Q&A: My child/teen has trouble focusing on their homework. What are some first steps I can take?

It can be worrisome and frustrating to notice that your child/teen is having trouble focusing, getting organized, or completing assignments. Here are some initial steps you can take to understand more about their 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 child/teen’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 are they 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 child/teen if they get some exercise and play time before sitting down to homework? Does it help to set the timer for a brain break – so they can take a three to five minute break to stretch or do some other activity that energizes their body and activates their 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 teen’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 child/teen’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 child/teen for the efforts and small successes you see. Notice if your calm presence makes a difference.

If these things don’t help, perhaps your child/teen does have a problem with attention compared to the majority of their 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 child/teen may meet the criteria for a diagnosis of Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Or, they may be distracted by anxiety, worry, sadness, thoughts related to a traumatic event in their 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 child/teen.

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

PLEASE NOTE: Nothing in what you find here should be construed as medical advice pertinent to any individual. As is true with all written materials, and especially information found on the internet, you must be the judge of what appears valid and useful for yourself. Please take up any questions you might have regarding the content of this website with your psychotherapist or physician

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