Q&A: My daughter has trouble focusing on her homework. What are some first steps I can take?

It can be worrisome and frustrating to notice that your daughter is having trouble focusing, getting organized, or completing assignments. Here are some initial steps you can take to understand more about her particular challenges. Once you’ve made these observations, conversations with the school and/or an assessment psychologist will help.

Consider expectations. Are your expectations appropriate for someone your daughter’s age? Am I expecting my 10-year old to sit still and study for an hour after a long day at school? Does the school provide breaks and physical activities for my child, or is she expected to sit still and listen for periods of time that most children couldn’t handle? Can I make the homework challenge more manageable by adjusting the schedule and environment at home? For example, does it help my daughter if she gets some exercise and play time before sitting down to homework? Does it help to set the timer for a brain break – so she can take a three to five minute break to stretch or do some other activity that energizes her body and activates her mind in a different way? Maybe a healthy after school snack helps too, especially since we hear from many teens that they don’t eat much if anything at school.

Consider your own stress level and reactions. Whatever the reason for a girl’s distractibility, our own response to it can have a big impact, for better or worse. Dr. Johnson, CEO of the Institute, often encourages parents to “respond, not react.” That can be a huge challenge when we are frustrated, worried and even angry about our daughter’s lack of focus. Take a personal time out; breath; walk around the block; make a cup of tea. Think about ways you can validate your daughter for the efforts and small successes you see. Notice if your calm presence makes a difference.

If these things don’t help, perhaps your daughter does have a problem with attention compared to the majority of her fellow students. The next step is to try to understand what is causing the problem in attention or focus. It could be any number of things. For example, your daughter may meet the criteria for a diagnosis of Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Or, she may be distracted by anxiety, worry, sadness, thoughts related to a traumatic event in her life. A Comprehensive Assessment is needed to tell us exactly what is going on and what the best steps are for helping and empowering your daughter.

Response by Dr. Chris D. Cooper, Clinical Director of Assessment at the Institute

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