribute to lack of focus.  Attention deficit has gained a lot of attention over the past twenty or so years but there are some simple remedies that should be addressed before considering it an affliction.  I will try to give you a checklist of the most common environmental factors which should be addressed.

1) sleep – a child that is well rested can focus better.  How much is enough?  That depends on the child.  If they are bright and perky when they wake up, they are probably getting enough sleep.  If it is hard to wake them up or if they take a long time to fully wake up then lack of sleep may be a issue.

2) food – a healthy diet is very important and lack of one can impair one’s thought process.   Allowing enough time in the morning to have a good breakfast can do wonders for a child.  Sugar in any form, is one of the fastest killers of attention.  There has also been some link made to red dyes used in food having a similar affect.

3) allergies, whether food or natural elements as well as illness itself can impede a child’s ability to concentrate.  If you suspect allergies, consult a professional.

4) TV/computer – Should be limited to after school…deadly when done before school.  When it is done it should be limited to 20 – 30 minutes and followed by some extroverting activity.  It is the fixed attention which turns them into zombies.  Even the “educational” programs have this affect.  It’s an interesting experiment to watch how long it takes before your child “checks out”.

5) schedules – children do best when their life is predictable.  Frequent changes in their routine can cause a lot of confusion.  As much as possible, keep the schedule the same, even on weekends.  If a child’s parents have divorced there still can be great stability if the parents agree to the same rules and schedules at each home.

6) being late for school is a big one.  The child arrives and immediately is dispersed trying to catch up with the rest of the class.  I always recommend that a child arrives to school a few minutes early so that they have time to say hello to their friends before starting the day.  I would even include rushing in the morning routine equally as detrimental as being late.  Kids don’t like to be rushed and can get upset when this happens.

7) upsets – general upsets in life can cause lack of attention.  Being rushed, getting yelled at, parents fighting (even if you think you are out of their earshot…they know) , losing a toy…any number of things.  It is best to allow time and space to the morning routine.  For young children, let them know when it’s almost time to go and have them wrap up what they are doing…”We are leaving in ten minutes so you need to put your toys away.”  Again…prediction.

8) lack of understanding – children are learning and they don’t necessarily understand everything that is said to them.  Adults often use words that they are not familiar with.  Even if the child is paying attention he may only guess at the meaning by the context of what was said.  Imagine living in a foreign country where you barely knew the language…that’s what children experience and often adults haven’t even noticed that the child doesn’t understand them.  Communicate to them in terms they do understand.
Okay, so we haven’t even gotten to your question about focusing while in the actual classroom..  Before we get any further, run down the checklist and see if there are any changes that you feel you may need to implement first.  Always start with the simple things.

For example, you are going to water the plants and notice there is no water coming gout of the hose. If water doesn’t come out of the garden hose, the first thing you check is to see if it’s turned on and then you’d check it for kinks, etc.  As you go along the process you notice one needs to be addressed and if addressing it allows the water to come out then it’s fixed…and you can leave it alone…for now.

If you feel that I haven’t addressed the question to your satisfaction, try elaborating by giving me an example of something that recently came up and I’ll get back to you.

Mrs. P.